The Unremarkable Wordsworth
by Geoffrey H. Hartman
foreword by Donald G. Marshall
University of Minnesota Press, 1987
Paper: 978-0-8166-1176-8
Library of Congress Classification PR5888.H368 1987
Dewey Decimal Classification 821.7


The Unremarkable Wordsworth was first published in 1987. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

William Wordsworth was attacked by the critics of his time for imposing unremarkable sights and sentiments on his audience. In this book's title essay, an exemplary reading of the Westminster Bridge sonnet, Geoffrey Hartman shows how Wordsworth's "unremarkable phrases" attain their curious vigor. Drawing upon the propositions of semiological analysis—that signs are not signs unless they become perceptible, through the contrast between "marked" and "unmarked"—Hartman, in a deft and sensitive analysis, is able to play these notions of marking and the unremarkable off against each other. Wordsworth, in the end, overcomes both his critics and the science of signs: his quiet sonnet—with its muted or near-absent signs—is itself, as epitaph for an era, a faithful sign of the times.

Hartman's capacity to open up a dialogue between contemporary theory and Wordsworth's poetry informs all of these essays, written since the 1964 publication of Wordsworth's Poetry, a book that marked an epoch in the study of that poet and of Romantic poetry in general. In the years since then, the nature of literary study has changed dramatically, and Hartman has been a leader in the turn to theoretical modes of interpretation. The fifteen essays in The Unremarkable Wordsworth draw upon a wide range of contemporary theoretical approaches, from psychoanalysis to structuralism, from deconstruction to phenomenology. Yet, as Donald Marshall points out in his foreword, "Wordsworth remains so much the focus of this book that 'critical method' is strangely transmuted." For Hartman, reading and thinking are inseparable; he has an uncanny power to convey in an intensified form the poet's own consciousness, not under the rubric of "intertextuality" but because he "has ears to hear."

Geoffrey H. Hartman is Karl Young Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Yale University. His most recent book is Easy Pieces. Donald G. Marshall is a professor of English at the University of Iowa.

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