'Willingness for the Everyday': Ordinariness and Agency in Three Romantic Prefaces

Natarajan, Uttara. 2023. 'Willingness for the Everyday': Ordinariness and Agency in Three Romantic Prefaces. Romanticism, ISSN 1354-991X [Article] (Forthcoming)

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Abstract or Description

Taking its cue from Stanley Cavell’s framing of Romanticism as a ‘quest of the ordinary’, this essay revisits the amplification of the category of the ordinary in the English literature of the Romantic era. Focusing on a specific genre, the preface to poetry, it examines the construction of poetry as a special case of that category in three Romantic prefaces: Wordsworth’s ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads (1800) Hazlitt’s prefatory lecture ‘On Poetry in General’ in his Lectures on the English Poets (1818) and Shelley’s ‘Preface’ to Prometheus Unbound (1820). By tracing and comparing the conceptual bases of these prefaces, it attempts to nuance and discriminate their differing versions of ordinariness. Variations notwithstanding, the reciprocal characterization of poetry and ordinariness, at the heart of the poetics of three major Romantic writers, is shown to be fundamental also to their arguments for agency and their resistance to what Cavell calls ‘the drive to the inhuman’.

Item Type:



Romanticism, preface, poetry, ordinariness, humanism, agency

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


30 June 2023Accepted

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 Jul 2023 10:50

Last Modified:

28 Jul 2023 08:40

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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