Imaginary Pilgrimages: Felicia Hemans, Dead Poets, and Romantic Historiography

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Abstract

Critics of Felicia Hemans often discuss her historiography, observing that her poetry injects the domestic, the feminine, and the sentimental into “official” history.1 This essay suggests that Hemans's historiography was neither entirely novel nor purely oppositional, but rather a manifestation of a widespread Romantic-era conviction that history was not merely something to read about, but also an experience to be felt and a place to be visited.

 In their engagements with the dead and their concomitant interest in imaginative historical transport, many of Hemans's poems highlight tensions between ideals of affective proximity and critical distance that troubled Romantic-era historians and continue to vex historicist critics. Thus, this essay takes Hemans as a case study in the methodological difficulties of memorialization, especially in the New Historicist project.

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