David Miall 
Department of English, University of Alberta, Canada
February 1998
Beyond the Picturesque: An Affective Poetics of Coleridge's Landscapes

Between late 1798 and 1806 in his notebooks and a few of his letters, Coleridge wrote a number of detailed landscape descriptions while travelling (e.g., in Scotland in 1803 or Malta in 1804).  Raimonda Modiano has argued that Coleridge's accounts show him exploring the forms of the picturesque: he is said to share the fascination of Uvedale Price for psychological aspects such as variation and roughness.  This can be examined in the light of an early example from the Harz tour of May 1799 which exists in a notebook entry and in a longer second version produced five days later in a letter to Sara.  In comparing these I suggest that it is the second that Coleridge deliberately brings into line with picturesque convention, distancing his immediate responses through spatial elaborations and the introduction of what Alan Liu has called "metamorphic passions."  The comparison suggests that the picturesque is not the ground of Coleridge's first perceptions but a later, cognitive evolution.  Coleridge seems more attuned than other writers to the affective and physiognomic aspects of perception with their projections to mnemonic resources and self-concept themes.  His accounts demonstrate response at a somatic level that also appears to underlie some of his most effective poetry.  I will argue, with a glance at linguistic and neuropsychological theory, that an "affective" rather than a "cognitive" poetics provides the appropriate framework for understanding Coleridge's landscape writing.

David Miall received his Ph.D at the University of Wales (Cardiff) in 1980.  He taught for ten years in England, then moved to Canada in 1989, where he is now Associate Professor of English at the University of Alberta.  His particular interests are the British Romantic writers, reader response studies (in collaboration with Don Kuiken), Humanities computing, and the teaching of English.  He edited Humanities and the Computer (Oxford UP, 1990) and Romanticism: The CD-ROM (Blackwells, 1997).

David Miall     (David.Miall@UAlberta.CA)
Internet: http://www.ualberta.ca/~dmiall/miall.htm