This book considers William Wordsworth’s use of iconography in his long poem 'The Excursion'. Through the iconographical approach, the author steers a middle course between The Excursion’s two very different interpretive traditions, one focusing upon the poem’s philosophical abstraction, the other upon its touristic realism. Fresh readings are also offered of Wordsworth’s other major works, including 'The Prelude'.
Yen explores Wordsworth’s iconography in The Excursion by tracing allusions and correspondences in an abundance of post-1789 and earlier verbal and pictorial sources, as well as in Wordsworth’s prose and poetry. He analyses how the iconographical images in 'The Excursion' contribute to, and impose limitations on, the overarching preoccupations of Wordsworth’s writings, particularly the themes of paradise lost and paradise regained in the post-revolutionary context. Shedding light on a vital aspect of Wordsworth’s poetic method, this study reveals the visual etymologies – together with the nuances and rhetorical capacities – of five categories of apparently ‘collateral’ images: envisioning, rooting, dwelling, flowing, and reflecting.
Brandon C. Yen is an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Research Fellow at University College Cork. He holds a PhD from Queens’ College, University of Cambridge and is co-author (with Peter Dale) of 'The Spirit of Paradise: The Gardens of William Wordsworth and the Poetry of his Flowers' (ACC Art Books, 2018).
Reviews'Yen’s rich and fascinating study of The Excursion builds on Fiona Stafford’s recent revaluing of the local to focus on “the quiet functioning of local detail” at a linguistic and metaphorical level through mediated images of rural landscape. Yen works sensitively within the form of the long poem, with its extended passages of argument and reflection, to tease out “intratextual and intertextual recurrences” that resonate across the whole. Across five categories of “envisioning”; “rooting”, “dwelling”, “flowing”, and “reflecting” Yen pulls out the threads of allusion that link the language of the text into larger political events of the time, arguing for an iconographic power held in the figurative language of landscape. Methodologically sophisticated, the work both draws on and challenges the tenets of New Historicism so that, rather than displacing history, it seeks to awaken the history inherent within the allusive force of landscape imagery through a process of iconological interpretation. The writing is characterised by a remarkable attention to nuances of meaning, whilst the interpretation of political cartoons and symbols of the French Revolution grounds the argument in visual evidence. Brandon Yen’s study treats The Excursion with the respect it deserves as a major work of the late Revolutionary period.'
Sally Bushell, Professor of Romantic and Victorian Literature, Lancaster University.