Essays in Romanticism

Wordsworth’s Ostentatious Neutrality

Essays in Romanticism (2019), 26, (1), 19–39.


Focussing on instances from the Lyrical Ballads and The Excursion, this article tracks a peculiarity of Wordsworth’s diction whereby the moral significance of certain keywords is ostentatiously neutralized. This stylistic idiosyncrasy bears upon fraught questions of ethical and political theory that greatly exercised Wordsworth’s contemporaries: William Godwin, for example, allowed barely any scope for actions that could truly be considered morally indifferent. Wordsworthian neutrality poses a direct, albeit fugitive, challenge to expansive conceptions of morality like Godwin’s. Its significance becomes particularly clear in a neutralized use of “superstitious” in Book I of The Excursion, which opens onto the complex relationship between Wordsworth’s ethical thought, the French Revolution, and secularization.

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Author details

Ledingham, Angus