Essays in Romanticism

Inside Voice: Charlotte Smith, Silence, and the Sonnet of Insensibility

Essays in Romanticism (2020), 27, (1), 1–22.

Abstract

Where late-eighteenth-century poets seized the sonnet’s capacity for pensive reflection in nature, this essay examines Charlotte Smith’s sonnet as a form for communicating non-sensual experiences. Smith’s Elegiac Sonnets have been read through a lens of sensibility or materiality; I argue that Smith describes sensory muteness across a range of senses and her verbosity hides an anesthetizing crisis of non-sensuality. In Smith’s poetic model, imagination is a self-manufactured sensibility prone to systemic weaknesses similar to bodily senses; emotional effect is achieved through depictions of physiological and imaginative disorder. Smith does not celebrate poetry’s visionary qualities, but instead suggests she cannot rely on imaginative sight. Smith’s model renders the poetic trope of the blind seer substituting mental sensibility in place of failed physical sense problematic. I suggest this is not a failure of poetic language but a communication of non-sensuality, relating troubled sense impressions and traumatic excesses which hardly bear language, or which language hardly bears.

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Details

Author details

Cognevich, Christie