Romani Studies

John Clare's Gypsies

Romani Studies (2009), 19, (2), 125–145.

Abstract

This article briefly surveys recent critical examinations of works about gypsies by the poet John Clare (1793–1864). It goes on to revisit and reassess Clare's representations of gypsies in order to argue that they are specifically artistic productions, and to refute the common critical assumption that Clare's social position renders his accounts of gypsy life somehow more authentic than others. The article considers some recurrent preoccupations found in Clare's gypsy poems, including ideas of story- and fortune-telling, freedom and persecution, the place of Clare's gypsies within the natural economy, and their distinctive Englishness. Offering a broadly chronological account of the way in which his depictions change over time, the paper concludes that Clare's gypsies are important even if they do not partake in any kind of documentary accuracy, because the way in which Clare chooses to depict them illuminates the changing perception of gypsy life in the early nineteenth century.

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Houghton-Walker, Sarah