The Lake Poets

The Lake Poets became known as such when Francis Jeffrey used the term in one of his articles on literary criticism. Derogatorily intended, this expression alluded their sectary nature. They were regarded as radical and antisocial, and blamed for using ordinary language and themes in their poetry. The term prospered and it has been systematically used to this day. The three components of this group are considered Romantic poets, due to their interest in the unusual and the supernatural. Each of them had their own focus, though: Wordsworth the familiar, Coleridge the philosophical, and Southey travelling and adventure. The three poets shared a love for liberty and radical political convictions in their youth, sympathising with the French Revolution, although they turned more conservative as they grew older. The French Revolution meant the promise of a glorious renovation of society. It inspired Southey and Coleridge – who met in 1794 in Oxford – to plan a Utopian community in America called Pantisocracy – equal rule by all -, based on libertarian principles. Wordsworth and Coleridge met in 1795, and wrote Lyrical Ballads (1798) together, influencing each other greatly throughout their lives. The Wordsworth household was formed by William and his sister Dorothy, also a poet, relegated by literary history to a satellite position together with other authors. Her writings were not intended for publication, although she had a gift for precise observation and description that may surpassed that of William Wordsworth and Coleridge.

wordsworth+dorothy wordsworth

Wordsworth had chosen to describe the “humble and rustic life”, as in them “the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity”. His works were not considered as radical because they embodied revolutionary thoughts, but because he sought to express values which stood apart from gentility and what he regarded as false sophistication. He even professed the ambition of beginning a literary reform. His main themes are the pastoral against the ugly background of industrialization, his love of nature and “emotion recollected in tranquility”.


Coleridge was brilliant in his studies but as he grew older, he found little stimulation in them and fell in idleness, dissoluteness and debt. In accord to the medical prescription of the time, Coleridge had been taking laudanum from an early age in order to ease the physical pains and ailments that he suffered. As a result, he became an addict. He expresses his despair in Dejection: An Ode (1802), his farewell to health, happiness and poetic creativity. Despite his attempts at restoring his health, he continued with his habit, and withdrawal symptoms interfered in all his relationships. He survived for some time by giving lectures, writing for newspapers, etc. While addiction was a main driving force in his life, he usually adapted – or simply transcribed – passages from other writers in order to meet deadlines, and he was charged with plagiarism. Writings that required sustained planning were left unfinished or were made up of brilliant sections padded out with filler. In 1816 under Dr. Gillman’s supervision, he manages to control, although not to suppress his addiction. His remaining years he spent with Dr. and Mrs. Gillman.

robert southey

Robert Southey was expelled from Westminster School for criticising the practise of flogging in the school magazine. The incident was an instance of his revolutionary ideals which found expression in his first long poem Joan of Arc (1796). By then, he had already written The fall of Robespierre (1794) in partnership with Coleridge, with whom he also shared experiences such as taking part in experiments with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in 1799. He also wrote travel books, composed by letters from his short residence in Port and Spain. The Doctor, published in 1837 contains the famour tale The Three Bears. Although he was praised by W. Scott and Lord Byron, and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1813, his poems does not seem to have passed the test of time, as he is now regarded by the critics as the most flat and less talented of the three.

The outcasts and the New Poor People Law in literature.

“Oliver Twist” was published in 1838, in the midst of what came to be known as the Time of Troubles: the severe economic and social difficulties attendant on industrialization during the 1830s and the 1840s, after a brief period of prosperity between 1832-36. A crash in 1837 and a series of bad harvests produced unemployment, desperate poverty and riots. People lived in

crowded slums packed with unsanitary housing,and children toiled in unimaginable brutal conditions.

In the political background, the Poor Law Amendment Act, AKA New Poor Law, was passed in 1834 by the Whig government. Its aim was the reformation of the country’s poverty relief system. The PLAA curbed the cost of poor relief in England and Wales and created workhouses, replacing the existing legislation based on the Poor Law of 1601.
The New Poor Law was based on the theories developed by Malthus and Bentham; according to Malthus, the population increases faster than resources, and according to Bentham, people tend to accommodate to what is pleasant and would tend to claim relief rather than working.
All these facts are reflected in the novel by Dickens, whenever he addresses to one of the institutions devised for the poor, such as the workhouse where Oliver’s mother dies or the institutions where Oliver asks for “some more”. They try to deter poor people from staying in them for too long by providing them with poor helpings of unedible food and making them toil hard.
This facts are also reflected in the methods devised in “People of the Abyss” by Jack London, written in 1903,where the outcasts are forced to toil and to pray if they want to benefit from a scarce helping of skilly.
We can also find the same deterring methods within “the spike” in “Down and out in Paris and London”, by George Orwell.
The PLAA was only repealed in 1948 (1948!!!)

Gottfried Benn y las descomposiciones del cuerpo

El poeta alemán Gottfried Benn (1886 – 1956) cuenta con una producción literaria variada y de gran influencia tanto antes como después del III Reich. Sin embargo, hay una parte de su obra que concentra la atención de los lectores debido a lo peculiar de su temática.

Horse's skull in blueBenn escribe sobre todo poesía en el período anterior a la Primera Guerra Mundial, durante ésta y tras su conclusión. Sin embargo, su temática no está directamente relacionada con la guerra. Su producción poética en esta época, más concretamente entre 1912 y 1919, se conoce como su etapa expresionista, e incluye su obra más conocida: “Morgue und andere Gedichte” (“Morgue y otros poemas”), en la que queda patente su formación como médico en sus aparentemente asépticas descripciones de cadáveres y autopsias, utilizando un lenguaje carente de emotividad ante el hecho de la muerte. Así, en el poema “Schöne Jugend” (“Hermosa juventud”), resulta chocante la identidad de los receptores de su ternura y su contraposición al desapego mostrado hacia la muerte en plena juventud de un espécimen de su propia especie, desplazando los sentimientos que esperamos que exprese por éste en una dirección inesperada:

“La boca de una muchacha que había reposado largamente en el cañaveral

estaba muy roída.

Cuando se abrió el pecho, el esófago estaba muy agujereado.

Al final, en una glorieta debajo del diafragma,

apareció un nido de ratas jóvenes.

Una de las pequeñuelas estaba muerta.

Las otras se nutrían de hígado y riñones,

bebían la sangre helada y habían

pasado allí una hermosa juventud.

Y hermosa y rápida les llegó también la muerte:

las tiraron todas al agua.

¡Ay, cómo chillaban los tiernos hociquillos!”

El notable desapego que muestra por el “ente físico” que yace en la mesa pareciendo representar únicamente la rutina en el trabajo de un médico forense evoca de alguna manera las meditaciones sobre las Diez Descomposiciones del Cuerpo en el budismo. En ellos, el meditador contempla cuerpos muertos en distintos estados de descomposición, mediante su inspección y posterior visualización, supervisado por un maestro, para corregir el excesivo apego a la belleza, los placeres sensuales y comodidades. No obstante, el desapego no es absoluto, pues muestra ternura y compasión por los pequeños seres que representan la vida brotando de la muerte, y su repentino final, segando sus vidas en el comienzo de su hermosa juventud. Personas y animales se equiparan, resultando sus vidas igual de frágiles e impermanentes y sujetas a la misma temporalidad.

The Bluest Eye and the spiral of abuse

“The bluest eye” depicts a patriarchal society, that of the black south, in the forties. One of the protagonist families moves up North in order to increase their probabilities of having a better life after the Great War. The prospects in the South were not hopeful, but those they encounter up North are not what they had first expected either. Mr. and Mrs. Breedlove come across difficulties, due to the clash between societal habits in the North and South, but this fact is much more noticeable by Pauline Breedlove, as she has developed a strong dependence on her husband and finds it harder to adapt to their new environment. She depends on him emotionally and economically, until she decides to work. They start having violent fights and finally their relationship deteriorates until eventually she becomes fully responsible for work and money, while her husband becomes a drunkard layabout. When they arrive at Lorain, Ohio, she feels lonely, dependent and useless, and she is despised for it. When she starts working, she keeps on being abused by other coloured women (for being ugly, for not straightening her hair, for her manners), by the whites and at home. She becomes just a beast of burden that produces money, sexual relief and absorbs all her husband’s complaints and resentment about his past experiences, and his meaningless present.

Gipsy girl with child by Modigliani (copy)We encounter concentric circles of dependence and abuse in “The bluest eye”, the outer being constituted by being black in a white ruling society, then the one resulted from the tense relationship between southern blacks and northern coloured people. Another circle holds men’s frustration due to all all the above pressures which are in turn projected on women in the shape of violence, contempt, hostility and hatred, the same feelings they get from their surrounding context.

The inner circle of subservience is that constituted by little girls. Little boys are abused as well, as can be derived from Cholly’s experience or by the image of Sammy being beaten up by his mother in order to release her own pressure as a woman abused by men, society and the whites. However it is even more noticeable in the case of girls, who are subjected to abuse as children and as women. Pecola is turned into the object of everybody’s contempt and hostility (except for the group of whores), even other children’s. Finally, she is raped and impregnated by her own father, which is the culmination of all subordination and reification of women.

Canons, anxiety, writing, penises.

Although English literary history is not restricted to male authors since way back in the past, as clearly shown by the existence of the first professional woman author, Aphra Behn, in the 17th century, most authors in anthologies are still male, even nowadays. This comes to show that literature has been, and still is dominated by men, whose texts are self-established as the canon of literature and whose views are held as objective and universal. On the contrary women’s point of view is seen as a fruit of women’s alterity, as they have always been considered as the other of men, and defined by what they lack – a penis, which (I must say out of my own experience) is not essential for writing -. Thus, literature written by women has always been looked down on, and regarded as a minor product designed for the consumption of an unimportant niche of the public: other women. Experiences, worries and feelings belonging to women only are disregarded or considered from an alien perspective, not first hand knowledge. And, to what extent is it not minimized, simplified, ignored?

Woman with hat , Modigliani(copy)

This non-unbiased male-constituted canon does not represent women’s experience, thus male literary precursors cannot really be seen as those of women authors, who have to build a literary tradition of their own, in which their views and direct experience is represented, and characters are not simplified or plain due to lack of direct knowledge of what being a woman in a certain place and time represents. This is explained in Gilbert and Gubar´s theory of the Anxiety of Authorship, which revise Bloom’s own theory of the Anxiety of Influence. Women do not have the same kind of pressure as men. It is difficult for male writers to produce a text which does not resemble that of the literary precursors or seems which seems strongly indebted to them (Anxiety of Influence). Women do not have this problem, as they lack a proper literary history of their own.


However, women have a disadvantage: Anxiety of Authorship, as they had always been traditionally barred from the literary world, but this fact has its own consequences for them, as they are isolated from male precursors when they write and thus establish a tradition of their own. They may not become classics or precursors ever because of their sex. They may not be taken seriously because of their detachment from the tradition which set the foundations for literary history, that is male literature.