Tess Somervell (Oxford): ‘Sweets of Poetical Despondence’: Creating Autumn in the Early Nineteenth Century

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‘Sweets of Poetical Despondence’: Creating Autumn in the Early Nineteenth Century

Dr Tess Somervell

Worcester College, Oxford

Wednesday, 9th November, 5pm-7pm

Arts 103 (Constance Naden Room)

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In Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1817), the heroine Anne Elliot repeats ‘to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn … that season which had drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description’. With examples by Wordsworth, Keats, Clare, Emily Brontë and others, this talk situates the first decades of the nineteenth century in a longer cultural and literary history of autumn. Anne Elliot goes on to see farm labourers ‘counteracting the sweets of poetical despondence’ through their work: in this period, the tension between the relatively modern aestheticised autumn of poets, a season of leisure and indulgent melancholy, and the older season of labour and harvest, was most visible and was persistently ironised. What can these nineteenth-century reflections upon autumn’s construction by poets tell us about the roles of nature and culture in shaping the seasons as we think we know them today?

Dr Tess Somervell is a Lecturer in English at Worcester College, University of Oxford. Her research interests include literature of the long eighteenth century and the literary and cultural history of weather and climate change. She is the author of Reading Time in the Long Poem: Milton, Thomson and Wordsworth (Edinburgh University Press, 2023), co-editor of Georgic Literature and the Environment: Working Land, Reworking Genre (Routledge, 2023), and Membership Secretary of the British Association for Romantic Studies.