Anatomy, Vitality, and the Romantic Body: Blake, Coleridge, and the Hunter Circle, 1750-1840 Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Rispoli, Stephanie Adair
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • The Romantic Body brings together the works of Dr. William Hunter (1718-1783), his brother John Hunter, and his wife Anne Home Hunter (1742-1821) to provide a more sophisticated and socially situated understanding of the impact of the Hunters and their `circle' both within and outside of the field of medicine. By attending to the emphasis in the Hunters' corpus on the phases of life (including embryology and developmental biology), sickness and decay, and death, I identify just how influential William was in his role as an anatomy professor in the fine arts. I also explore the ramifications of John's sustained interest in producing a universal theory to explain the interplay of organs, consciousness, and bodily development. Anne, a linchpin between science and poetry within the Hunter Circle, whose own poetry was not a private, domestic practice but rather a series of reflections both responding to and differing from John's questions about the boundaries between life and death. John's theories not only shaped and provoked William Blake's (1757-1827) conception of the human body and his principles of life and cognition, but also influenced Samuel Taylor Coleridge's (1772-1834) philosophy of life and death. In framing the human body as the center of a concentric schema, Coleridge's Theory of Life informs my analysis of his earlier poetical works. Coleridge's poems were experimental inquiries that might provide answers to some of the questions about our psychosomatic selves. This dissertation explores how a diverse cast of major figures in the long eighteenth century and in early nineteenth-century England participated in a series of conversations revolving around a coherent yet varied interest in the physiological and psychological aspects of bodies. At times these authors struggle with uncertainty and anxiety as they advocate different theories of life and death as a means to explain the human body in a way that might accommodate the exponential growth of anatomical knowledge during the period. They provoke and respond to one another in active, inventive, and also disputatious ways. The Romantic Body places metaphysics, fine arts, and science in dialogue with one another to produce a revisionary interpretation of the poetry and art of the pre-Romantic and Romantic periods. From this vantage, contemporary medical thought vigorously interacts with the social, gendered, metaphysical, visual, and rhetorical constituents of London in the age of Blake and Coleridge.
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  • In Copyright
  • Barbour, Reid
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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