New Book: Regenerating Romanticism

Melissa Bailes (Tulane University) is pleased to announce the publication of Regenerating Romanticism: Botany, Sensibility, and Originality in British Literature, 1750-1830 (U Virginia P, 2023).  Within key texts of Romantic-era aesthetics, William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, and other writers and theorists pointed to the poet, naturalist, and physician Erasmus Darwin as exemplifying a lack of originality and sensibility in the period’s scientific literature–the very qualities that such literature had actually sought to achieve. The success of this strawman tactic in establishing Romantic-era principles resulted in the historical devaluation of numerous other, especially female, imaginative authors, creating misunderstandings about the aesthetic intentions of the period’s scientific literature that continue to hinder and mislead scholars even today.
Regenerating Romanticism demonstrates that such strategies enabled some literary critics and arbiters of Romantic-era aesthetics to portray literature and science as locked in competition with one another while also establishing standards for the literary canon that mirrored developing ideas of scientific or biological sexism and racism. With this groundbreaking study, Bailes renovates understandings of sensibility and its importance to the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century movement of scientific literature within genres such as poetry, novels, travel writing, children’s literature, and literary criticism that obviously and technically engage with the natural sciences.

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