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date: 27 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

During the Romantic period, poetry and social class were intimately connected. Many of the period’s political arguments were about the social hierarchy, and poetic writing often reflected these debates. A poet’s social origin also had much to do with what he or she wrote and how that writing might be received. Fundamentally, audiences assumed that a legitimate poet would have a classical education unavailable to writers below a certain rank. Poets regularly attempted to challenge perceived class distinctions, sometimes by experimenting with the voices and viewpoints of other ranks, sometimes by seeking social mobility in the literary marketplace. Attempts at class transit could be treated as dangerous insofar as they raised the prospect of social levelling, or as welcome if they were taken to indicate that British society rewarded merit or that that the nation’s ranks were closely linked rather than antagonistic and divided.

Keywords: poetry, social class, patronage, labouring-class poetry, social mobility, literary marketplace

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