The Poetics of Liminality and the Politics of English Literary Culture, 1635-1700

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

English and American Literature


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2009

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Steven Zwicker


Literature of the earlier seventeenth century--Shakespeare's sonnets, the poetry of Donne and Herbert--is prized for its ambiguities and indeterminacies. But the rise of partisanship, the triumph of reason and neoclassicism that followed in the wake of civil war and revolution produced imaginative writing defined by sharp oppositions, by clarity and exactness, by the concrete and not the metaphorical, or so literary history has often told us. "The Poetics of Liminality" tells a different story. By calling attention to themes and forms of in-between-ness in literature spanning the 1630s to the 1690s, this study sets forth a view of seventeenth-century literary culture--its productions, politics, and affects--more complex, more contradictory and indeterminate, than is usually allowed. Insisting on the uneven cultural topography of civil war, regicide, restoration and revolution, I pursue the liminal in chapters on Thomas Browne's "Janus-faced" epistemology and politics; on borders and transgressions in Marvell; on Rochester and ventriloquy; and on Dryden's poetics of conversion and Jacobite nostalgia. Loosening the grip of political chronology on the historical study of literary practice in this way better allows us to discern the overlapping presences of past ages throughout the long seventeenth century and to trace how persistently the splintering of the political imaginary in the 1640s was inscribed in the literary forms of the decades following the close of the civil wars. In the later Stuart era--as in the century's earlier decades--the past is never dead; it is not even past.


Permanent URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.7936/K7PR7T3Z

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