[Work: Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade, Robert Southey, 1797]
Sonneteer, Pamphleteer:

Analyzing Robert Southey’s use of the Sonnet Form to Combat Slavery

 

analysis of sonnet - anti-slavery poems - Robert SoutheyIntroduction:

In the line above each article, you will notice the word ‘work’ before whatever text is being considered for the week. The reason that this is labeled ‘work,’ rather than ‘book’ or ‘novel,’ is that I knew I would eventually want to cover poetry in this series as well. For the series’ first foray into verse (epic poems and early modern plays notwithstanding), I will be taking a close look at Robert Southey’s use of sonnets as a means of opposing slavery in Britain.

By definition, the notion of abolition is antithetical to constriction and conservatism. For this reason, it appears odd that abolitionist poet Robert Southey chose the sonnet, a poetic form both restrictive and traditional, to tell the story which populates roughly half of his 1797 Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade. Yet, this appearance of oddness fades with close attention to Southey’s production, a scathing indictment of both the violent ills of slavery and the apathetic British populace’s tacit support of the system.

What seems initially to be a space for old values becomes a space for reform, as Robert Southey utilizes the abiding self-consciousness of the sonnet form to extol subversion and to underscore the moral perversity of the depicted circumstances. Southey constructs a sequence of sonnets at once in command of the tools presented by the formal structure of prevailing sonnet modes and in rebellion against the expectations held by a reading public toward whom the sonnets’ speaker is outraged.

In these sonnets, Robert Southey achieves a biting synergy of working within the tradition of sonneteering (to subvert accepted virtues) and working outside of that tradition (to establish the necessity of social reform).

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[Work: Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade, Robert Southey, 1797]
Sonneteer, Pamphleteer:

Analyzing Robert Southey’s use of the Sonnet Form to Combat Slavery

was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

 

Last week’s Tuesday Tome article considered Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, and showcased the ways in which Franklin’s carefully crafted self-presentation acts as an extension of Franklin’s moralizing vanity. In contrast to Franklin’s project, I would like to put forward the perceptive thinker and stirring writer Frederick Douglass as a better candidate for the role of quintessential American.

The autobiography of Frederick DouglassNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, unlike that of Benjamin Franklin (which focuses entirely on self-improvement), seems to put forth the pressing concern of bringing about political and societal betterment. Douglass spends nearly all of his time decrying the atrocities and duplicities inherent to the system of slavery.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book.

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[Work: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Frederick Douglass, 1845]
Acclaim Freely Given:

How Frederick Douglass’ Autobiography Communes with the Reader

was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski