February 23, 2024


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EP Thomson, the definitive historian and last English romantic

EP Thomson, the definitive historian and last English romantic

“The Romantics. England in a Revolutionary Age”, translated from English and edited by Marion Leclair and Edward Lee-Six, Editions sociales, “Histoire”, 416 p., €25. EP Thomson.

Edward Palmer Thomson was one of the writers who continued to publish after his death. Eight texts written between 1968 and 1993, the year of his death at the age of 69 in 1997, were compiled into a book by his widow, Dorothy Thompson, and now translated. Volume respecting the title of the English Collection, The Romantics, adds a ninth essay dedicated to the novelist and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft. These texts are of very different types: scientific articles, reports, conferences. They should have been included in the book that EB Thomson planned to publish on his entire career as a historian, from the first book dedicated to William Morris in 1955 to William Blake (alas, both untranslated). )

To Thomson, the author of one of the most important books of XXe century, The Making of the English Working Class (1963; Seuil, 1988, for the French version), Romanticism was not only aesthetic but also a serious political commitment, fed by the ideas of the 1789 Revolution and animated by a sense of justice, feelings of authenticity and a demand for equality. . At dawn on the 19the century, the first English Romantics were able to express the aspirations and experiences of their generation in brilliant poetic language.

This book presents a beautiful and long-awaited piece on Wordsworth and Coleridge Lyrics (1798) He is also associated with lesser-known characters such as the benevolent but cold philosopher William Godwin or the courageous warrior John Thelwall. Their intertwined fates carry the book’s underlying theme: disillusionment. Disillusionment or fear in the face of the violence of the Revolution in France, the persecution of all critics of the British monarchy, political divisions, and personal animosities drove the romantic lovers from the hopes of their youth.

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Some, like Thelwal, chose to retire to village life; Others like Coleridge adopted more reactionary views. Disappointment is then surrender, denial and betrayal. Thompson observes this bitterly: “The Revolution in England brought about little more than the defeat of the most generous impulse our culture has ever known.” A possible narrative of the overthrow of the patriarchal order was made impossible by the alliance between Jacobin romanticism and plebeian extremism.

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