Essays in Romanticism

Romanticism Against Youth

Essays in Romanticism (2013), 20, (1), 83–100.

Abstract

Against the predominating "youth model" that has served both as critical and pedagogical shorthand for the British Romantic period, this essay argues that T. R. Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population (1798)—a controversial polemic that described the inevitable tendency of human populations to reproduce beyond food supply—articulates in terrifyingly empirical terms an as-yet overlooked Romantic fear of youth, or ephebiphobia. Far from an isolated idiosyncracy, however, Malthus articulates anxieties evident in a surprising cadre of Romantic writers, Mary Shelley, perhaps most notably, among them. In a close, historically sensitive reading, this essay demonstrates how Shelley's The Last Man (1826) engages older age to critique and ameliorate the surprisingly conservative politics at the heart of the Romantic youth model—a critique that transcends the historical bounds of the period to inform critical evaluations of our own contemporary anti-aging paradigm.

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Author details

Charise, Andrea