Essays in Romanticism

Geometry, the Body, and Affect in Wordsworth's The Ruined Cottage

Essays in Romanticism (2014), 21, (2), 159–178.

Abstract

This essay charts three levels of geometry as represented in Wordsworth's formative poem, The Ruined Cottage and its later adaptations. The essay demonstrates how the Romantic poet advances from practical and speculative stages of geometry to a logical domain. Such an education in geometry coincides with what critics have recognized as a tendency in the West to neglect the hands and touch, associated with practical arts, while privileging eyes and vision, associated with reason and logic. Wordsworth contributes to this trend but his recourse to vision may be understood as a retreat from the embodiment of measuring systems, which interferes with the eyes' ability to read signs in nature. Despite his antipathy towards geometry's embodiment, I argue that Wordsworth adopts geometry's logical method as a means to ensure the communication of affect between observers and signs, or what he calls in a note to "The Thorn," the "science of feelings."

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Ottinger, Aaron