Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Edward W. Bratton

Committee Members

Richard Kelly, Allen Carroll, Dorothy Habel


The function of the grotesque within William Wordsworth's most important poetry, that written between 1788 and 1805, has not been appreciated. Yet perceptions characterized by the juxtaposition of fearful, unattractive images with images of beauty and harmony appear throughout Wordsworth's youthful poetry and are focused and directed in the Lyrical Ballads volumes and in The Prelude (1805). The few scholars who have discussed the grotesque in Wordsworth's poetry either have not recognized the value of that mode to the development of Wordsworth's poetic idiom or have confused it with the sublime, and thus have misunderstood the nature and function of his images.

The first two chapters of this dissertation include and introduction to critical considerations of the importance of a dark, fearful tension in Wordsworth's poetry and attempt to synthesize important definitions of the grotesque. They offer a backdrop against which to consider the grotesque and provide a working definition of that mode particularly applicable to Wordsworth. The third, fourth, and fifth chapters study the poet's developing use of grotesque image patterns, beginning with his youthful poetry and continuing through the Lyrical Ballads and The Prelude (1805). The specific argument is that Wordsworth became a true artist of the "noble" grotesque, functionally employing grotesque image patterns in his poems, not just for the sake of idle fancy or to relate social and moral meanings, but rather to reveal the dynamic role of the grotesque in the process of the imagination's growth. Wordsworth discovered the poetic voice necessary to expressing how incongruous perceptions temper and mature the imagination, preparing it to achieve a heightened vision, the sublime. The final chapter argues that Wordsworth now needs to be recognized as a masterful artist of the true grotesque. He revived the native grotesque tradition in English literature and extended the grotesque to become a positive artistic expression, a means of projecting a vision of the mystery and beauty of the divinity alive in all of creation.

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