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Wordsworth's Ethics

, 272 pages
September 2012



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Wordsworth's Ethics

Why read Wordsworth’s poetry—indeed, why read poetry at all? Beyond any pleasure it might give, can it make one a better or more flourishing person? These questions were never far from William Wordsworth’s thoughts. He responded in rich and varied ways, in verse and in prose, in both well-known and more obscure writings.

Wordsworth's Ethics is a comprehensive examination of the Romantic poet’s work, delving into his desire to understand the source and scope of our ethical obligations. Adam Potkay finds that Wordsworth consistently rejects the kind of impersonal utilitarianism that was espoused by his contemporaries James Mill and Jeremy Bentham in favor of a view of ethics founded in relationships with particular persons and things.

The discussion proceeds chronologically through Wordsworth’s career as a writer—from his juvenilia through his poems of the 1830s and '40s—providing a valuable introduction to the poet’s work. The book will appeal to readers interested in the vital connection between literature and moral philosophy.

Adam Potkay is the William R. Kenan Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary. He is the author of The Story of Joy from the Bible to Late Romanticism, winner of the Harry Levin Prize of the American Comparative Literature Association.

"This elegantly written book amounts to a defense of poetry... It is required reading in any case."

"Generous, probing, and comprehensive."

" Wordsworth's Ethics is a nuanced and carefully argued book that will command attention and respect from all romanticists... It is a great virtue of Potkay's book that without excessive reliance on the intentional fallacy, and with compelling new insights about important passages we thought we knew, its author is able to outline a system of thought that Wordsworth would almost certainly have endorsed."

"It is both a fine exposition of the workings of Wordsworth’s verse, and a stirring defense of poetry, in an age in which the value of the humanities themselves is constantly being challenged."

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