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Spellbinding London: Charles Lamb's "Ella" and the Old Country House (London, England) (Critical Essay)

Studies in Romanticism 2009, Spring, 48, 1

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It should seem to me from my (trivial) observations, that noblemen and gentlemen have almost abandon'd the country ... and that dowagers have gone away ... and that as that encreasing Wen, the metropolis, must be fed the body will gradually decay.... Many landowners, especially among the politically active magnates, spent only a modest amount of time on their estates, and in this respect were much more urban in character ... than is commonly allowed. (1) THE M.P. JOHN BYNG'S APPLICATION OF THE TERM "WEN" TO THE PLIGHT of the country house in 1789 occurs over thirty years before its use by William Cobbett, whose own concerns over London's socio-economic influence began appearing in the Political Register in 1821 (prior to their publication in Rural Rides in 1830). (2) Between them, these two texts and their chronology suggest a perhaps unlikely historical context for a reading of Charles Lamb's essayistic persona, "Elia." Appearing in the London Magazine in the early 1820S, however, the quintessentially metropolitan Elia is contemporary with Cobbett's Political Register, while the two Elia essays on which this paper focuses effect an ironic twist on Byng's lament for the traditional country house. Elia's self-reflexive metropolitanism as periodical text, I propose, creates a layered meaning, in which an apparent expression of "wen-anxiety" paradoxically encodes a cultural affirmation of the capital's omnipotence. This occurs through the two essays' collective conversion of Lamb's own childhood encounter with a decaying country house-an encounter that predates Byng's diaries by seven or eight years--into the literary commodity of Gothic fiction for the London's readership.

Spellbinding London: Charles Lamb's "Ella" and the Old Country House (London, England) (Critical Essay)
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  • Category: Language Arts & Disciplines
  • Published: 22 March 2009
  • Publisher: Boston University
  • Print Length: 32 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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