Cambridge and London in Wordsworth's 'Prelude'
This thesis examines two sections of William Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem, The Prelude: Book 3, “Residence at Cambridge,” and Book 7, “Residence in London.” Books 3 and 7 are often read as interruptions in the poem’s narrative of psychological and artistic maturation. “Cambridge” and “London” are often read as impediments to the development of Wordsworth’s imagination, a development which is traditionally associated with transcendental epiphany in nature. This thesis offers a re-reading of the Cambridge and London books, emphasizing their affirmative role in the organic structure of the poem, and suggesting that these spaces allow Wordsworth to reflect positively on his imaginative development. Chapter 1 considers the issues involved in a literature review. Chapter 2 looks at the representation of Wordsworth’s adjustment to Cambridge. Though the poet considers his imagination to have been dormant during his first year at university, Book 3 depicts a phase in which the mind is opening toward outside influences. In the sheltered groves and level fenland of Cambridge, Wordsworth finds an environment both protective and sufficiently strange to stimulate his sense of inner power. Chapter 3 is concerned with Wordsworth’s changing attitudes toward London. The poet was composing Book 7 over a period of time during which he made multiple trips to the city. While it is ostensibly the record of his very first residence in London, Book 7 has a palimpsestic quality, layering together different encounters with the city and exhibiting an increasingly affirmative vision of urban life. In particular, this chapter traces the influence of Charles Lamb on Wordsworth’s thinking about London. Chapter 4 considers the centrality of the body and the sense of touch in Wordsworth’s response to London. Touch in Book 7 is both a source of anxiety and the vehicle for Wordsworth’s understanding of the city, its influence on him and its significance for a poetics of belonging.