Romantic Vacancy

The Poetics of Gender, Affect, and Radical Speculation

By Kate Singer

Subjects: Literary Criticism, Gender Studies, Women's Studies, Philosophy
Series: SUNY series, Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century
Hardcover : 9781438475271, 278 pages, August 2019
Paperback : 9781438475288, 278 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents


Introduction: The Poetics of Vacancy

1. Charlotte Smith and the Taste of Aporia

2. Mary Robinsons's Intensities: Sensation after Oblivion

3. Reaping Songs and Ineffable Tales: William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley's Singing Women and the Rave of Affect

4. Felicia Hemans's Ruined Minds: Cognitive Overload and the Soul of Freedom

5. Maria Jane Jewsbury and the Phantom Feelings of the Moving Image

Coda The Phantom Menace and the Spirit of Affect

Works Cited

Examines the concept of a poetics of vacancy in Romantic-era literature.


Romantic Vacancy argues that, at the cult of sensibility's height, Romantic writers found alternative tropes of affect to express movement beyond sensation and the body. Grappling with sensibility's claims that sensation could be translated into ideas and emotions, poets of vacancy rewrote core empiricist philosophies that trapped women and men in sensitive bodies and, more detrimentally, in ideological narratives about emotional response that gendered subjects' bodies and minds. Kate Singer contends that affect's genesis occurs instead through a series of figurative responses and movements that loop together human and nonhuman movements of mind, body, and nature into a posthuman affect. This book discovers a new form of Romantic affect that is dynamically linguistic and material. It seeks to end the long tradition of holding women and men writers of the Romantic period as separate and largely unequal. It places women writers at the forefront of speculative thinking, repositions questions of gender at the vanguard of Romantic-era thought, revises how we have long thought of gender in the period, and rewrites our notions of Romantic affect. Finally, it answers pivotal questions facing both affect studies and Romanticism about interrelations among language, affect, and materiality. Readers will learn more about the deep history of how poetic language can help us move beyond binary gender and its limiting intellectual and affective ideologies.

Kate Singer is Associate Professor of English and Chair of the Critical Social Thought Program at Mount Holyoke University.


"One of the most convincing aspects of Singer's book is her sense of the critical neglect of the female poets that she explores even since their rediscovery at the end of the twentieth century … this book offers a sophisticated reading of the authors she considers and will be a welcome addition to the writing on this period. " — European Romantic Review

"Romantic Vacancy is a formidable text for our time. Providing a nuanced and original account of Romanticism's reconfiguration of affect, Singer not only opens up new ways of thinking about literature of the past; her detailed argument for complex poetic explorations of what it means to be a self, create challenges for the present, especially through the intimate relation between text and affect. This book is essential for anyone working in literary Romanticism, but will also be valuable for those interested in the complex literary history of affect. " — Claire Colebrook, Pennsylvania State University

"For some time now there has been what we might call a movement that attends in Romantic writing to affects and states of being we had previously neglected or simply missed altogether. A generation of scholars, junior and senior, is mapping out this uncharted territory in the most original manner, along the way teaching us how to be with Romanticism, and how Romanticism has always been with us, in ways that are teaching all of us in turn how to be with the present. We can put Kate Singer's Romantic Vacancy—smart, insightful, beautifully argued—at the vanguard of this movement, proof of the fact that any rumours of the death of our field are not only highly exaggerated but just plain wrong. " — Joel Faflak, author of Romantic Psychoanalysis: The Burden of the Mystery

"Romantic Vacancy offers compelling close readings of Romantic women poets and two canonical male poets (Shelley and Wordsworth). After reading this book, Romantic-era scholars will no longer be able to read these poets in the same way again—I think this book will be a game changer for scholars working on women poets. This is a very fine work that should have a significant influence on the field. " — Daniela Garofalo, author of Women, Love, and Commodity Culture in British Romanticism