Many-Coloured Glass, Aerial Images, and the Work of the Lens: Romantic Poetry and Optical Culture

Isobel Armstrong

in Proceedings of the British Academy Volume 181, 2010-2011 Lectures

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780197265277
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754203 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Many-Coloured Glass, Aerial Images, and the Work of the Lens: Romantic Poetry and Optical Culture

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This lecture argues that new optical experiences created by the lens and what we now call the virtual image were the foundation alike of ‘high’ science, associated at this historical moment with the telescope, and popular spectacle. They precipitated and renewed an enquiry into the nature and status of the image (always incipient in poetics) as the technologies of the phantasmagoria, the kaleidoscope and the diorama penetrated deep into the poets' worlds and words. The projected image, without a correspondence in reality, was a troubling aspect of this modern technology, provoking new understandings of materiality and immateriality. Colour, reflection and refraction became central concerns as a corollary of the debate. Some poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Amelia Opie, Keats, Shelley) assimilated this imagery into their work, albeit skeptically. Others (Charlotte Smith, Blake) violently resisted it. The lecture looks closely at image-making in poetic language, and argues that there were both ontological and political stakes in this enquiry.

Keywords: romantic poetry; lens; image; optical culture; colour

Chapter.  8806 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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