Wordsworth’s Bildung and the Sublime: A Schillerian Reading of The Prelude

 Wordsworth’s Bildung and the Sublime: A Schillerian Reading of The Prelude


This paper is an attempt to re-examine Wordsworth’s poetic claim of his spiritual growth in The Prelude with German ideas of Bildung and the sublime. I start with Schlegel’s remarks that the prevailing tendencies of his age are the French Revolution, Fichte’s transcendental philosophy, and Wilhelm Meister, which I think could also be an apt summary of what is contained in The Prelude because all the Bildungsgeschichte of the age across Europe were motivated more or less by the same historical occasion, the French Revolution. Bildung, in this context, may well be understood as the process of materializing in an individual’s life the idea of freedom, one of the ideals the French Revolution was supposed to make into reality, which would explain why The Prelude should be understood along with its German equivalents in the same philosophical context. My argument is that Wordsworth’s poetic claim of his own poetic growth could best be made sense of by Schiller’s idea of “pathetic sublime” because Wordsworth’s Bildung in The Prelude is prominently accelerated by the “sublime” experiences within the key episodes such as Simplon Pass, Snowdon, and the “Sleep no more” scene of Book X. In the first main section, I recover Goethe’s idea of Bildung from his classic Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahr for the comparison with the other kinds of Bildung in Wordsworth’s poetry. In the second, I explained the Bildung of “Tintern Abbey” which is mainly based on British empiricist philosopher such as David Hartley. In the third, I critically reviewed the works by other scholars who have studied The Prelude in the light of Kantian sublime to prepare my own reading of The Prelude with Schillerian sublime as the rationale for Wordsworth’s Bildung in the final section.


Journal of English Studies in Korea 41(2021): 5-62 

영미문학연구41(2021): 5-62


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