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The Literature of Fear in Britain

Coleridge’s Fears in Solitude and the French Invasion of Fishguard in 1797

Ildiko Csengei    University of Huddersfield (UK)    



This essay reads Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem, Fears in Solitude, in the context of the letters, memoirs, pamphlets, prints and caricatures that were produced in Britain during the 1797-98 French invasion scare. The essay will explore the ways in which these written and visual products attempted to evoke, express and even suppress feelings of fear, anxiety and terror and aims to understand Coleridge’s ‘fears’ in the context of these feelings. In particular, the essay will examine how Coleridge’s poem responds to the heightened alertness following the Fishguard landing in February 1797. In Fears in Solitude, Coleridge is deeply ambivalent about his stance towards his own country and his attitude towards the French. Reviewers and scholars have long been debating the poem’s pro- or anti-war stance, and whether or not it is part of a contemporary alarmist discourse. Many broadsides, handbills and pamphlets published during this period warned about the horrors of a possible French invasion. They were funded by royalist associations with the sole aim of propagating fear across the nation. While these publications contributed to a widespread discourse of alarm, others, especially the visual culture of the period, challenged and ridiculed such fearmongering. Military and naval accounts and other first-hand narratives gave voice to the feelings pervading this time of psychological warfare, and explored the extent to which the horrors of war did come home intimately to affect the individual body and mind during this time. Read in the context of such contemporary texts, Coleridge’s poem emerges as an artistic discourse designed reflectively to manage his own and the nation’s fears instead of perpetuating the feeling itself.

17 Dicembre 2018
06 Dicembre 2018
18 Novembre 2018

Keywords: InvasionPropagandaFishguardColeridge1790sFeelingPoliticsFearWar

Copyright: © 2018 Ildiko Csengei. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.