Author

Yu Zhang

Date of Award

6-1991

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Supervisor

Donald Goellnicht

Abstract

The present thesis is a study of the problematic role of the Muse figure in relation to the Romantic quest for poetic identity. In general, the Romantic quest is riddled with the problem of domesticating the wayward Muse, with whom the male quester-poet never seems to be perfectly at home. This project of domestication is doomed, however, by the "treacherous" mutability of the Muse-principle, which turns the Romantic quest into a discourse of contradiction. To illustrate this, I will examine the figural patterns of confrontation between the quester-poet and the female Muse figures in selected works by Coleridge and Keats, focusing in particular on two major poems, "Christabel" and "Lamia."

In analyzing the English poems, I will draw from various elements of Chinese culture and appropriate them to the purpose of my study. In the context of my cross-cultural reading, the Romantic Muse is a kindred spirit to the "Mysterious Female" of the Taoist Way, who clearly represents the maternal principle of transformation. The "natural" emblem of the Way is the rainbow. An analysis of the rainbow in its various and conflictual forms of signification will help unravel the Romantic myth of organic harmony. The latant tension inscribed in the individual work's figural patterns reveals, apart from the sexual polemics underlying its symbolic structure, the ideological struggle within that elusive centre of contradiction known as the human subject. The conflicting elements which drive the Romantic quester's unstable ego in diverse directions become manifest in the literary works symptomatically, in the form of linguistic discrepancies. The result of all this textual complexity is not the construction of organic wholeness (as the New critic would claim), but the unravelling of the Romantic myth of a unified self in the very process of the quest for self-identity.

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