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October 23, 2012

Evan Radcliffe

Evan Radcliffe reading the Times Literary Supplement while
traveling in Brazil, where he grew up.
My field is Romantic literature, and my main focus is on the relation of this literature to the controversies around the French Revolution—in particular, the ways in which Romantic literature reflects and responds to the political and moral-philosophical debates of the 1790s, debates about such topics as patriotism, the value of local affections, the ideal of universal benevolence, and the ways in which traditions enable or constrict moral choices. The essay on which I am currently working grows out of a conference presentation on Wordsworth’s play The Borderers. I contend that although supporters of the French Revolution attempted to enlist both justice and sympathy for their cause, they could not escape the conflicts between the two ideals that earlier moral philosophers first outlined. These conflicts, I argue, were made especially pressing by the way that the constant presence of vengeance in France undermined ideas about justice. I am pursuing how, by exploring these issues in The Borderers, Wordsworth sets up his own future stance as a narrative poet, a stance that is not only specifically literary but also has significant affinities with the ways in which modern philosophers discuss the relations between acting and refraining from action, and between doing and allowing harm.

Much of my scholarship considers questions of narrative, questions that are also becoming more important in my teaching. Along with Romantic literature I teach Greek classical literature, and my interest in literature in relation to moral philosophy has (together with the collaboration between the English department and Villanova Law School in hosting two Law and Literature conferences) resulted in my regularly teaching a session on literature, narrative, and ethics in a course at the Law School.

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