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Unacknowledged LegislatorsThe Poet as Lawgiver in Post-Revolutionary France$
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Roger Pearson

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198754473

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198754473.001.0001

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1789 and After

1789 and After

(p.573) 24 1789 and After
Unacknowledged Legislators

Roger Pearson

Oxford University Press

This chapter summarizes the preceding account of the poet as lawgiver in post-revolutionary France under four headings: the poet as politician; the poet as champion of justice; the poet as moral and religious commentator; and the poet as officiant of uncertainty. Aspects of the public careers and literary works of Chateaubriand, Staël, Lamartine, Hugo, and Vigny are compared and contrasted under these headings and situated within a broader narrative in which the poet’s authority comes to be seen to derive no longer from God but from humanity itself, and in which the poet-lawgiver, forsaking direct political engagement, privileges poetry as an alternative and more effective legislation. Poetry ceases to be a tool of ideology and aspires to be a powerful independent instrument of moral progress, non-denominational religious feeling, and secular surmise about the meanings of life. The poet moves beyond melancholy and, anticipating Baudelaire, towards a positive poetics of conjecture.

Keywords:   Poet-lawgiver, politics, justice, melancholy, officiant of uncertainty, Chateaubriand, Staël, Lamartine, Hugo, Vigny

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