College of Arts and Sciences
Department of English
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
Despite the long-standing popularity of the story of Paolo and Francesca among British Romantic poets and the already widespread readership of Dante’s works during the early nineteenth century, Leigh Hunt’s poem The Story of Rimini is unique in that it was among the first to make the story of Paolo and Francesca its centerpiece and to give the humanist, sympathetic treatment of the historical Francesca so characteristic of British Romanticism. Despite the controversy surrounding the poem’s sensuality, its poetic style, and its political undertones, Rimini produced a dramatic ripple of interest in the story of Paolo and Francesca that reached some of the most influential members of Hunt’s literary circle. In this analysis, I juxtapose The Story of Rimini with Keats’s sonnet on the same subject, “A Dream, After Reading Dante’s Episode of Paulo and Francesca,” and identify a stylistic similarity between the three authors that argues the relationship of pathos-based aesthetic judgments of immediacy as inherently linked to ethical judgment, inevitably politicizing literature. This stylistic relationship is evidence of the uniquely Dantean aesthetic undercurrent that is present in the poetry of the Cockney School. My reading of both The Story of Rimini and Keats’s sonnet “A Dream, After Reading Dante’s Episode of Paulo and Francesca” suggests Dante as a common source of aesthetic influence for the two poets through the reactionary critical dialogue that their poetry sustains with the aesthetic implications of his text; however, it also supports a reexamination of Dante through the Cockney school, a reading of what I call the “proto-Romantic” aesthetics of the Divine Comedy.
Hilliard, Meredith, "The Proto-Romantic Politics of Reading: The Aesthetic Presence of Dante in the Cockney School" (2018). Honors Theses. 55.