Strategies of Legitimation 1796–1881

  • Natasha Distiller


With the exception of Milton, who made important formal and thematic contributions to the English sonnet,1 virtually no one wrote sonnets in the seventeenth century (Houston 2003: 152; Going 1976: 15). In the eighteenth century, when sonnets did start to come back into vogue, they tended to be as single poems, capturing a thought or moment, describing a landscape or speaking to an event or person in the poet’s life. They were ‘sonnets of sensibility’ (Curran 1986: 30) rather than the kind of extended meditations on identity that followed on from Petrarch. Amatory sonnet sequences were well and truly out of fashion; none appear to have been written between Wroth’s 1621 sequence and the first sequence examined in some detail in this chapter, Mary Robinson’s 1796 publication of the sequence of 44 sonnets, Sappho and Phaon. Even at the sonnet’s height in the late Victorian era, the next time in English literary history after the 1590s when the sonnet attained the same kind of prominence as it had in Elizabeth’s late reign, amatory poems either as single sonnets or as sequences were not as popular as they were during the Elizabethan era (Phelan 2005: 107–8).


Literary History Italian Form Woman Writer Love Poetry Gender Rule 
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© Natasha Distiller 2008

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  • Natasha Distiller

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