The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge is probably best remembered by modern readers for his poetry. The exotic imagery of “Kubla Khan” (1816) and the nightmarish scenes from The Ancient Mariner (1798) are among the more choice items in the typical undergraduate survey course of English literature. More astute readers may remember him as the coauthor of a book of poems called Lyrical Ballads (1798), the Romantic manifesto that heralded the increasing emphasis upon the subjective experience in literature. Yet, as Rosemary Ashton reveals in this excellent biography, Coleridge was much more than this. He was the first modern literary critic, and his influence has continued long after his demise.
It might seem the height of arrogance or foolishness to profile a literary figure who died in 1834. Coleridge in part chronicled his own life in Biographia Literaria (1817), and there have been numerous biographies since then. Another objection that might be raised is the dearth of new material on the subject. There are no new revelations about Coleridge’s life to pique the reader’s interest. Essentially, then, this is a repackaging of material already well known to Coleridge scholars, with much of the primary source material having been committed to print some time ago. One reason Ashton succeeds, however, is that she manages to craft a solid narrative that will serve to disseminate this specialized knowledge to a wider audience.
(The entire section is 1985 words.)
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