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"Beauty, that piercing joy akin to pain": Romanticism and the "Christian Moral Economy of 'Sacrifice'" in First World War Poetry Open Access


Other title
British Poetry
Moral Economy
World War
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Hamilton, Samantha J
Supervisor and department
Wiesenthal, Christine (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Sywenky, Irene (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Brazeau, Robert (English and Film Studies)
Wiesenthal, Christine (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Arts
Degree level
This thesis examines the connection between Romanticism and the Christ-like sacrifice of soldiers depicted in British poetry of the First World War. It focuses on the Romantic notion of the artist as an individual with special knowledge who suffers in order to create beautiful art, which, this thesis argues, provides a precedent for poets during the war to portray the suffering and sacrifice of combatants in beautiful – and, thus, aesthetically acceptable – ways. Particularly, this thesis focuses on a small, but diverse, group of poets who use the consecrated language of Christianity not only to express in poetry the un-poetic aspects of war (suffering and death), but to navigate a wartime culture of hyper-nationalism and what Peter Howarth calls “a Christian moral economy of ‘sacrifice’ for national honour or the common good” (51) in order to express their thoughts and feelings on the war to a large (and largely conservative) audience. The methods used in this thesis include a historical analysis of the culture and context in which the poets here examined developed and published their work. This analysis includes an examination of the formal and informal education that these poets likely received as well as the publishing conditions in Britain during the First World War. This historical context provides the basis for applying the genre theory used by Nils Clausson, who argues for the necessity of poetic models being available to poets to write about their wartime experiences poetically. This thesis argues that Romantic poetry was made an accessible poetic model for poets via their education, and this genre of poetry is demonstrated to have influenced the poetry herein examined through the close reading and formal analysis of selected works by Sergeant Leslie Coulson, Eva Dobell, Private Wilfrid Gibson, Rudyard Kipling, Marjorie Pickthall, Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon, and the Reverend Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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