Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In complementary response to socio-historisists who discuss the concept of "freedom" in William Wordsworth's poetry as determined from without — be it by socio-historical conditions, gender, or imposed ideology — I draw from the theory of Nicholas Berdyaev, one of the prominent continental existentialists of the twentieth century, tracing the development of Wordsworth's understanding of freedom towards "genuine liberty" as progressively determined from within. Thus focusing on "existentia" rather than "essentia," I pay particular attention to shaping inner efforts and developing visions of the growing and conscious personality as they are described in The Prelude. Wordsworth hinges his ability to perceive — and make perceivable — the "external man" upon his own evolving understanding of inner freedom, claiming that his theme is "no other than the very heart of man." In The Prelude, especially of 1850, I find a direct link between the degree of personal freedom gained by the poet and the perfection of the human gestalten he depicts, the connection detailed by this dissertation. The dissertation offers the following chapters: (1) "Introduction. 'To be young was very heaven:' Two Thinkers Bred by Two Revolutions: Wordsworth and Berdyaev;" (2) "The Human Form and Human Independence in Wordsworth: A Link;" (3) "'Man Ennobled Outwardly Before My Sight;'" (4) “‘Uncouth Shapes' and Their Progress from Transgression to Transcendence;" (5) "Wordsworth's Trans-Figuration on Mount Snowdon and 'Genuine Liberty.'" My conclusion suggests that increasing degree of growing personal independence, gained by the developing poet and, possibly, by his reader, is manifested, on the level of imagery, by way of the perfecting of the human gestalten, from one Spot of Time to another, until the poet himself gets into a position to be seen as "an index of delight." Also, agreeing with Herbert Read (p. 210 of The True Voice of Feeling), I see Wordsworth among the first existentialist poets, a position which my comparison with Berdyaev supports. Visually, in The Prelude, the perfect, sublime, human form signals a shift to and back from transcendence, which equals "genuine liberty."



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Committee Chair

Jim S. Borck