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Michael Falk

Michael Falk is Lecturer in Eighteenth-Century Studies at the University of Kent, and an Adjunct Fellow in Digital Humanities at Western Sydney University. His key interests include digital methods, the global aspects of Romanticism and the Enlightenment, and the literary history of the self. He has published on Maria Edgeworth, Charlotte Smith, John Clare and Charles Harpur; co-edits the Romantic Poetry section of Year’s Work in English Studies; and has work forthcoming on the problem of Artificial Stupidity and on eighteenth-century Swiss book history. He is a keen digital humanities educator, and has run workshops on coding and other skills across the UK and Australia. He is currently at work on his monograph, Frankenstein’s Siblings, a digital study of contingent selfhood in Romantic literature.

Article: Sad Realities

Charles Harpur (1813–68) is recognised in his native Australia as a pioneering Romantic poet, but his achievements are little recognised elsewhere. This essay considers his contribution to the development of Romantic tragedy. He wrote two tragedies, The Bushrangers (1853, orig. 1835), a gothic bandit drama in the tradition of Schiller’s Die Räuber (1781), and King Saul (c. 1838), an incomplete Biblical drama apparently inspired by Byron’s Cain: A Mystery (1821). Like many European playwrights of the period, Harpur was deeply influenced by the new kinds of melodrama that were sweeping the stage, but also sought to distinguish his literary productions from more popular fare. His alienation from the popular theatre was exacerbated by his colonial context, where strict censorship, rising snobbery and plentiful cultural imports from Britain stifled the early efforts of nationalist, convict-born writers like himself. These contexts help to explain three distinctive aspects of Harpur’s Romantic tragedies: they were direct in an age when drama was often evasive, radical even in an age of revolution, and mystical in an age of increasing religious scepticism. Whatever his theatrical merits, Harpur was a bold playwright who worked through controversial political and aesthetic problems in a remarkably explicit way. Continue reading

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