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The Improviser's Disorder: Spontaneity, Sickness, and Social Deviance in Late Romanticism

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Poetic improvisation––the spontaneous composition of verses in a performative context–– is usually associated with wit, sociability, and playful interaction between poet and audience. However, during the first half of the nineteenth century there is a tendency to represent the improviser as a social deviant, who may be ill or insane; at best, he is regarded as unstable, unreliable, manipulative, and intent on personal profit. Suggesting that the rhapsode in Plato's Ion may be a Classical forerunner of these negative portrayals of Romantic improvvisatori, this paper examines autobiographical and fictional representations of improvising poets in English, German, and Russian nineteenth‐century texts.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Professor of English and Comparative Literature, and Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, at the University of Western Ontario

Publication date: July 1, 2005


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