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Mr James Metcalf

Research interests

My research seeks to critically resituate a group of neglected texts from the mid-eighteenth century which have been perennially categorised as 'graveyard poetry'. Arbitrarily corralled under this expedient and retrospective academic banner, poems with vastly disparate concerns, styles, and intersections with other discourses in the broader contemporary landscape are typically dealt with singly and straightforwardly, when approached at all. The thesis aims to challenge this dominant approach to graveyard poetry and, consequently, question and restage the position of texts by Thomas Parnell, Edward Young, Robert Blair, James Hervey, Thomas Warton, and Thomas Gray in literary history.
The term 'graveyard poetry', the hypothesis contends, is outdated and contentiously misleading because of the incongruity among its constituent texts, in addition to being a problematic critical term applied posthumously to an alleged 'group' of writers who did not collaborate and operated within many separate traditions. Working out and against the issues of 'graveyard poetry' as a category in literary criticism and history, the project aims to show how it has been part of a process of marginalisation, as well as deceptively straightforward categorisation. Helpful only insofar as it offers a point of access to otherwise undervalued works, the term has been used pejoratively and simplistically, and so remains controversial yet relatively uncontested.
In re-examining the dominant topoi of these works, such as the space of the churchyard, the liminal borders between living and dead, religious didacticism, and the relationship between past and present in contemporary historiography, the thesis will present a new reading of graveyard poetry which takes account of the operations and concerns of the texts themselves as distinct entities. In doing so, the project will critically question the collective term with which these texts are tagged, recuperate important distinctions as well as close relationships between these writers and their works, and find a more accurate and relevant place for this cohort in relation to literary history and criticism.

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