Robert Southey’s Conservative Occult
This chapter investigates Robert Southey’s Poems 1799 as an anxious reaction to Wordsworth’s employment of popular magic as an emancipating force. In ‘The Witch’, ‘The Cross Roads’, and ‘The Mad Woman’ the occult practitioner is revised as a dangerously reactionary figure, whose occult credentials further entrap their communities (and themselves) in outmoded dependence on patriarchal power. Poems 1799 is a stage of struggle for Southey’s political identity, as anxieties regarding his deepening conservatism are enacted in his revocalisations of Lyrical Ballads. Finally, the chapter turns to Thalaba the Destroyer. Written at the height of Southey’s apostate anxiety, the oriental drama is the site of debate regarding political identities and the uses of the occult at the end of a revolutionary decade.