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Talking RevolutionEdward Rushton's Rebellious Poetics, 1782-1814$
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Franca Dellarosa

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9781781381441

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2015

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781781381441.001.0001

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West-Indian Eclogues, or, The Opacity of Form

West-Indian Eclogues, or, The Opacity of Form

(p.142) 5 West-Indian Eclogues, or, The Opacity of Form
Talking Revolution

Franca Dellarosa

Liverpool University Press

This chapter engages in a close reading of Edward Rushton’s key antislavery collection of West Indian Eclogues (1787) – a challenging experiment in the long-standing pastoral form, which by the 1780s had developed a distinctive tradition of realistic concern, resulting in the production of a notable number of poems articulating antislavery feelings that were significantly produced in the two main slaving ports of Bristol and Liverpool. Initially, the chapter examines the generic affiliation of Rushton’s experiment, in relation to other Liverpool writings – his friend and associate Hugh Mulligan’s in particular – and the use they make of the pastoral mode. This paves the way for a close examination of Rushton’s own twisting of the form into a politically sensitive antipastoral. Rushton’s distinctive use of the generic conventions, clearly directed to highlighting black agency, finds a perplexing counterpart in the considerable apparatus of notes attached to the first edition; some of them would seem to qualify the poem’s radical stance. Notwithstanding this measure of ideological opaqueness, it is argued that form itself warrants the poetic text’s radical politics – by exploiting its own constraints, and illuminating its own uneasy coexistence with the apparatus of notes.

Keywords:   Edward Rushton, West Indian Eclogues, pastoral mode, Hugh Mulligan, radical politics, antislavery

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