Genius, heredity, and family dynamics. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his children : a literary biography.
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Gonzalez, Yolanda J.
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The children of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hartley, Derwent, and Sara, have received limited scholarly attention, though all were important nineteenth century figures. Lack of scholarly attention on them can be blamed on their father, who has so overshadowed his children that their value has been relegated to what they can reveal about him, the literary genius. Scholars who have studied the children for these purposes all assume familial ties justify their basic premise, that Coleridge can be understood by examining the children he raised. But in this case, the assumption is false; Coleridge had little interaction with his children overall, and the task of raising them was left to their mother, Sara, her sister Edith, and Edith’s husband, Robert Southey. While studies of S. T. C.’s children that seek to provide information about him are fruitless, more productive scholarly work can be done examining the lives and contributions of Hartley, Derwent, and Sara to their age. This dissertation is a starting point for reinvestigating Coleridge’s children and analyzes their life and work. Taken out from under the shadow of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, we find that Hartley was not doomed to be a “child of romanticism” as a result of his father’s experimental approach to his education; rather, he chose this persona for himself. Conversely, Derwent is the black sheep of the family and consciously chooses not to undertake the family profession, writing poetry. Instead, he establishes a successful career as an educator and editor. Sara Coleridge, the primary inheritor of her father’s intellectual gifts, faces the challenges of female authorship but finds an acceptable avenue of self-expression in writing educational verses for children through which she can exercise her mental acumen and express her personal fears and struggles publicly. Overlooking Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s children as important figures has been a loss to nineteenth century studies. Hence, revisionary work must be done to remedy the lack of scholarly interest in the second generation of Coleridges and to recognize their not inconsiderable contributions, in both literary and intellectual terms, to later Romanticism and Victorianism.