Radical Gothic: Politics and Antiquarianism in Wordsworth’s Salisbury Plain

Tom Duggett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book or Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter reads Wordsworth’s Salisbury Plain (1794) as a “Gothic” text in the sense of reflecting an engagement with the antiquarian strains of British radicalism in the early 1790s. The poem develops a connection between ancient acts of murder and what Wordsworth later called modern Britain’s “wars … against liberty,” giving dramatic expression to Wordsworth’s increasing awareness of threats to conventional notions of cultural and political Englishness, including from the “Celtic” radicalism with which he had aligned himself on his return from France in late 1792. I suggest that this is not simply a negative “reactionary” turn; rather that Salisbury Plain sees Wordsworth seeking to recreate a specifically English tradition of “Gothic” radicalism. By bringing a range of historical material to bear upon the first text of the poem (also known as “A Night on Salisbury Plain”) I aim to recover Wordsworth’s immediate sense of the monumental historical and political antithesis staked out on the landscape of Salisbury Plain—registered physically in the correspondence between Salisbury Cathedral and Stonehenge, and figuratively in the opposition between the talisman of ancient English liberty, Magna Carta, and the Wicker Man, the emblem of ancient British slavery.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGothic Romanticism
Subtitle of host publicationWordsworth, Architecture, Politics, Form
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages35
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePalgrave Gothic
ISSN (Print)2634-6214
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6222


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