A Clash of Harmony

Forgery as Politics in the Work of Thomas Chatterton

in Critical Survey
Author:
Ivan Phillips University of Hertfordshire i.j.phillips@herts.ac.uk

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If Thomas Chatterton is remembered at all now, it is for his supposed suicide rather than for his work. He has become the all-but-forgotten 'poster boy' for tragic Romanticism, a talented but misunderstood teenager who killed himself in the face of social prejudice and poverty. This article attempts a revaluation of the work, both the forgeries of mediaeval manuscripts (the so-called 'Rowleyan' texts) and the 'acknowledged' writings. Recognising the importance of the Chatterton mythology in shaping narratives of interpretation, it also makes a case for understanding his creations as uniquely prescient of the current age of digital production. In this respect, Chatterton's apparently antiquarian manner and reputation are seen to be in complex tension with a formal critique of emergent mass media culture. Particular concerns of the piece are the essential materiality of Chatterton's forgeries and the dissenting animus of his non-Rowley works. Establishing a critical framework that encompasses critical and new media theory, the article suggests that Chatterton's collected works constitute a singularly political engagement with modernity.

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