A Clash of Harmony: Forgery as Politics in the Work of Thomas Chatterton

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-47
Number of pages25
JournalCritical Survey
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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