Romantic Circles Blog

Teaching Frankenstein?

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For everyone teaching Frankenstein, this back-to-school note just in from Laura Mandell:

I'm writing to let people know that I have put up a page collecting all the resources that are available on the Romantic Circles Website for teaching Frankenstein. Romantic Circles has produced so many valuable resources, and this page solves the problem of finding them, remembering where they are, and directing students to everything that's available. Among other things, the collection includes a Praxis volume of critical essays (edited by Jerrold Hogle) on Victor Frankenstein's dream, the nineteenth-century stage adaptation, Presumption, a Mary Shelley chronology, and the student-created virtual reality space, FrankenMOO. The complete list can be found at:

http://www.rc.umd.edu/features/pedagogies/teachwfrank.html

Best,
Laura Mandell

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"Crossing the Channel" exhibition

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Andrew Elfenbein of the University of Minneapolis writes to tell us about the exhibition that just closed (September 7) at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Crossing the Channel: British and French Painting in the Age of Romanticism. It was organized by Tate Britain in association with the MIA and travels next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (October 8, 2003-January 4, 2004).

This exhibition has a declared mission to inspire “a renewed consideration of British Romanticism as a cardinal force in the evolution of French art” (catalogue). Although the curator, Patrick Noon, sometimes suggests a model of “interchange” between French and British, the exhibition itself is mostly unidirectional in its premise that British art “saved” French art. It opens with a bang: two rooms devoted to Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. . . . [cont'd]

The first room contains other examples of shipwreck paintings (including J. M. W. Turner’s Disaster at Sea) and some of Géricault’s studies. The second has only one painting, but that’s all it needs: a nineteenth-century copy of the original Raft of the Medusa, now too fragile to travel. According to the catalogue, it contains detail no longer visible in the original itself; the copy has, unnervingly, become more original than the original. Although a copy, it has “aura” in spades. The painting is displayed at ground level (evidently in imitation of its installation in William Bullock’s Egyptian hall), and its sheer size and isolation make it at once hypervisible and overwhelming. Viewers huddled nervously at a safe distance, afraid of what might happen if they got too close.

The next rooms, “Literature and History,” have an immediate payoff for literary scholars, a wealth of paintings based on literary subjects, including, for example, Camille Roqueplan’s Equinoctial Tide, illustrating Scott’s The Antiquary; Richard Parkes Bonington’s Knight and Page, illustrating Goethe’s Goetz von Berlichingen, and the same artist’s Quentin Durward at Liège; Ary Scheffer’s The Dead Pass Swiftly, illustrating Bürger’s “Lenore”; Delacroix’s Combat between The Giaour and Hassan and Colin’s The Giaour Contemplating the Dead Hassan; and a small version of Delacroix’s famous Death of Sardanapalus. Although the catalogue parallels Byron and Scott as equal inspirations for French painters, it struck me that they called for rather different responses. While Scott was famous for his picturesque descriptions, it is usually quite difficult in Byron’s Turkish Tales to know just what is going on visually. For fans of the Gothic, the exhibit features a range of spooky monk-paintings, including an intriguing one by Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard (the son of the more famous Fragonard). This painting seems to illustrate a scene from a novel or melodrama, but no one has been able to identify it. Since Spenser is a cottage industry in my house, my partner and I also hugely enjoyed William Etty’s Phaedria and Cymochles on the Idle Lake, a fantasia in feathers, which would make a wonderful gloss on Keats’s Spenserianism. The exhibition also includes rooms devoted to images of everyday life (including many horse paintings); the rise of watercolor; and landscape painting; the watercolor room in particular has many more paintings based on literary subjects, such as Delacroix's creepy Lucy Ashton's Bridal Night.

The exhibit concludes with a miscellaneous gallery of famous images, including Horace Vernet’s Mazeppa and the Wolves, illustrating a poem that the nineteenth-century artists found considerably more interesting than academic critics have. The cornerstone of this room is Paul Delaroche’s Execution of Lady Jane Grey, which the accompanying note suggestively positions for the French as a replay of the death of Marie Antoinette. (My partner and I also had a good discussion about the extent to which the necklace held by one of the female attendants functions as a kind of crypto-rosary, a standard image in portrayals of the death of Mary Stuart.) Yet the image that drew me most was John Martin’s The Deluge, because it took me back to a memorable class I attended in graduate school, in which the day’s subject was the sublime and the central exhibit was to have been a slide of Martin’s painting. The projector collapsed, and the instructor, undaunted, proceeded to sketch the entire Deluge on the blackboard and lectured with dazzling, improvisatory élan--a flood of dark and light.

Andrew Elfenbein

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now blogging... Romantic Circles

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The Editors of the Romantic Circles Website are excited about this, our newest feature, the RC Blog. We’ll regularly post our own announcements here, but we also invite you to e-mail us with timely, brief, informal notes on new books, films, performances, events, exhibits, scholarly queries—anything of interest to the community of Romanticists. You'll find a form for contacting us at:

http://www.rc.umd.edu/hpfiles/rc_email.html

The Movable Type system should make it easy for us to post frequently and efficiently and to track all postings and comments. In many ways, this blog is the fulfilment of what we imagined back in 1996, in a more limited way, in our (hereby discontinued) Editors' Dispatches column. Blogging offers a form of publication more editorially controlled and less ephemeral than a listserv, but one that is still spontaneous and informal, open to input from the community. We hope to hear from you soon.

Steve Jones and Neil Fraistat,
Co-Editors, Romantic Circles

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Unpublished

Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque. Reviewd by Julia Carlson

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Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque: British Art, Poetry, and Instruments, 1750-1830. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2008.  236pp.  ISBN-10: 0-8387-5700-0 (Hdbk.), $50.00.

 

 

 

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments
Part I: Water
1.  Introduction: The Sensate and the Sensible
2.  Longitude and the Inward Turn
Part II: Earth
3.  From Land to Landscape
4.  Other Maps and Other Territories

Part III: Sky
5.  From Sky to Skyscape
Part IV: Animals
6.  Cultured Cattle: From Bucolic to Beef
7.  Cattle and Human Animality

Notes

Reference List

Index

 

Reviewed by
Julia Carlson
University of Cincinnati

 

Water, earth, sky, and animals?  At first glance, one of the four sections into which Technologies of the Picturesque is divided seems unlike the others.  We come quickly to recognize, however, that the likeness of “animals” to the other categories lies in its also being an object of picturesque vision: one of the basic “elements of nature” (15) encountered, perceived, and composed in visual art according to the rules of picturesque aesthetics.  Water, earth, sky, and animals are the basic vocabulary of the picturesque.  Yet, as Ron Broglio shows, Romantic artists were not alone in representing these objects and fitting them to human use; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientists and surveyors encountered and inscribed the same elements according to their particular technological, cartographic, agricultural, and immunological agendas.  In six tightly focused chapters, the author compares artistic and scientific encounters with nature, their tools and epistemologies, and their respective effects on human subjectivity and sense of space.  Crossing disciplinary divides consolidated only after the Romantic period, Broglio brings to light the reliance of poets and artists on the technologies of scientific endeavor and, conversely, the employment by scientists of picturesque principles and tools.  Both sorts of optical projects and systems made chaotic nature “legible” to humanity but in doing so enforced a Cartesian divide between human perceiver (eye, mind) and nature (body, matter) that materially distanced human beings and the environment.

 

Drawing on recent cultural-studies research and contemporary science studies, the book examines inscriptional technologies associated with nationally significant events of measuring and the four featured elements of nature.  Chapters consider the development of an accurate method for determining longitude at sea, the Ordnance Survey of Britain, the scientific classification of cloud types for weather prediction, and the selective breeding of cattle along with the principal tools these projects employed, including lunar charts, William Harrison’s H4 clock, the triangulation survey and map, the theodolite and measuring chain, cloud nomenclature, and the bodies of cattle and grazier guides.  Broglio strikingly pairs these technologies of measurement and representation with the tools and aesthetics of picturesque tourism, prospect poetry, cloud paintings, and cattle portraiture, exposing thereby the analogous and sometimes mutually reinforcing effects of art and technology: both transform nature into culture, render the opaque thing an intelligible object with an economic or aesthetic use value, cultivate a possessional subject position, and abstract the perceiver from the visible scene.  But Broglio does not stop here.  In movingly persuasive sections throughout the book, he considers Romantic counter-currents to optical hegemony: instances of phenomenological encounters with nature that refigure relations between the human and the environment.  Haptic engagements with nature in Wordsworth’s poetry, encounters governed by the sense of touch rather than sight, and durational depictions of nature in Constable’s painting, which prioritize time over figural space, offer radical constructions of subjectivity and space overlooked in other studies of the picturesque.  In Wordsworth’s and Constable’s “bending” (20) of the picturesque aesthetic, Broglio locates an alternative syntax that distributes thought and agency across human and environmental entities.  With increasing force as the book proceeds from “Water” and “Earth” to “Sky” and “Animals,” Broglio challenges ecocriticism’s assumption of a stable Romantic subject that pre-exists encounters with nature.

 

“Part I: Water” recounts the mid-eighteenth-century government-sponsored competition over the most accurate means of determining longitude at sea, comparing Nevil Maskelyne’s astronomical to George Harrison’s mechanical methods.  Broglio argues that the determining of longitude by means of Harrison’s mechanical clock produces a worldview parallel to that of the picturesque tourist.  The late-eighteenth-century navigator who looks to the face of the H4 clock performs an “inward turn” (29) away from the sea and the night sky to human-made instruments; this epistemological orientation toward the face of the mechanical object is reflected by the representation of abstract geometric lines upon globes and charts.  Similarly, the picturesque tourist navigates by means of a cluster of inscriptions and tools (Claude mirror, picturesque poems, paintings, and guidebooks) that collectively produces a “syntax”: a set of compositional rules that render the land intelligible (43).  While the grammar of picturesque landscape produces a worldview that values human representations of nature more highly than actual surroundings, tool use distributes cognition across “bodies, minds, and machines” (39).

 

Broglio exposes the epistemological implications of navigation by clock and picturesque tourism by way of Thomas Rowlandson’s The Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque.  Rowlandson humorously exposes the ironies of the aesthetic and the problems raised by its “cognitive ecology” (in Edwin Hutchins’ term, The Call of the Wild) of guidebooks and Claude mirrors.  Like the tool-encumbered Dr. Syntax, the user of Harrison’s clock values human representations of nature over unmediated perceptions.  Broglio intriguingly links the new prestige of “flat inscriptions” to a diminished ontology: Dr. Syntax’s frail body highlights that “our being in the world and our sense of what it means to be changes with our sense of the environment” (47).

 

“Part II: Earth” opens with the assertion that the rendering of a particular place—on a map as in a picturesque watercolor—employs a mode of vision and epistemology that produces a subject and a sense of space.  Building on the ideas of cultural geographer Stephen Daniels, who shows that maps “‘helped to coordinate Britain, in people’s mind as well as on the ground, as a national network of localities and regions’” (53), Broglio contrasts two Romantic period senses of space: the sensible and the sensate.[i]  Picturesque tourism and national cartography construct a disembodied viewing subject that knows itself in rationalized space—in geometric relation to abstractly perceived objects.  Wordsworth’s poetry, on the other hand, occasionally challenges the dominance of cartographic and picturesque vision by taking a phenomenological approach to the environment.  Wordsworth’s poetic re-mappings of Penrith Beacon and Black Combe shape not a citizen of the nation but an embodied, feeling self immersed in place.

 

Broglio gives a succinct history of the Ordnance Survey, reaching back to William Roy’s influence in its formation following the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.  Broglio highlights Roy’s survey of Scotland and the later Ordnance Survey of Ireland to show the political uses of the Survey, which as political tool “controls peoples and borders” (56).  Drawing on the work of John Barrell and visual theorists Erwin Panofsky, Jonathan Crary, and Martin Jay, Broglio shows how the “metaphysics of vision deployed in cartography and the picturesque serves a politics of nationalism,” producing land as an abstract object and a “tourist-subject” that knows itself as a citizen if a good tourist of the nation (51).  Like the surveyor, the “tourist-subject” oversees but has no significant tactile relationship to the geometrically ordered landscape.

 

Broglio’s interesting discussion of the “Cartesian perspectivalism” (the term is Jay’s) underlying both picturesque painting and the triangulation survey comes at the expense of sharp distinction among the related sign systems of the Ordnance Survey, its topographical maps, and contemporary tourist maps and guides (63).  Yet his brief consideration of the manifest overlay between the optics of the survey and James Clarke’s tourist diagrams of views from Penrith Beacon sets up a persuasive reading of the Penrith Beacon spot of time from The Prelude.  Disjoined from the tools of cartographic and picturesque vision, figured by the composite tool of the hand-on-horse-rein, the boy Wordsworth leaves the masterful vantage of the beacon (historically both a triangulation station and tourist site), wanders into a “bottom,” and thereby “explores a mapping through his body and a phenomenological encounter with the land” (52).  The boy is immersed in a space the surveyor and tourist would have overseen—a thickly textured, Heideggerian encompassment of the flesh of the body and “thingly” matter.

 

The next chapter develops these concerns by arguing that Wordsworth’s “alternative mapping” (81) of place challenges the suppositions of national cartography and the subject-object division it enforces.  Influential humanist readings of the episode (by Geoffrey Hartman, Alan Liu, and Frederick Garber) have obscured the subjective and ecological implications of the encounter with nature in Gondo Gorge.  Drawing on Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of organism, which understands the components of the world to be resonating “entities” in a “plane of relation,” and on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s notion of the “assemblage,” which defines things by their connections, Broglio traces in the Gorge passage a radical dissolution of subject and object and a sublime figuring of the interrelatedness of “entities” (91).  According to Broglio, the slippage of reference in the poetry maps a “trafficking of forms” (Hartman) or “vector relations” (forces of connectivity immanent in a landscape and set loose by event) (93); in so doing, Wordsworth remakes the poet “as that which connects with various elements in the landscape” (85).  The final sections of the chapter read “Resolution and Independence,” “The Old Cumberland Beggar,” “The Discharged Soldier” and “A narrow girdle of rough stones and crags” as more politically potent re-mappings of human-environment relations.  In showing connections between human figures and entities in the landscapes of the poems, Wordsworth re-envisions space as non-exclusionary and opens the possibility of an alternative social reality that doesn’t reject “the wandering poor” (107).  By redistributing agency and thought among objects, Wordsworth questions “what it means to be human,” and by linking the human and the object world, the poetry “bears witness to identity as a semi-stable state that may undergo radical change” (117).

 

Representations of clouds also refigure identity.  In “Part III: Sky,” Broglio considers John Constable’s surpassing of the picturesque formula for representing clouds, deftly arguing that Constable’s more dynamic cloud forms were not determined by early-nineteenth-century meteorology.  Correcting arguments that Constable figured clouds according to the morphological classifications of meteorologists Luke Howard and Thomas Forster, Broglio holds that Constable depicts clouds in greater specificity than any sign system of clouds could accommodate.[ii]  The book’s emphasis on inscriptional systems here takes an interesting temporal turn.  The scientists and Constable differently record their observations of “changeling clouds” in static media.  Howard’s taxonomy privileges distinction of form over inscription of time while permitting cloud forms to index future weather.  The sign system’s accommodation of temporality marks a “similarity in thought” between Howard and Constable, who also strives to give his inscriptions a feel of narrative (129); however, the painter’s use of a synchronous medium tells a fuller story about the weather’s unfolding in time: “Unlike meteorological nomenclature, Constable’s patterns are singular rhythms of clouds filling space over time, creating within each painting a particular rendering of spatiotemporal duration” (149).  The spatiotemporal specificity of Constable’s clouds exceeds the taxonomies of the scientists while suggesting a form of time “outside of human control” (151) and a human subjectivity constituted by its relatedness to the environment. Invoking Michel Serres’ notion of temps (time and weather) and Merleau-Ponty’s flesh of the world (“the spatial relation between objects”), Broglio reflects on the capacity of Constable’s clouds to figure ecological agency and to reveal “the possibility and latency of the felt space of interrelation” (152).  In a final insightful turn, Broglio liberates Constable’s cloud forms from conventional readings of the picturesque by asserting the non-nationalism of their agentive temporality.

 

In “Part IV: Animals,” Broglio significantly revises our view of cattle and of the humans who breed, paint, eat, and absorb their fluids.  Through the agricultural innovations of Robert Bakewell, Broglio introduces the communicative function of picturesque aesthetics in the agricultural revolution.  In selective breeding, “cattle are both the technological tool for changing the breed and the object that is worked upon” (162).  Still, Broglio explains, the “improvement” and marketing of a breed required a further “ecology of tools” that included grazier guides, cattle portraits, and engravings (176).  Broglio impressively evidences these historical practices and inscriptional technologies—making us familiar with the form and fame of Bakewell’s longhorn Shakespeare (“the ideal of British beef” [169]), Robert and Charles Colling’s shorthorn Lincolnshire Ox (painted by George Stubbs), and their hefty Durham Ox, who provided the most famous cattle image of the nineteenth century (174).  Portraits, prints, and verbal descriptions in the grazier guides acted as publicity that increased studding fees and the value of beef.  Broglio’s consideration of the suitability of picturesque composition to the “points”-system for assessing individual cattle demonstrates the resonant richness of this book.  Picturesque landscape convention induces a straying of the eye over lines and surfaces so as to enable the portrait’s visual argument about the worth of the cattle body.  Essentially, the side of the animal “substitutes for the whole of the landscape” while “the viewer occupies the position of the graziers, judges, and agricultural writers who with great detail and enthusiasm describe the scoops, curves, lines, and bulges of cattle” (179).

 

But we are not to marvel at this intersection of aesthetics and agricultural technology.  A fact the author brings forth—that the average weight of a cattle carcass almost doubled between 1710 and 1795—gives heft to his polemic (180): cattle breeding and its “ecology of tools” control the animal in profound and self-serving ways.  Broglio convincingly argues that picturesque portraiture was effective not only in fashioning the animal for human use but also in connecting beef to Britishness.  That eighteenth-century British painting had linked cattle to rural England helped prepare for the Romantic-era verbal and visual encoding of beef-eating as patriotic.

 

The final chapter of the book rehearses Edward Jenner’s discovery of the smallpox vaccination in order to re-interpret human-bovine relations within the picturesque.  Here Broglio relies on the research of Tim Fulford, Debbie Lee, and Peter Kitson, who relate the history of Jenner’s experimental injection of human patients with cowpox in order to immunize them to smallpox.[iii]  Developing the implications of the anxiety raised by Jenner’s “cross-species cure” (188), Broglio argues that the injection of the human body with animal fluid constitutes a point of contact between the animal and human that makes palpable to the human its animality within.  Broglio theorizes the cultural meanings of the breach of the human interior by invoking the writings of Anthony Berger, Jacques Derrida, and Gilles Deleuze, and by examining the visual and verbal rhetoric of popular caricatures that fanned anti-vaccination sentiments.  Most interestingly, Broglio explores the limits to human consciousness posed by animal corporeality and the subversive potential of the cattle portrait.  In the picturesque painting or print, the “large abstract square mass interrupts linear perspective and offers an area for contact with the real” (195) so as to upset the rational, optical dominance of the human.  Broglio teaches us to read the rough swath of cow surface (favored by William Gilpin over the smooth coat of the horse) as that which the human perceiver cannot cognitively master.  If the space figured by Constable’s clouds resists national coding, the painted bovine in profile view disrupts the optics of national forms of inscription (the Ordnance Survey and the picturesque landscape painting) and disperses agency throughout the environment.

 

One of the many virtues of Broglio’s enjoyable book is its systematic demonstration, case by case, of the interrelationship between picturesque aesthetics and technological developments in scientific mensuration.  The emphasis, across these cases, on inscriptional technology and epistemology ultimately produces a coherent argument about Romantic subjectivity and space that poses a significant philosophical challenge to Green Romanticism’s assumption of the independence and priority of human identity.  While the book may not revolutionize our reading of the central texts of canonical literary Romanticism, that is not its goal; working at the intersections of Romantic poetry, art, and science, Broglio offers impressive readings of Wordsworth’s phenomenological mapping of place, Constable’s temporalization of the sky, and the projection of animal corporeality within the picturesque while also revealing the conceptual and theoretical relations of these seemingly disparate topics.  The book makes a significant contribution to existing scholarship in visual culture, the technologization of vision, Romantic cartography, and ecocriticism.  While the work is highly informative throughout, Broglio is most poetically fluent and persuasive when opening our eyes to the picturesque surfaces impenetrable to human thought, and when sensitizing us to Romanticism’s points of palpable connection between human and ecological agents.

 

 

Publisher’s Information:  http://www.bucknell.edu/script/upress/book.asp?f=s&id=329

 



Notes

 

[i] Stephen Daniels, “Re-visioning Britain: Mapping and Landscape Painting, 1750-1820,” in Glorious Nature: British Landscape Painting, 1750-1850, eds. Katharine Baetjer and Michael Rosenthal (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1993).

 

[ii] Kurt Badt, John Constable’s Clouds (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950); John E. Thornes, John Constable’s Skies (Birmingham: University of Birmingham Press, 1999).

 

[iii] Tim Fulford, Debbie Lee, and Peter Kitson, Literature, Science, and Exploration in the Romantic Era: Bodies of Knowledge (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004), 198-227.

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Last Call for 2009 Summer Wordsworth Conference

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Monday 27 July to Thursday 6 August at Forest Side, Grasmere, Cumbria

Keynote Lecturers


Part 1 (27 July to 1 August)

Frances Ferguson, Paul H Fry, Stephen Gill, Claire Lamont, Nicholas Roe, Fiona Stafford

Part 2 (1 to 6 August)

Gillian Beer, Frederick Burwick, Richard Cronin, Yoko Ima-Izumi, Michael O'Neill, Ann Wroe

The Summer Conference is in two parts or 5 nights each, with a changeover day on 1 August. The registration fee of £185 (or £155 for one part only) includes all excursions.

Full Board hotel rates for 10 nights range from £550 to £740, and youth hostel rates are £165 (5 nights) or £330 (10 nights) with a discount for those electing to share a room. For full details please see the downloadable pdf prospectus on the conference website.

All participants must register for the whole of Part 1, or Part 2, or Both and should do so by 27 April 2009. Fees rise to £200 (both parts) and £170 (one part) on 28 April. Because both resident and non-resident places are limited, early registration is advised. Accommodation costs are payable in full by 25 May, after which date no refunds of fees or other costs can be guaranteed (participants are therefore advised to take out travel insurance).

Contributions may take the form of short papers (2750 words) which are scheduled at two papers to a session or workshops (short handout-based presentations leading into an hour or more of discussion).

There is no theme for the conference and papers may address any aspect of British Romantic Studies, including comparative studies, though papers acknowledging the bicentenary of Charles Darwin would be especially timely.

Proposals (250–500 words) will be considered by two members of the Board of Trustees, should incorporate a brief c.v. (no more than one side of A4) and should be submitted in a single email attachment to wordsworth_conferences@hotmail.co.uk by 23 March 2009.

13 Bursaries are available ranging in value from £250 to £300.

For full details please visit the conference website and download the PDF Prospectus

Dr Richard Gravil
Tirril Hall, Tirril, Penrith CA10 2JE richardgravil@hotmail.com

The Wordsworth Conference Foundation: Registered Charity No. 1124319
http://www.wordsworthconferences.org.uk

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Unpublished

Dana Van Kooy, on Cian Duffy, _Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime_

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Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 280 pp. $80.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0512854008).

Bibliographic Citation: Kooy, Dana Van. "On Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime." [date of access]. Romantic Circles Reviews 10.2 (2008): 5 pars.  19 Jan. 09.  <http://www.rc.umd.edu/reviews/kooy_fall08.html>.


Table of Contents

Acknowledgements
Note on Texts
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Approaching the Shelleyan Sublime
1. From Religion to Revolution, 1810-13
2. Cultivating the Imagination, 1813-15
3. Mont Blanc and the Alps, 1816
4. Writing the Revolution: Laon and Cyntha, 1817-23
5. 'Choose reform or civil war', 1818-19
Conclusion: 'Good and the means of good,' 1822.
Notes
Bibliography
Index


Reviewed by
Dana Van Kooy
University of Colorado at Boulder


  1. Just as Mont Blanc has been central to the Shelleyan canon, so too the sublime as an aesthetic discourse has been pivotal to our understanding of Percy Shelley as a poet, a philosopher, and a radical. Cian Duffy's Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime challenges the "critical orthodoxy which assumes not only that there is such a thing as a generic 'romantic sublime', but also that this 'sublime' rehearses the transcendentalist paradigms of [Kant's] Critique of Judgment" (5). Eschewing Burke and Kant, Duffy reorients the Shelleyan sublime through two other texts: C.F. Volney's Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les Révolutions des Empires (translated into English in the early 1790s) and Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1766-88). Both texts, according to Duffy, embody the eighteenth-century idea of "ruin-sentiment" (38-9), a term which links imperial collapse to moral decadence and, as a discourse of political and social reform, offers to resolve the terrifying prospect of ruin through an appeal to moral restraint. Shelley, Duffy argues, takes this causal formulation a step further; the sublime provides the means of representing the inevitable imperial failure as a natural cultural process that mirrors society's moral and political corruption. Shelley's sublime landscapes—significantly, inhabited by volcanoes, avalanches, and other events marking geological catastrophe—signify the natural necessity of revolution. This essentially inverts the traditional theistic discourse of the natural sublime; instead of pointing to God as the organizing principle of life, Shelley's sublime exposes "the artificiality, the un-naturalness of contemporary social structures" (9). Duffy's study places a new emphasis on the catastrophic imagery of the natural sublime while it also redefines the Shelleyan sublime as an "aesthetic ideology" in order to be attentive to the figurative power of the natural sublime to change the observer's conception of what is "natural" or what is "right."
  2. Organized chronologically, the first two chapters focus on the philosophical and literary influences that shaped Shelley's early figurations of the natural sublime in the Esdaile poems, Queen Mab, The Assassins, and Alastor. Tracing Shelley's early "radical, rationalist distrust of the imagination," and his reactions to the theistic structure of the sublime in works like Thomas Reid's Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man (1785) and Archibald Alison's Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790), Duffy maps Shelley's shifting skepticism regarding the sublime and how it might be used in poetry as a discourse of political reform. In the first chapter, Duffy's main concern is to identify the conflict between Shelley's "gradualist politics and the revolutionism of his engagement with the discourse on the sublime" (48). He also shows how Shelley uses the sublime in Queen Mab to argue for Necessity and its ability as a natural process to bring about "a political and environmental utopia" (34). With chapter two, Duffy follows Shelley's growing concern with the politics of the imagination and its relationship to the increasingly politicized notions of the natural sublime. Duffy's reading of The Assassins is suggestive. Here, Duffy uses Gibbon and Delisle De Sales' 1799 novel, Le Vieux de la Montagne to explore Shelley's interest in incorporating the sublime to describe social bodies and their political activities. This transforms the sublime from a merely descriptive language into a means of visualizing political change. As with his work on Laon and Cythna in chapter four, here is a point where Duffy breaks new ground with regard to the texts and the contexts of the Shelleyan sublime. As with his reading of Alastor, he stresses Shelley's disillusionment with Rousseau and with the post-Excursion Wordsworth, especially their politics of what Keats referred to as "egotistical sublime."
  3. Chapter three follows the traditional pairing of Mont Blanc with the Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. This familiar ground—inhabited mostly by Byron, Coleridge, Rousseau, and Wordsworth—reveals Shelley's growing awareness of the ideological power wielded by the sublime in travelogues, poetry, and in the works on natural history. Duffy also provides us with a view of how this super-saturated landscape was disfigured by the consumerism of tourists and by the imperial demands for natural resources such as rock (taken from ancient ruins and from the local landscape) to build roads. Responding to these unwieldy forces, Shelley, Duffy argues, pursues the need to develop a praxis for the "cultivated imagination." A term introduced in chapter two, the cultivated imagination amounts to a means of using the sublime to reform an individual's ideas about social and political questions. This is a central premise in Duffy's narrative regarding Shelley's evolving deployment of the sublime. Duffy invokes Godwin's Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in order to define intellectual beauty not as a platonic idea but rather as "a product, and a defining characteristic" of the cultivated imagination (99). This pragmatic view of intellectual beauty takes it out of the idealistic realm too often associated with Shelley and makes clear the transformative power of the Shelleyan sublime as an experience and as a discourse.
  4. Chapters four and five examine Laon and Cythna and Prometheus Unbound. In both chapters Duffy focuses on Shelley's representation of the sublime through the imagery of natural, catastrophic events such as floods, storms, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. For Duffy, the sublime exposes the violence of politics and history "as a function of natural history" (146). This formulation of a "natural history of politics" nonetheless exposes Shelley's anxieties about the reform movement: 1) Is it possible to break the cycle of oppression and retributive violence? 2) How can reform be successful if this cycle is either natural or inevitable? 3) How can a vision of gradualist reform counter the "natural" violence of revolution? With regard to Laon and Cythna, Duffy responds to these questions by expanding further on the praxis of the cultivated imagination. As the beau ideal of the French Revolution, Laon and Cythna re-presents the ideals of the revolution and allows for its relocation as an "apparent disaster" within a "natural economy of hope" (125). Analogous to the concept of intellectual beauty, this beau ideal is the means of recasting historical events in the language of the sublime that can only be read accurately by the "'wise' or cultivated imagination" (135). In his reading of Prometheus Unbound, Duffy uses Shelley's Coliseum to make his case about how Promethean reform is a rejection of the politics of defiance associated with Byron and Childe Harold IV. Duffy's analysis juxtaposes Prometheus's need to recall his curse with a historical account of the ideological battle over the ruins of Rome—beginning with Napoleon's first entry into Rome in 1798 and concluding with the restoration of the papacy under Austrian control after Napoleon's defeat. These readings present the Shelleyan sublime as a means of reflecting on the revolutionary possibilities of political action, effectively re-forming the public mind paralyzed by the continued violence of the post-Napoleonic era.
  5. Duffy's study offers a profusion of contextual readings that are suggestive and erudite, and he often rewrites conventional interpretations of Shelley's texts. This comprises the book's strength and its weakness. In the case of Prometheus Unbound, contextual material overshadows his reading of Shelley's drama. In such instances the reader is left to make connections Duffy could have made more explicit. There are also some surprising omissions, for example Sydney Owenson's The Missionary (1811). An influential text for Shelley's early poetry, especially Alastor, it has at its center the dilemma of advocating political reform through the discourses of the sublime and sensibility. Also, while reading through the chapters on Mont Blanc, Laon and Cythna and Prometheus Unbound, I hoped to find a more definitive discussion of the contemporary scientific debates between catastrophists and evolutionists. This deficiency made Duffy's argument about the catastrophic imagery less convincing and more difficult to follow than it should have been. In the final assessment, however, Duffy's investigation rewards the patient reader with a more complete vision than usual of Shelley as a radical poet and provides a new analysis of the Shelleyan sublime as a politically effective aesthetic.

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Anthony Jarrells, On Kevin Gilmartin, _Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain_

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Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime

Kevin Gilmartin, Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Xii + 316 pp. 3 Illustrations. $90.00 (Hdbk; 0-521-86113-6).

Bibliographic Citation: Jarrells, Anthony. "On Kevin Gilmartin, Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832." [date of access]. Romantic Circles Reviews 10.2 (2008): 8 pars.  19 Jan. 09.  <http://www.rc.umd.edu/reviews/jarrells_fall08.html>.


Table of Contents

Illustrations
Acknowledgements
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Reconsidering counterrevolutionary expression
1. In the theater of counterrevolution: loyalist association and vernacular address
2. "Study to be quiet": Hannah More and counterrevolutionary reform
3. Reviewing subversion: the function of criticism at the present crisis
4. Subverting fictions: the counterrevolutionary form of the novel
5. Southey, Coleridge, and the end of anti-Jacobinism in Britain
Notes
Bibliography
Index


Reviewed by
Anthony Jarrells
University of South Carolina


  1. The implicit claim of Kevin Gilmartin's Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832, is that containment is as apt a metaphor for romantic-period writing as the more widely used explosion. Of course, the effort by conservative writers to counter what was thought by many in the period to be a very real threat of revolution did itself lead to an explosion of print. Indeed, it is precisely this tension that Gilmartin finds at the heart of the "counterrevolutionary" enterprise: how do those who see print as a suspect vehicle of revolution engage in a print-based campaign to counter such a threat? Gilmartin's first book, Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in early Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), explored the radical side of the struggle. His new study brings a similar, rigorous approach to the "pervasive rhetorical and literary dilemma" (13) that occupied those writers working to forestall the movement chronicled in Print Politics. The five chapters of Writing Against Revolution trace the myriad forms in which this rhetorical and literary dilemma found expression: from pamphlets and tracts (chapters one and two), periodical reviews (chapter three), and novels (chapter four), to attempts (chronicled in chapter five) by two canonical writers of the period—Robert Southey and Samuel Coleridge—to extend counterrevolutionary practices beyond specific moments of crisis and to articulate "a model for a more stable society" (207). Against a scholarly field that tends to associate romantic writing with progressive strains and causes, Gilmartin aims "to demonstrate the enterprising and productive (rather than merely negative and reactive) presence of counterrevolutionary voices in the culture of the romantic period" (9).
  2. Gilmartin's account of the counterrevolutionary movement begins in the tumultuous early years of the 1790s—although not, as might be expected, with Edmund Burke. Burke occupies a kind of Coleridgean "life-in-death" presence in Gilmartin's study: while the "nervously imperfect rhetorical organization" (7) of the Reflections (1790) inspires Gilmartin's interest in the "range and complexity of counterrevolutionary expression" (9), Burke's ambivalent relationship to British conservatism and utter distrust of "political men of letters" make his a less than vital presence in a campaign set, for better or worse, on waging war on the compromised terrain of print. As the first two chapters of the book demonstrate, Gilmartin's concern with writers like William Paley and Hannah More is not with "abstract ideological positions" such as those that have come to characterize the Burke / Paine debate, but rather with "the social and cultural circumstances under which political expression and persuasion actually took place" (64). The pamphlets and tracts issued by John Reeves' Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers and More's Cheap Repository betray a willingness—however begrudged—to engage Burke's "swinish multitude" as actual subjects of public discourse. Paley's Reasons for Contentment; Addressed to the Labouring Part of the British Public (1792), for instance, begins in the social space of the theater, acknowledging the laboring class as a public. Although he fairly quickly retreats to the private realm of the home, where social place and duty can be imagined in more purely individual terms, the rhetorical gestures of Paley's pamphlet perform loyalist anxieties over addressing the populace. As Gilmartin shows, Paley cannot completely seclude his laboring subject indoors. Instead, he places him between the collective space of the theatrum mundi and the individual space of the home—somewhere accessible to public discourse, that is ("at his door," Gilmartin notes), where he can be reasoned into contentment.
  3. The danger with making laboring class readers participants in public debate, however, is that they become accessible to other arguments as well—arguments geared to provoke "envy and resentment" (37) among the less well-off. But as Gilmartin's deft analysis of Paley's pamphlet suggests, the goal of counterrevolutionary writing was not merely to address the reader, but also to manage that reader's place in the fallen realm of the public. Loyalist associations like Reeves', which was founded in 1792 and which distributed Paley's pamphlet, helped to forge the "necessary institutional framework" (37) required to police the participation of laboring-class readers in public discourse.
  4. Hannah More's Cheap Repository Tracts (1795-1798) do not evidence the same level of anxiety about addressing laboring-class readers in print. As Gilmartin explains, More saw "resourceful literary production as a way of rescuing Britain from the twin threat of religious infidelity and political subversion" (15). Although Village Politics (1792) is the better known of More's works, Gilmartin grounds his account of her writing in The History of Tom White the Postilion (1795) and its sequel, The Way to Plenty, which he finds "more typical" of the work that gave More "a leading role in the anti-radical and counterrevolutionary campaigns" (55) of the period. This tale of a post-chaise driver's dissolution and eventual redemption features virtues that can be found in much of More's propagandistic fiction—among them temperance, frugality, loyalty, and household management. But in its turn from mere plot to an episodic and list-like structure, what Tom White emphasizes, finally, are "the material and institutional conditions for moral reform" (58). In this, More's writing strikes a chord similar to that of loyalist writers like Paley. At the same time, what Gilmartin describes as More's "enterprising," middle-class spirit propels her work beyond standard loyalist defenses of constitution and tradition. The portrait that emerges here is of a writer savvy enough to do battle with the radical opposition by embedding her reactionary views in a modernizing project of her own—one where the authority of the gentry is superseded by centralized networks of distribution and surveillance.
  5. By the end of the 1790s, the reach of such centralized networks equaled and even surpassed those established by radical groups like the London Corresponding Society, whose activities in the middle years of the decade were a cause of escalating concern for the government. Although the LCS was effectively suppressed by 1798, these last years of the decade still saw no shortage of what John Robison called "proofs of a conspiracy" against government and religion. Gilmartin points to a shift in the print-war terrain during this time—from pamphlets and tracts to the "more sustained and reliable" (96) medium of the periodical review. Starting with the Anti-Jacobin; or, Weekly Examiner (1797-1798), whose "distinctive character" makes it the "inaugural moment for a subsequent lineage of conservative magazines and reviews" (96), periodicals like the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine (founded in 1798), the Quarterly Review (1809), and Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine (1817) worked to extend the policing functions introduced by loyalist associations to include literature itself (the Anti-Jacobin Review, for instance, found evidence of sedition in children's literature). In the "review of reviews" feature that developed in relation to the long review essay made popular in the pages of the Edinburgh Review (1802), conservative writers were given wide latitude for commentary—both on a particular work and, often more importantly, on a work's reception in the press. Rhetorically, though, as Gilmartin argues, these reviewers aimed to do no more than clear away the discursive debris cluttering the public's understanding of the benefits of an unreformed constitution. There was no suggestion that government itself should be responsive to the press.
  6. Gilmartin concludes this richest and liveliest of the book's chapters with an analysis of Blackwood's Magazine's six-part series, "The Warder" (1819-1821), in which the loose, conversational structure of earlier pieces like "The Tent" (1819) gives way almost naturally to the "parliamentary authority" (145) of Liverpool MP and original Anti-Jacobin, George Canning, whose reprinted re-election speech offered a stolid defense of the recently passed Six Acts. Equally rich, though considerably less lively, is Gilmartin's survey in the next chapter of the "counterrevolutionary novel". Even in summary most of these novels are terrifically dull. Fortunately, Gilmartin's sly sense of humor provides just enough distraction to keep us with him through many a picaresque adventure plot and scene of domestic conversation. The intent here is not "to vindicate" anti-Jacobin fiction from "well-deserved charges of exaggeration and slander," but rather to trace the various strategies developed by novelists of the period to "[hunt] down" subversion (160). Gilmartin's account demonstrates, first, that anti-Jacobin novels, too, participated in the general push toward formal innovation emphasized throughout Writing Against Revolution; and second, that in their dependence on a domestic framework "to neutralize the threat of revolution as well as libertine seduction" (153), anti-Jacobin novels introduced a female subject whose potential agency and power could not always be contained by the traditional plot structures conservative writers relied upon to keep radical ideas from insinuating themselves into this popular genre.
  7. What the first four chapters of Writing Against Revolution show—quite subtly—is that the innovative, modern character of romantic-period conservatism is an integral part of the imaginative vibrancy that we have long associated with romanticism. Thus it can seem a bit anti-climactic to turn, in chapter five, to Southey and Coleridge, whose different but related attempts to transcend particular moments of crisis and to write their nation into a permanent state of counterrevolution have the combined effect of closing off the energies and openings that emerge in other works discussed in the book (not to mention in Southey and Coleridge's own earlier work). Both Southey and Coleridge project a society where the literary and the institutional unite and put to rest, once and for all, "the antinomies of the 1790s" (212)—Southey in his outline of a system of church-sponsored education; and Coleridge in his theory an intellectual-religious "clerisy" class. The attempt to achieve such a state is not without tensions of it own—in particular, the need for a reformist project to lift a fallen, post-Enlightenment world from the degradations of the radical culture that has come to define it. But as Gilmartin explains, Southey and Coleridge's "late protest against the erosion of the old regime" (212) ultimately failed in the face of a quite different program of reform.
  8. The claim that the 1832 Reform Act signaled not (or not only) the effective channeling of revolutionary desires but rather a decisive end to the counterrevolutionary project of returning to a pre-capitalist past is both provocative and fitting in a book that aims to challenge our understanding of writing and politics in the romantic period. That Gilmartin brilliantly succeeds in achieving this aim is impressive enough. But Writing Against Revolution does something more as well: it provides us with a prehistory of our own historical moment. When we recall that the word "Jacobin" occasioned the emergence of the word "terrorist" (in the 1790s), we see that the broad-brush labeling and "with us or against us" logic that characterize the current U.S. administration's tactics against dissent are neither new nor dumb. Gilmartin's account of conservative innovation in the romantic period reminds us that we underestimate the forces of reaction at our peril.

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Julia M. Wright, On Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., _Blake, Nation and Empire_

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Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire. New York: Palgrave, 2006. 256pp. Illus: 8 halftones. ISBN-13: 978-0-3339-9314-9 (Hdbk.), $69.96.

Bibliographic Citation: Wright, Julia M. "On Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire." [date of access]. Romantic Circles Reviews 10.2 (2008): 7 pars. 19 Jan. 09.  <http://www.rc.umd.edu/reviews/wright_fall08.html>.


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface
Notes on the Contributors
List of Abbreviations
Introduction, Steve Clark & David Worrall
1. Immortal Joy: William Blake and the Cultural Politics of Empire, Saree Makdisi
2. Thel in Africa: William Blake and the Post-Colonial, Post-Swedenborgian Female Subject, David Worrall
3. Bloody Blake: Nation and Circulation, Jon Mee
4. Blake, Hayley and the History of Sexuality, Susan Matthews
5. Blake and the Syntax of Sentiment: An Essay on "Blaking" Understanding, James Chandler
6. National Arts and Disruptive Technologies in Blake's Prospectus of 1793, Morris Eaves
7. "What is Liberty without Universal Toleration": Blake, Homosexuality and the Cooperative Commonwealth, Christopher Z. Hobson
8. Restoring the Nation to Christianity: Blake and the Aftermyth of Revolution, Andrew Lincoln
9. Jerusalem as Imperial Prophecy, Steve Clark
10. The Matter of Britain: Blake, Milton and the Ancient Britons, Jason Whittaker
11. Erin, Ireland, and the Emanation in Blake's Jerusalem, Robert N. Essick
12. Blake After Blake: A Nation Discovers Genius, Joseph Viscomi
Blake Bibliography
Index


Reviewed by
Julia M. Wright
Dalhousie University


  1. This important collection of twelve essays, arising from a 2000 Blake conference at Tate Britain, offers an array of historical frames through which to recontextualize Blake—from sensibility to eighteenth-century ideas of sexuality, and from the Sierra Leone project to the diverse religious cultures of Blake's England and debates about art, economy, historiography, and proselytization. "Nation" and "Empire" are capacious categories here, allowed to float freely, as they did in Romantic-era discourse (though there are moments when distinctions between patriotism and modern nationalism, cultural nationalism and ideas of the nation-state, or settler colonies and invaded colonies would have contributed to a clearer picture of "Blake, Nation and Empire"). The aim of this volume is to continue the cultural materialist project of Clark and Worrall's earlier collections and, hence, to focus on the "minute particulars" of Blake's time and place—a project richly pursued here. This collection is not divided into parts, but I have organized my discussion below to highlight some continuities, and complementarities, among these diverse chapters beyond their shared historicist orientation.
  2. The first essay, by Saree Makdisi, offers a suggestive exploration of a negative, namely that "Blake was basically the only major poet of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries who categorically refused to dabble in recognizably Oriental themes or motifs" (24). (An expanded version of this essay is included in Makdisi's important William Blake and the Impossible History of the 1790s, as he notes [36].) Such assertions might seem to invite quibbles: what about Robert Burns? Does the occasional Orientalist flourish by Anna Letitia Barbauld put her much closer to Blake than to Robert Southey and Thomas De Quincey? But that would miss the larger importance of this essay as an innovative examination of both the determined (and contrary) inclusiveness through which Blake, in his early work, "emphasize[s] the common nature of all human cultures" (29) and, more broadly, the centrality of Orientalism to many of the Romantic poets we have collectively designated "major"—begging the question of whether the fault is not in our poets but in ourselves or, at least, our canon. While Makdisi focuses on Blake's early texts and "infinite heterogeneity" (36), Andrew Lincoln argues for a shift in Blake's thought in the years around 1800 from a "kind of universal myth . . . towards a narrative that identifies itself explicitly with British and Biblical tradition" (153), while yet "reach[ing] across doctrinal differences" (163). This change, Lincoln suggests, not only arises from Blake's personal renewal of faith, but also from a more broadly perceived imperative "to restore Britain to Christianity" (153) in the wake of the counter-revolutionary rhetoric of the period. Here, that complex counter-revolutionary milieu is concisely sketched with a specific focus on religious debate and Watson's Apology in order to locate Blake's Milton and Jerusalem "in the religious fears and aspirations of early nineteenth-century Britain" (159). Steve Clark further extends this discussion of Blake and difference and does so on deftly nuanced terms attentive to philosophical and theological disputes, as well as historical contexts. While Lincoln argues for Milton's efforts "to re-integrate the divided legacy of British Christendom" (163), Clark locates Blake's Jerusalem in the heated debate over Catholic Emancipation and the transformation of "a virulent anti-Catholic iconography . . . into imperial gothic" (168). Clark argues compellingly for Blake's poem "as anti-papal propaganda" that, despite moments "more sympathetic" to Catholic traditions, "is of an abrasive brand of Protestant nationalism formed in opposition to France and Catholicism projecting an imagined community of empire" (171).
  3. The cluster of essays I group above—those by Makdisi, Lincoln, and Clark—covers the full sweep of Blake's career and invites further consideration of Blake's changing stance on cultural and religious differences. Jason Whittaker's essay is usefully considered in this context as well. Focusing on Blake's "critical dialogue with Milton" (197), especially Milton's History of Britain, Whittaker traces the ways in which Blake works through his nationalist politics via Milton as "the obvious candidate for the role of Albion's prophet" (186). Suggestively, Whittaker contends that Blake recuperates for their "explanatory" value the national origin myths dismissed by Milton while still being "hostile to Milton's militant Protestantism" (193-194). This essay is arguably at the nexus of the volume's myriad tracings of Blake's engagement with questions of national identity in relation to religion and sexuality, and, like Lincoln, Whittaker locates Milton within a transformative period in the development of Blake's views on those questions.
  4. The topic of sexuality is more central to essays by David Worrall, Susan Matthews, and Christopher Z. Hobson. Both Matthews's and Worrall's essays explore the centrality of sex to the common nationalist narrative of the nation's founding, whether the settler colony of Sierra Leone (Worrall) or the founding of Rome (Matthews)—an issue also relevant to Whittaker (see 195-197). In his essay, Worrall offers a detailed account of the Sierra Leone project in relation to English Swedenborgians. The Book of Thel, suggests Worrall, can be read as "specifically interested in presenting a problematization of the gender issues implicit in founding a colony on the principle of Swedenborgian conjugal love" (55). Matthews's essay offers a provocative perspective on the problem of rape in Blake's early texts and the instability of the term in eighteenth-century discourse. Together, these essays serve to stress both the complexity of Blake's challenge to normative notions of sexuality and the difficulty of pinning down what those notions might be in a time when they were being publicly debated in a range of contexts (medical, legal, imperial, theological, and so forth). Christopher Hobson's contribution serves explicitly to "build . . . on earlier work" in his 2000 book Blake and Homosexuality in order to return to the question of Blake's shifting position on homosexuality in relation to what Hobson terms a "cooperative commonwealth" (137). Much of the material here is addressed more extensively in Hobson's valuable book, including the Vere-Street Trials and Milton (138-142), with an emphasis on "Moral Law" and changes between copies of Milton, and Jerusalem's "synthesis of his ideas about economic and political justice, religious and sexual freedom, gender, and the means of change and renewal" (142), virtually the first sentence of Hobson's chapter on Jerusalem in Blake and Homosexuality. While readers might be well-advised to read Hobson's book instead, the essay does offer new material, and its inclusion is essential to the volume's presentation of a wide array of approaches to sexual activity in relation to the thorny problem of Blake's attitudes towards gender.
  5. The third and fifth essays are also complementary, both drawing on contemporary discourses of economy related to sensibility: Jon Mee explores Brunonian medicine's ideas of circulation, stimulation, excess, and so forth, to recontextualize the depiction of the body in The Book of Urizen, while James Chandler addresses the economy of sentiment in relation to commercial values to suggest that "Blake's emphasis on the madeness of sentiment" is part of a "reframing [of] the national project in terms of building, rather than exchanging" (114-115). Chandler's essay provides a useful lead-in to Morris Eaves's contribution, which details the ways in which Blake's private printing was also a public intervention in the print marketplace, particularly in three "public" statements across his career (132). "Blake's shop," suggests Eaves, "is not the merchant-middleman's but the producer's own, and the vision is of commercial independence freed from elaborate encumbrances" (125-126), "follow[ing] Boydell and the gallery merchants in gambling on a strategy of consolidation, 'both Letter-press and Engraving'" (126). Blake's simultaneous simplification of the track from producer to consumer and complication of the modes of production, Eaves contends, undergirds the difficulty of Blake for modern readers—a "modern multicapable artist looking for a multitasking audience" (131).
  6. The final essays in the volume, by Robert N. Essick and Joseph Viscomi, take a later perspective to consider Blake's reception after his own time. Essick's essay offers an instructive account of historicism in Blake studies from Erdman forward. Essick argues instead for a broader cultural reading, "an ideological approach . . . that may begin with historical reference but must move in two directions—outward toward events and other texts and inward toward poetic forms" (206). Essick's chapter, thus, contributes to one of the recurring, if not defining, problems of literary studies in recent decades, namely the bridging of historicism and formalism (or, in more Blakean language, the "minute particulars" of material history and the "giant forms" of cultural tradition), from Hayden White in the 1970s through to New Historicism and its current reframing in Cultural Studies and Historical Formalism. Essick then brings his integrative approach to bear on Blake's oblique references to Ireland in Jerusalem, specifically in the context of the long history of fraught attempts to define Ireland in relation to England as either province or nation, rendering Blake's Erin a conceptual conundrum rather than a simple allegorical figure for an historical Ireland. Viscomi's invaluable essay puts Blake not into the familiar nineteenth-century literary history of his recovery and canonization but into a nineteenth-century art history—the remembering, recovery and republication of his visual work by his Victorian successors, particularly among the wider Pre-Raphaelite circle and in the central example of the illustrations selected for Gilchrist's Life of Blake.
  7. This volume, thus, traces a wide range of key historical and theoretical contexts for Blake's works. This diverse array of papers not only lays out some of the details of Blake's milieu, but also contributes to a nuanced picture of the 1790s and early 1800s on terms that will be valuable to Romanticists outside of Blake studies.

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Debbie Lee, On Paul Youngquist's _Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism_

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Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. xxxi + 224pp. ISBN: 0-8166-3979-5; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3979-3 (Hdbk.), $60.00. ISBN-10: 0-8166-3980-9; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3980-9 (Pbk.), $20.00.

Bibliographic Citation: Lee, Debbie. "On Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism." [date of access]. Romantic Circles Reviews 10.2 (2008): 17 pars. 10 Dec. 2008. <http://www.rc.umd.edu/reviews/lee_fall08.html>.


 

Reviewed by

Debbie Lee

Washington State University


  1. It seems appropriate that Gunter von Hagens held his London exhibition Bodyworlds in the same neighborhood where Jack the Ripper took his victims. When I attended the 2002 exhibition at the Atlantis Gallery on Brick Lane, I was both fascinated and freaked out. It progressed from body parts to full corpses, in postures that mocked their lifelessness. One was a horseman, one held what looked to be a cape but turned out to be his entire skin, while others mimicked athletes: a runner, a basketball player, a swimmer, and a pole-vaulter lodged half-way between floors. Then there was a room dedicated to the development of the baby in embryo.
  2. Not surprisingly, the media has taken to calling von Hagens a Doctor Frankenstein, saying his techniques recall a "pre-Victorian past," but that "in the end it is a freak show." However, marriages of science, art, and monstrosity are not all that rare. Much has been made, for instance, of Diana Arbus's photographs of the deformed body. Arbus has photographed Russian midgets, Siamese twins, transvestites, and a Jewish giant, among many others who stood out because their bodies were not seen as conforming to a proper norm. Talking about monstrosity, Arbus famously said, "there's a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle."
  3. It struck me when I was reading Paul Youngquist's exciting book, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism, that von Hagens's science is the absurd end-point of the late eighteenth-century surgeon John Hunter, while Arbus's photographs find an echo in early nineteenth-century tabloid descriptions of figures like the Irish Giant. In Monstrosities, Youngquist takes readers on a tour of various forms of nineteenth-century fleshly disfigurement—from obesity to amputation—and introduces them to the ghoulish doctors, writers, and artists who pickled, dissected, and fetishized the monstrous, Hunter foremost among them.
  4. Clearly, Youngquist has spent much time in the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inns Fields, which he describes in the book's opening chapter, highlighting some of the displays—from whale skeletons to human body parts—among the 13,000 specimens. Youngquist also uses some of the period's quirky print sources, such as Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum; or Magazine of Remarkable and Eccentric Characters, which ran from 1802 to 1920. Kirby was a London printer who specialized in profiles of the strange and deformed. He ran stories about an enormous hog, a trout of remarkable size, a gigantic rat, and human giants such as James Toller and Patrick O'Brien. There were accounts of monsters, mermaids, some people born without limbs, and others born with horns.
  5. In fact, within the book's overall argument, Youngquist digs up a lot of historical detail, some of it quite fascinating, such as the stories of Daniel Lambert, who was extraordinarily obese, and Sarah Biffin, who had no hands or arms, as well as the strange narratives behind Mary Wollstonecraft's placenta and Lord Byron's club foot. Youngquist bolsters this historical detail with reference to a range of theoretical works, from contemporary Romantic sources such as Emmanuel Kant, to later thinkers such as Frederick Nietzsche, and contemporary theorists such as Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Gilles Deleuze, Julia Kristeva, and Michel Foucault, all of whom help him push the idea of monstrosity in fascinating directions.
  6. For Youngquist, monstrosity is metaphorical as well as literal, and it has applications to Romantic writers: Wordsworth's poetry and Coleridge's addictions, to take two examples. Through his many illustrations, Youngquist implicitly shows how monstrosity was an integral part of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century visual culture as well.
  7. The driving thesis of Monstrosities is what Youngquist calls "the proper body." The proper body exists only in a culture organized on the principle of possessive individualism, meaning that the individual is the owner (proper, as in property) of his or her own self. In this model, people are what they own, and they own themselves. Youngquist finds his evidence for the proper body in Locke who "isolates the individual as property owner from social relations that would otherwise determine his status by making his body the sole means of establishing identity" (20). In addition, Youngquist also uses Burke and Paine as proponents of the individualism that created the proper body. Hunter's comparative anatomy contributes also: it is not just the beginning of medical knowledge as a specialized discourse, argues Youngquist, it is also the basis for what he terms "a physically and morally regulative discourse" (13).
  8. The book's first section, entitled "Incorporations," shows what the proper body was thought to be during the Romantic period, and then what kinds of bodies deviated from that norm. Chapter one is about John Hunter. Youngquist convincingly shows how Hunter's practice conceived of the human body in ways that were conducive to the political idea of the liberal, possessive, and individual, as well as how this political concept influenced Hunter's ideas about the body.
  9. In chapter two, Youngquist looks at examples of the "monstrous," and how these examples either confirm or subvert liberal culture's goals, while in chapter three he discusses skin color as one kind of monstrosity. He shows how anatomists influenced artists to draw charts that established a hierarchy of beauty in which certain races deviated from the white Western European norm.
  10. It is in chapter three that Youngquist deals with William Blake. On the basis of Blake's engravings for John Gabriel Stedman's Narrative of a Five Years' Expedition, against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam, Youngquist argues that Blake disrupts the hierarchy of beauty by picturing slaves in postures of Greek gods, which were to anatomist-artists the ideal of physical beauty. It is in A Negro hung alive by the Ribs to a Gallows where Blake explicitly shatters the norm of the proper body. As Youngquist puts it, "Blake forces one to face the force of custom, the brutality that beauty both enforces and conceals. His graphic genealogy of beauty shows how, as an aesthetic value, it is implicated in enslavement, the subjection of different bodies to the horrors of possession" (79).
  11. In the book's second section, "Habituations," Youngquist maintains that drug abuse turned the proper body into an abject body, and that during the Romantic period an abject body was a monstrous body. Therefore, he devotes chapter four to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's opium habit and the ways in which it causes problems for Coleridge's "proper body" but also how drug use enhanced his poetry. This chapter is juxtaposed to chapter five, in which Youngquist considers DeQuincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater and Emmanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.
  12. Monstrosities's final section, titled "Appropriations," allows Youngquist to show how normative culture can incorporate certain monstrous or abject body parts as signs of power. In chapter six, he thus examines the medical debates that raged over the function and symbolism of the placenta, while chapter seven takes on the question of amputated and maimed limbs, most explicitly, Lord Byron's club foot.
  13. Stylistically, Youngquist is vivacious and, at times, cleverly terse. For example, he begins chapter six "Mother Flesh" with, "Some say it was for money, others for love, but in 1775 Martin Van Butchell pickled his wife" (129). Youngquist is also adept at puns, reversals, and punchy topic sentences, which often create striking, and even jarring, juxtapositions. His discussion of human giants, begins: "If ever there was a mountain of a man, Daniel Lambert was it" (38). When he considers Thomas DeQuincey and Emmanuel Kant, he writes: "If you are what you eat, what is the diet of a transcendentalist?" (109). But, more importantly, throughout this fascinating book, readers are reminded that "monstrosities mean nothing in themselves. Their value for medicine derives solely from their relationship to the functional norms of more perfect organisms" (12).
  14. The only place I had trouble going with Youngquist was his metaphorical leap from real deformed bodies to Wordsworth's poetic forms. Recovering the "physiological agenda" of Wordsworth's preface (33), Youngquist writes that Wordsworth's poetry represents itself as healthful. He writes: "If Wordsworth is a healer not just of the human mind but also of the proper body, then his poetry must have healthful—which is to say normalizing—effects" (32). In this normalizing poetry, "mountains are what really matter" (37), since "the mountain's outline and its steady form, / Gives a pure grandeur, and its presence shapes / The measure and the prospect of the soul / To majesty" (The Prelude, 7.722-24). Thus, Youngquist concludes: "proper bodies are natural forms, which makes mountains the measure of humanity" (37).
  15. This may be true, but I have questions about the aspects of Wordsworth's Romanticism that may complicate this binary. For example, if Wordsworth's poetry is rooted in the natural, healthful beauty of Lake District mountains, what role does William Gilpin's concept of this area play? Gilpin's descriptions influenced Wordsworth, but for Gilpin, in his 1792 Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, the Lake District's central feature was its deviation from the norm. A lake—Derwent Water or Buttermere—was "truly beautiful" because of its deformities, worthy of attention when "its lines, and shape are both irregular." Islands, too, were beautiful when the lines and shape were non-normative, when they took "some irregular situation in the lake." As with lakes and islands, the same was true of mountains: "the sources of deformity in the mountain-line will easily suggest those of beauty." Writers like Wordsworth lived in this landscape of deformed beauty, and deformity made it beautiful.
  16. The issue of monstrosity and beauty is an interesting one, as is its logical extension, the relationship between monstrosity and empathy. Empathy is a crucial critical issue to the study of the monstrous because it is one phenomenon that allows people to think, and act, beyond the bounds of possessive individualism. As Youngquist demonstrates, and as Mary Shelley's monster experiences in Frankenstein, the Romantic period was not a time when people were empathetic to the freakish and abnormal. But what role does empathy play in the legacies of Romantic monstrosity in contemporary science and art? Not surprisingly, some contemporary critics have a problem with the science of Gunter von Hagens and the art of Diana Arbus, both of whom have been accused of exploitation. Germaine Greer was herself once an Arbus subject and has written harshly about the kind of work that is coldly fascinated with freaks: "Arbus is not an artist who makes us see the world anew; she embeds us in our own limitations, our lack of empathy, our kneejerk reactions, our incuriosity and lack of concern. Hers is a world without horizons where there is no escape from self."
  17. But there are others who would not be subject to such criticism. The most inspiring contemporary artist working on monstrosity, beauty, and empathy, to my mind, is Dana Schultz, whose paintings feature gigantic dismembered and disfigured bodies on large canvases in strikingly bold colors. The images are shocking and beautiful. They ask viewers to question the construction of monstrosity while they invite them to identify with its courageous aspects. Schultz has said that she wishes to "to paint contemporary monsters" in order to reveal how what is thought to be monstrous is a cultural creation. But she also understands less obvious features of the non-normative body. Of her painting Self-Portrait as a Pachyderm, she says: "If you have skin like an elephant, then nothing can really get to you."

Paul Harris and Kate Connolly in Berlin. Sunday, March 17, 2002. The Observer. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,668874,00.html.

Quoted in Peter Schjeldahl, "Looking Back," New Yorker Magazine. March 21, 2005: 78-80. 80.

William Gilpin. Observations, Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty, Made in the Year 1772, On Several Parts of England; Particularly the Mountains, and Lakes of Cumberland, and Westmoreland. 3rd ed. London: R. Blamire, 1792. 104.

Gilpin, 103.

Gilpin, 90.

Dodie Kazanjian, "Great Dana," Vogue Magazine, February 2006: 212-217. 214.


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