Europe

Duncan, "The Trouble with Man: Scott, Romance, and World History in the Age of Lamarck"

Sylvan the giant captive Ourang-Outang is only the most spectacular figure in an array of monsters, prodigies, and other anomalous characters who trouble the categories not just of culture, gender, ethnicity and race but of humanity as a species in Walter Scott's late romance Count Robert of Paris (1831). Dismissed by most commentators as a bizarre effusion of Scott’s dotage, Count Robert of Paris sets its scene decisively outside the developmental continuum specified for “the classical form of the historical novel” by Georg Lukács. Eleventh-century Constantinople is scarcely the scene of “our own” past, a setting that may provide “a concrete prehistory of the present” (The Historical Novel 269). It is doubly divided from modern British readers: by the schism between the Greek and Roman churches, which cast Byzantium as the decadent shadow of a more vigorous “western civilization”; and by the Ottoman conquest of 1453, which cut off the Greek empire from the progressive path to modernity. J. H. Alexander’s new edition of Count Robert of Paris (Edinburgh, 2006), restoring extensive passages that were cut by Scott’s executors, allows us to see more clearly than was hitherto possible the novel’s philosophical investment in alien histories, alien origins. Among the passages published for the first time is a conclusion in which Scott acknowledges the unprecedented, experimental character of what is “probably the last of my fictitious compositions” (362). The quest for “novelty at whatever rate” has driven him to “lay his scene in distant countries, among stranger nations, whose manners are imagined for the purpose of the story – nay, whose powers are extended beyond those of human nature.” Scott’s prime example of a romance that goes beyond human nature is “a late novel . . . by the name of Frankenstein” (363). Scott had reviewed Frankenstein for Blackwood’s in 1818, and a new edition of the novel, revised by Mary Shelley, was published just over one month after he completed Count Robert of Paris (and less than two months before its publication). On Scott’s own authority, then, this essay will read Count Robert of Paris not as a historical novel but as a work of anthropological science fiction. Scott’s late romance reveals the link between the historical novel and science fiction to be more intimate than we might have thought, genetic as well as analogical, soon after the foundation of both genres (Waverley, Frankenstein) in British Romanticism. The name of that link, “man,” designates the philosophical problematic of Count Robert of Paris and marks the novel’s station not just at the end of Scott’s career but at the end of a century-long project of cultural modernization, the so-called Scottish Enlightenment. In 1739 David Hume had given that project a name, “the science of man.” By the 1770s it seemed as though history had become established as the discipline best equipped to realize the science of man, in conjectural histories of society, of manners and institutions, the arts and sciences, as well as of particular nations. It was the attempt to totalize these projects, to write the history of man as a species that laid bare a fault-line in the secular category of “man”—a fault-line constituted by its biological foundation. “The Human Species is in every view an interesting subject,” wrote Lord Kames in the preface to his Sketches of the History of Man (1774): however, “there is still wanting a history of the species, in its progress from the savage state to its highest civilization and improvement.” “The subject of this volume is the History of Man, by which I mean, not what is commonly called History, that is the History of Nations and Empires, but the History of the Species Man”: thus Lord Monboddo, introducing the fourth volume of his Antient Metaphysics (1795). These best-known of Scottish essays in the history of man as a species are notorious for their disruption of the category they invoke: Kames for his argument that humankind consists of different species (originally unified but then marked with biological as well as linguistic difference after Babel), Monboddo for his insistence that the mysterious great ape, the Orang-Outang, is man in his natural state, lacking only the artificial acquirement of language. For these accounts, it seems, “man” signifies at once too much and too little. By the time Scott was writing Count Robert of Paris, in 1830-31, the trouble with man had blown up into a scandal. Amid a rising tide of mainly French morphological speculation on the transmutation of species, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck had cited the orang-utan as a human prototype—not just a type of natural man but a figure for man’s animal origins and the mutability of species. Lamarck’s work was diffused across British literature by the controversy that peaked in the early 1830s, in endorsements by “Edinburgh Lamarckians” such as Robert Jameson and Robert E. Grant, as well as in refutations, most notably by Charles Lyell in the second volume of Principles of Geology (published one month after Count Robert of Paris, in January 1832). Count Robert of Paris finds its imaginative opening in the contemporary crisis of world history and the science of man. Scott’s Constantinople swarms with different creeds, nations, races and species, in which the boundaries between nation and race and species, and between human and non-human species, shift and blur. The main figure for this boundary-flux is the Orang-Outang, who, among his other accomplishments, understands instructions given in Anglo-Saxon and kills off the principal villain of the story. The newly restored text of Count Robert of Paris allows us to see that various forms of biological difference (including sexual as well as racial and species difference) are everywhere in play in the novel. Count Robert earns its place beside Frankenstein, if we understand Shelley’s novel (following Maureen McLane’s analysis in Romanticism and the Human Sciences) as enacting a radical critique of the “specifically anthropological discourse of man” that underwrites the newly-won autonomy of imaginative literature in British Romanticism. Scott’s Constantinople opens a new kind of setting for a new kind of historical romance: the cosmopolis or world-city as conjectural arena for the natural history of man. Within this radically heterodox imaginary space, Count Robert of Paris explodes the monogenetic trajectories of national progress charted in the Scottish Waverley Novels for a fantastic exploration of the multiplicity of developmental paths and forms that humankind might take.
September 2011

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John Thelwall’s Panoramic Miscellany: The Lecturer as Journalist

From January to June 1826, Thelwall edited, wrote, and marketed The Panoramic Miscellany, a monthly periodical that demonstrates his ongoing commitment to political causes, public education, elocutionary training, and literary criticism. This essay examines the context and contents of the little-known Panoramic Miscellany, showing that Thelwall’s editorial policy and discursive practice depend heavily on his experience as lecturer and educator and that the Panoramic Miscellany stands out for its international perspective, its attention to women writers, and the integrity of its book reviews. The unsuccessful attempt of Thelwall the lecturer to become an independent journalist offers insights into the experimental and volatile media context of the 1820s.
September 2011

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Youngquist and Botkin, "Introduction: Black Romanticism: Romantic Circulations"

This Romantic Circles Praxis Volume moves the perspective of critical inquiry into British Romanticism from the Island (England) to the Islands (West Indies), considering the particular significance of the Atlantic—watery vortex of myriad economic and cultural exchanges, roaring multiplicity of agencies, and vast whirlpool of creative powers. Black Romanticism remembers a forgotten ancestry of British culture, recovering the vital agencies of diasporic Africans and creole cultures of the West Indies. It does so by practicing counter-literacy, reading the works of nation, empire, and colony against themselves to liberate the common cultures they occlude. The five essays presented here examine texts by or about Jean Jacque Dessalines, Juan Manzano, Jack Mansong, Mary Prince, and John Gabriel Stedman, following a circuitous route that begins in Africa and travels from Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, Suriname, Bermuda, and Antigua to corresponding points in England, America, and the continent. The circulation of radically different adaptations of the “same” material provides new ways to understand the colonial Caribbean.
October 2011

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Speitz, "Blood Sugar and Salt Licks: Corroding Bodies and Preserving Nations in The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself"

Speitz reveals how Prince’s narrative attests to the importance of salt, a central product of slave labor in the British-held West Indies. Although its overall value is largely ignored in literary scholarship, Speitz demonstrates how harvesting salt proved harmful enough to inspire Prince’s rendition of a horrific contortion of being. Her repeated detrimental exposure to salt transforms Prince’s body, consciousness, and ultimately, of course, her narrative--making it tantamount to a material history and psychological case study of a forced merger of landscape, labor, body, and mind. Prince’s text records how lethal amounts of salt seep through the skin, forging a visceral, literal, and grotesque union between salt, the commodified substance, and the slave, the commodified worker. Further, buttressing the vast amount of scholarship on the historical significance of luxury consumables which could easily impede international or regional revenue streams if boycotted, Speitz brings to light the unacknowledged history of Caribbean salt raking relative to not only British colonial economies and politics, but also to the revolutionary history of the United States, in which it plays a pivotal role.
October 2011

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Kennedy, "Going Viral: Stedman's Narrative, textual variation, and life in Atlantic Studies"

The current multiplex configuration of Stedman's _Narrative_ emerged in 1988, the result of Richard and Sally Price's new scholarly edition. The Prices' text transcribed Stedman's 1790 manuscript version aiming to restore his original authorial intent and exposing the extent to which the text had been altered by Stedman's first editor, Joseph Johnson. Both versions of the _Narrative_ are troubled by what they cannot contain, whether it be the sexual exploitation made possible by plantation-slavery, or the inter-racial desire that would eventually mark Stedman's _Narrative_ as a singular example of resistance to the exploitations inherent in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.
October 2011

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Almeida, "Translating a Slave’s Life: Richard Robert Madden and the Post-Abolition Trafficking of Juan Manzano’s Poems by a Slave in the Island of Cuba"

Almeida examines the translations of Juan Manzano’s Poems, a manuscript that followed a labyrinthine route before its eventual publication. Almeida suggests that the translation provided British abolitionists with the cultural capital necessary to “ensure a future beyond 1840 given the realignment of geopolitical and economic power in the Atlantic” (11). Madden’s translation functions, she argues, “as a sign of appropriated cultural labor, and performs an ideological accommodation of slavery within the free market/free labor system” (3).
October 2011

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"Walter Scott and the Financial Crash of 1825: Fiction, Speculation, and the Standard of Value"

Although radicals and economists had been attacking the fiscal “speculation” of the credit economy since the seventeenth century as akin to forgery and theft, many conservative commentators on Britain’s financial affairs embraced it as the source of the heroic and imaginative power of debt and credit. This essay reads Walter Scott’s Letters of Malachi Malagrowther and The Chronicles of the Canongate as “speculative” responses to the financial crisis of 1825. Following a period of intense economic expansion, primarily in Latin America and mostly based on highly speculative development plans, and facing a sudden loss of confidence in the banking sectors, the British government and the Bank of England tested various forms of economic diversification. Rather than assuming total responsibility for the new debt loads, the banks, supported by legislation, converted it into a variety of repayment and deposit schemes in smaller institutions, including, for the first time, bank branches. But in Scotland, such schemes also entailed replacing an autonomous and thriving financial community. In the letters, Scott attempts to revive the idea of “speculation”—which I define as both an act of imagination and an act of seeing—against English models of economic diversification. Chronicles documents the failure of this speculative economy and replaces it with a tenuous if critical mode of socio-economic comparison.
February 2012

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"Knowledge Against Paper: Forgery, State Violence and Radical Cultural Resistance in the Romantic Period"

This essay firstly examines the strategy of radical education in the early nineteenth-century plebeian public sphere around the issue of paper money, illustrated by William Cobbett in his article series "Paper Against Gold," published in the Political Register during 1810-11. Cobbett’s role as a counter-hegemonic intellectual in the series and the conception of popular knowledge it championed is highlighted, in part through his attempts to expose the complex workings of the wider financial system he described as a "place . . . of a sort of mysterious existence; a sort of Financial Ark; a place not, perhaps, to be touched, or even seen." The second part of the essay demonstrates how this form of critical publicity was transformed in the postwar years into an active project of resistance against the worst abuses of the paper money system, culminating in Cobbett’s "puff out" campaign in the Register to materially undermine Bank of England paper currency and T.J. Wooler’s print protests in The Black Dwarf directly confronting the enforcement of the "bloody code" in the capital forgery trials of late 1818. This postwar print campaign against the paper money system illustrates key aspects of the wider radical intellectual project in the plebeian public sphere, highlighting how the radical press "converted" popular public debate into a new form of cultural currency in the Romantic period, a currency that emblematized a continuing concern for the material welfare of its readers and listeners in the face of a corrupt and bloody political and economic system.
February 2012

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"Bloomfield in His Letters: The Social World of a London Shoemaker Turned Suffolk Poet"

This essay places Bloomfield in his social world—the world of Georgian London and of rural Suffolk and Wales. It makes extensive use of his correspondence to offer new insights into such issues as patronage and publishing, the book market, radical politics, Cockney London, and the picturesque tour. It shows Bloomfield to be a witty commentator on his time as well as an astute reader of the poetry of his contemporaries.
December 2011

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"Hegel’s Bearings"

In her essay, Rei Terada ponders Hegel's style of "tarrying with the negative," particularly with the narrowing of political possibility in German territories both under Napoleonic liberalization and after Waterloo. In correspondence with his friend Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer, who states his wish to persist in fighting a losing cause even - or especially - if he is the "last man" to do so, as if to find sustenance in his inability to bear his dark times. Hegel bears up in another manner, seeking a middle way that "allows nothing to get too bad and nothing too good." Rather than trusting himself to a truly open history, Terada argues, Hegel protects the civic life of the middle class, but in doing so he also carries through on a philosophy in which "another middle, the middle of transition, always rules the world." Drawing on a description of a dream Hegel sends to his friend, in which "a certain realist calculation and foresight is implicit," his critique of "the mirror reifications of empiricism and idealism" in the Logic, and his account in the Encyclopedia of how the subject, reading every negativity that comes from outside as actually from inside, can become "a being capable of containing and enduring its own contradiction," Terada shows how Hegel becomes a "privileged figure of the new dispensation," someone capable of enduring "the horizonless condition of an antipolitical society that extends from the late Napoleonic era to our own."
January 2012

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