gender

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism and Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). 430 pp. (Hdbk., $ 97.95; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8047-6105-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8047-6105-5). Wolfson, Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). 381 pp. (Hdbk., $ 70; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8018-9474-3; ISBN-13: 978-0-8018-9474-9).

Reviewed by
Diego Saglia
University of Parma, Italy

Although published six years apart, these two volumes belong in the same multifaceted critical mosaic. Both studies address the distinctive concerns which have been central to Susan Wolfson’s critical practice since the 1980s—her preoccupation with gender, her focus on literary form, and her indefatigable search for an increasingly detailed, as well as historically attuned, approach to the stylistic materiality of literary works. As with her previous works, these books require us to read intensively into texts, and we cannot escape this demand as we gradually explore their largely shared literary terrain: Hemans and Byron, mostly, but also Wollstonecraft, the Wordsworths and Keats. Wollstonecraft, in particular, plays a major role in Wolfson’s presentation of her argument in the earlier Borderlines, and its discussion of the continuities and discontinuities within Romantic-period gender debates between the 1790s and the 1830s.

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. x + 228pp.  Illus.: 4 halftones.  $42.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8131-2116-7).

Reviewed by
Miranda J. Burgess
University of British Columbia

The first word in the title of this book is tonally at odds with the second, and with the argument of the book as a whole. "Misogyny" sounds like a topic for an older or more naïve feminism than Mandell's fresh and sophisticated version, and its transhistorical ring belies the specificity Mandell brings to her cultural study of eighteenth-century economic history. But these impressions are misleading, as Mandell makes clear in framing her book. She begins by arguing that "[m]isogyny in representations is not about women but rather about society" (1). She ends with the assertion that the "[d]isgust allegedly aroused by women's bodies comes in fact from the stench of social inequity" (158). Moreover, she insists that "misogyny is not necessary" either to literature or to culture (158). Criticism that is to be effective in the twenty-first century must be "willing to see gender as a figure, not a thing" (157).

Yet according to Mandell's analysis, the figure of gender and an accompanying misogyny are everywhere in eighteenth-century writing, from the individual poems, plays and economic texts discussed in the first four chapters to the anthologies and critical writings that processed such works later in the century, addressed in chapters five and six. The key to the simultaneous ubiquity and unnecessariness of this seemingly essential discourse is the way in which eighteenth-century poets and Romantic anthologists and critics used misogynist rhetorics and practices to manage the pleasures of their readers. It is eighteenth-century readers and their pleasures, and the social anxiety these pleasures produce in contemporaries, that are the major topic of Mandell's book.

Karl S. Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature

Karl S. Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xii + 297pp. illus: 30 halftones. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-59195-3). $22.95 (Pap; ISBN 0-521-64460-7).

Reviewed by
Christopher Braider
University of Colorado at Boulder

Karl Guthke's The Gender of Death surveys portrayals of death in European art and literature since the Middle Ages. As the title indicates, the organizing theme is gender. In both literary and visual images of what Guthke styles the "unimaginable"—a misleading term in that, unknowable as death may be, it is hardly unimaginable—a means of choice has been personification, giving death a human form. One consequence of this prosopopeic humanation is to assign death a gender reproducing the gendered state of humanity itself. So are there definite rules, codes, or regularities governing which gender death takes? More specifically, to cite the theoretical question that opens the book, "is Death a woman?" And if death is not always a woman—and Guthke's survey amply documents that it is not—what determines which gender is chosen in any given instance? Is it, for example, a function of grammatical gender—the fact that death is a "feminine" noun in some languages and "masculine" in others? And once the mass of historical evidence Guthke marshals has compelled us to acknowledge that there is in fact no fixed correlation between grammatical gender and the gender of death, what other cultural influences might explain the relative emphases observed as we move from one culture or period to the next?

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. xii + 238pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8122-3393-X).

Reviewed by
Julie A. Carlson
University of California, Santa Barbara

Those of us who attend developments in romantic drama and theater are happy to greet the appearance of Catherine Burrough's Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. It advances this field in important respects by both focusing extensively on Baillie and providing some of the historical and theoretical contexts that help us to appreciate the power of Baillie's work. The lead playwright of her age and considered by some of her peers to be the best playwright since Shakespeare, Baillie pretty much had fallen from view until roughly five years ago, when she became a rising star on conference and publishing circuits in romantic studies. A few scholars—especially Margaret Carhart and Joseph Donohue—had argued long before then for the importance of Baillie's writings, but their comments fell on ears unreceptive to the drama of romantic theater or the women writing in the period. An appreciative audience for both now thrives, thanks to the many scholars whose work Burroughs generously acknowledges. It is some measure of the rapid popularity of both fields that people have been clamouring for a book on Baillie in the last years.

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