Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire

Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2009). 266pp. (Hdbk., $55.00; ISBN-13: 978 0 87413 066 9.)

Reviewed by
Colin Carman
Colorado Mountain College

Desire, by definition, is mediated, imitative, and mimetic. At the core of identity and indeed of being itself lie the dual demands to be recognized and to be imitated. These are just some of the premises of Eric Gans and René Girard, and the insightful literary study these two thinkers have inspired, Lord Byron and the History of Desire. Byron is a provocative choice: while the “Byronic hero” is usually typified by defiant autonomy, even solipsistic self-adulation, Ian Dennis reveals just how important the roles of mediation, interplay, and the desires of—and for—others are in Byron’s oeuvre.

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire. New York: Palgrave, 2003. x + 240pp. $110.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-333-98583-4).

Reviewed by
Peggy Dunn Bailey

In Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire, James Najarian traces the influence of Keats upon the ways that male sexuality came to be understood and expressed in the Victorian era. One of the most valuable and insightful elements of Najarian's discussion, however, is that he extends his analysis beyond the Victorian era to the World War 1 era poetry of Wilfred Owen and to appropriations of Keats's "story" by contemporary artists struggling to find a language for the horrors of HIV/AIDS and its legacy, especially for the gay community. Doing so solidifies his point that Keats became, and continues to be, a phenomenon of sorts, not just because of his poetry but because of the ways in which the poet himself was turned into a symbol of transgressive sexuality and a commentary on its manifestations and potential consequences. Najarian is careful to point out that Keats's "influence" was transmitted not just by his poetry but also by biographies and conceptions of the "doomed," "sensuous," "effeminate" poet and to make clear that his goal is not to uncover the "real" John Keats but to examine the legacy of "Keatsianism" (2). Will we understand Keats and his poetry better if we "prove"/"know" him to have been a latent homosexual instead of (or, titillatingly, in addition to) a frustrated heterosexual? Not necessarily. Najarian astutely points out that late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century attempts to categorize would be unwise for practical and theoretical reasons; we would do well to remain vigilant regarding the dependability of our knowledge of the sexual proclivities and practices of human beings in a culture and a time within which the discourse of sexuality was so very different from our own. Furthermore, such attempts to "out" Keats, the man, are irrelevant to Najarian's project. In the Introduction, Najarian candidly announces his text as "unashamedly a literary history" (2).

Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism

Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xviii + 328 pp.  Price. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-81668-8).

Reviewed by
Kathryn Pratt
Auburn University

Feminist inquiry in Romantic studies achieves new sophistication with the publication of books such as Adriana Craciun's study, which addresses the need for scholarship on sexuality in order to supplement the vast range of works on gender that have already enriched the field.  After the early emphasis on male writers' representations of women and, in recent decades, the recovery of popular and respected women writers who had been written out of the Romantic canon, critical attention necessarily turns to the historicizing of Romantic feminism.  In other words, recent developments in feminist theory demand a self-conscious critique of feminist ideology: how do feminist notions of gender and sexual difference reify the women they purportedly seek to liberate?  Examining how representations of the body disrupt normative notions of sexual difference at the very moment of their cultural enshrinement in the early nineteenth century, Fatal Women of Romanticism offers a compelling and timely argument for the importance of women's literature to an understanding of the cultural history of the Romantic Period in Britain.

Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Shelley's Textual Seductions: Plotting Utopia in the Erotic and Political Works

Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Shelley's Textual Seductions: Plotting Utopia in the Erotic and Political Works. Studies in Major Literary Authors Series.  New York: Routledge, 2002. xviii + 351pp. $90.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-415-93702-7).

Reviewed by
John Kandl
Walsh University

Samuel Lyndon Gladden's Shelley's Textual Seductions itself presents a seductively engaging study of the political implications of Shelley's major "erotic" works, including Oedipus Tyrannus, The Cenci, Julian and Maddalo, Epipsychidion, Laon and Cythna, and Prometheus Unbound. Throughout the book, Gladden demonstrates how Shelley's "processes of textual seduction model political strategies for displacing larger oppressive social structures" (xvi ). "Time and again," Gladden states, "Shelley stages the erotic as a device for renegotiating power and privilege, so that every context in which the erotic figures must be understood as a resolutely political one" (xvii). Acknowledging that the erotic has traditionally been associated with the apolitical and private, Gladden draws upon a "range of interpretive strategies" (xv) as well as an impressive range of critical authorities, to reveal the ways in which, for Shelley, the physical (or public, exterior world) and the psychological (or private, interior world) "dissolve into a radical contingency" (xvi). Shelley's dissolution of boundaries between the private and the public, which Gladden playfully and appropriately terms "ooziness," expresses at once the most definitive characteristic of the erotic while exploiting its subversive potential for exposing, and offering alternatives to, oppressive social relations. Gladden contends that Shelley, perhaps to avoid charges of treason, transposed "the language of radical politics into a discourse of eroticism," developing "a parallel language for the production of anti-hegemonic texts [which enabled him] to speak about political engagements even amidst seemingly apolitical retreats to pleasure, love, and aesthetics" (18).

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