Susan J. Wolfson

The Annotated Frankenstein, eds. Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, The Annotated Frankenstein, eds. Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao (Harvard: Belknap Press, 2012). 400 pp. (Hdbk., $29.95; ISBN 978-0-674-05552-0).

Reviewed by
Nora Crook
Anglia Ruskin University at Cambridge

The Annotated Frankenstein? Most new editions of Frankenstein are annotated now. One thinks of those that have been published or updated in recent years—landmarks such as Charles Robinson’s The Original Frankenstein (2008), Stuart Curran’s wonderfully compendious Romantic Circles hypertext (2009), fine teaching editions (all using the 1818 text) such as Macdonald and Scherf’s Broadview (3rd ed., 2012), Paul Hunter’s Norton (2nd ed., 2012), Judith Wilt’s New Riverside (2003), and not least the Longman (2nd ed. 2007), edited by Wolfson, reviewed in Romantic Circles in 2004.

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.

The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, ed. Morris Eaves

The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, ed. Morris Eaves. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. 326 pp. ISBN-10: 0521781477(Hdbk)/0521786770(Ppbk), $90.00/$27.99

Reviewed by
R. Paul Yoder
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Each volume in the Cambridge Companion series provides a sort of snapshot of the state of the art concerning its given subject at the time of its publication, and this is certainly the case with the Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Morris Eaves has put together an excellent collection of overview essays on Blake’s contexts and works. After Eaves’ Introduction, the book is divided unevenly into two parts: “Perspectives” and “Blake’s Works.” All essays in both parts include endnotes and suggestions for further reading. The point of the essays is not so much to make new arguments as to synthesize the body of critical knowledge into a useful companionable form, and in this the volume succeeds quite well. The only glaring omission from the collection is a discussion of Blake and gender, a difficult issue for which a summary essay, if not a true synthesis, would be especially useful.

Susan J. Wolfson, ed., Frankenstein: A Longman Cultural Edition; J. Paul Hunter, ed., Frankenstein: The 1818 Text; & Judith Wilt, ed., Making Humans: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau

Susan J. Wolfson, ed., Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein: A Longman Cultural Edition. New York: Longman, 2003. 343 pp.   $16.00 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-321-09698-3).
J. Paul Hunter, ed., Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, Contexts, Nineteenth-Century Responses, Modern Criticism. A Norton Critical Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton: 1996.  336 pp., ISBN 0-393-96458-2, $11.40.
Judith Wilt, ed., Making Humans: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, H. G. Wells,
The Island of Doctor Moreau. New Riverside Editions. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.  360 pp. $10.76 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-618-08489-4).

Reviewed by
Laura Mandell
Miami University

Three excellent new teaching editions of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein have appeared over the last decade. All three make use of the 1818 text rather than the last, much revised 1831 edition for reasons stated most succinctly by Judith Wilt: "Increasingly [editorial] practice favors the 'first' text, true to its cultural and biographical context, rather than a later, authorized text, in which the writer is often at work 'modernizing' the original child of his or her brain" (13). But in the case of Frankenstein, there is slightly more involved in preferring the 1818 to the 1831 text. Wilt summarizes the reception history of various editions (14), and J. Paul Hunter includes in his edition the text that has had the most impact on our current preference for teaching the 1818 text, Anne K. Mellor's "Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach."1  Mellor argues that "the 1818 edition alone presents a stable and coherent conception of the character of Victor Frankenstein and of Mary Shelley's political and moral ideology" (qtd. in Hunter 37). Significantly, though, Mellor means to open up discussions about comparing various editions rather than to definitively foreclose on them, and her article might provide a useful blueprint for introducing literature students to the biases hidden in editorial choices, invisible to those who simply pick up a text and read it as if it were "Mary Shelley's."

Susan J. Wolfson, Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism

Susan J. Wolfson, Formal Charges: The Shaping of Poetry in British Romanticism. Stanford University Press 1997. xiv + 344pp. illus: 10 b&w. $39.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-2657-4).  $19.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-8047-3662-6).

Reviewed by
Robert Kaufman
Stanford University

Maybe the best thing that ever could have happened to those contemporary literary criticisms passionately committed to history, material culture, and the sociopolitical in general—not to mention theory—was the challenge of a reinvigorated formalist criticism. Such a challenge is more than a speculative possibility or even a late development: there is a long if discontinuous narrative of the historical (or social, political, cultural), theoretical, and formal camps sharpening one another's critical instruments through amicable, cordial, or hostile joinings of debate. Just within the past few decades' Romanticism-focussed studies, contributions made through and across these categories have helped clarify and reconceptualize literature's relationships to its traditional Others. Yet questions have been raised about whether the players in these contests have already, against their own intentions, been caught in an antiquarian fiction. For this moment in criticism is often enough said to be the Jetztzeit of a fateful disciplinary drama, in which cultural studies ruthlessly analyzes new-just-yesterday versions of historically and theoretically oriented literary study, finding them effectively to have become the latest (last? parasitic? reliquary? finally transitional?) incarnations of a superannuated formalism whose few remaining drops have dripped into our exponentially postformalist era. Still, some contrary evidence suggests that reports of the demise of historically and theoretically inclined literary scholarship may be premature. And it would prove no small measure of poetic justice and post-Romantic irony if concerns for history and theory should in turn find themselves inextricably bound to the survival of form and formalism within literary studies. At any rate, questions about the formal's status vis-à-vis the material, sociopolitical, and historical may not be so moot after all.

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