William Wordsworth

Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity

Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007). viii + 297pp. ISBN 978-0-521-86638-5 (Hdbk.), $100.00.

Reviewed by
Mark L. Barr
Saint Mary's University

Brian Goldberg's The Lake Poets and Professional Identity is a careful and subtle exploration of the cultural tropes and social forces that William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey invoked and struggled against in attempting to forge their distinct notions of authorial identity. Goldberg's central thesis is that the Lake School poets, caught between the unsustainable binary conception of the author either as reclusive (and unpaid) genius or as remunerated hack, sought in legal, medical, and clerical professionalism a more palatable model to help reconfigure the authorial relationship to both work and audience. In this intensive and necessarily episodic study, Goldberg manages a fine balance between both obscure and well-read texts and between the Lake Poets and their eighteenth-century forebears to trace the often uncomfortable fit between the notion of "professional gentleman" and an emerging vocational identity arising alongside the economic model gradually replacing the patronage system.

Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing

Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xi + 249pp; illus. $101.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 052187419X; ISBN-13: 978-0521874199)

Reviewed by
Brian Bates
University of Denver

In Wordsworth Writing, Andrew Bennett challenges several pervasive myths about Wordsworth, revisits the most significant cruxes of twentieth-century Wordsworth criticism, and sheds fresh light on Wordsworth’s poetic practice. Bennett carries out this three-pronged revision by questioning the assumption behind many studies of Wordsworth’s life and poetry: that Wordsworth composed poetry without actually writing. Wordsworth has long been considered a poet who composed aloud while walking outdoors, but Bennett contends that this view of Wordsworth as a spontaneous poet of nature misrepresents how he wrote the majority of his poetry. Instead, Bennett demonstrates that Wordsworth’s concern with the process of writing—from thinking about writing, to inscribing words on the page, false starts, writing blocks, and re-writing—defined his poetic identity, choice of subject matter, and passion for poetry.

Nicola Trott and Seamus Perry, eds. 1800: The New "Lyrical Ballads." Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories

Nicola Trott and Seamus Perry, eds. 1800: The New "Lyrical Ballads." Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories, gen. eds. Marilyn Gaull and Stephen Prickett. Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2001. x + 245 pp. £60.00 (US$70) (Hdbk.; ISBN 0-333-77398-5).

Reviewed by
Alison Hickey
Wellesley College

"'1800' is not one of the most famous dates in English literary history, but it should be" (1), declares the Introduction to this outstanding collection of essays. The idea that the literary-historical importance of the 1800 Lyrical Ballads equals or even surpasses that of its "more celebrated rival of 1798" is not itself new, but it has never before been so convincingly borne out by sustained, multifaceted, and rigorous critical inquiry.

The essayists, among the most highly respected Wordsworth and Coleridge scholars now writing in the UK and the US, define 1800's "newness" in various ways, and their approaches range from "revisiting the title" (Zachary Leader) to delving into "Wordsworth's Loves of the Plants" (Nicola Trott). Yet the volume as a whole, for all its diversity, possesses a coherence not often found in collections of essays by multiple authors. The tension between unity and multeity, comparable to tensions in Lyrical Ballads itself (or "the" Lyrical Ballads "themselves"), gives the critical volume a rare integrity.

Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800–1808

Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808.  Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2003.  201pp. $43.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87413-815-9).

Reviewed by
John L. Mahoney
Boston College

Richard Matlak's Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808 is a notable study of a key episode in Wordsworthiana, the death of the poet's mariner brother John in the wreck of his ship, the Earl of Abergavenny. It is also a fascinating series of persuasive speculations that connect the accident with Sir George Beaumont's painting of Peel Castle in a Storm and Wordsworth's great poem Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm. Matlak, with "long part-time experience with both military and commercial operations" (11) and an impressive command of the required maritime history, offers a psychological or psychobiographical approach to a range of key questions: What drew John Wordsworth to assume command of the Abergavenny and engage William and Dorothy enough to offer financial support? Why did Beaumont paint two oils of the wreck? Why was Wordsworth so engaged by the painting that he felt the need to write his poem and to correspond with Beaumont? And what conclusion can be drawn about John's much discussed behavior at the time of the wreck that took his life?

William Wordsworth, Last Poems, 1821–1850. Edited by Jared Curtis et al.

William Wordsworth, Last Poems, 1821-1850. Edited by Jared Curtis, with Associate Editors Apryl Lea Denny-Ferris and Jillian Heydt-Stevenson.  The Cornell Wordsworth.   Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. lxxxv + 852 pp.   Illus.: 112 halftones.  $110.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8014-3625-7).

Reviewed by
Kurt Fosso
Lewis & Clark College

In recent years The Cornell Wordsworth series has more than realized General Editor Stephen Maxfield Parrish's vision of a multi-volume collection of the "earliest complete versions" of Wordsworth's important longer works.  The expanded series will soon comprise all of the poet's poems, from the first to this present volume's last.  In this pursuit Cornell's editors have followed the lead of the Clarendon Press's pioneering edition of the Poetical Works, in which editors Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire printed variants, including some draft texts, of the final authorized versions of Wordsworth's poems and also appended much of his unpublished juvenilia.  The Cornell Wordsworth series has, of course, gone considerably further, ambitiously attempting, as Parrish states, to "offer successive stages of a [complete] poem to show how Wordsworth's poetic strategies evolved over the years of his poetic life."

Brad Sullivan, Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge: Refiguring Relationships Among Minds, Worlds, and Words

Brad Sullivan, Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge: Refiguring Relationships Among Minds, Worlds, and Words. Studies in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, no. 15.  New York: Peter Lang, 2000.  xii + 202pp.  $50.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8204-4857-5).

Reviewed by
Spencer Hall
Rhode Island College

Brad Sullivan describes Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge as "an experiment in critical discourse--an attempt both to discuss and embody an alternative model of knowing" (169). The word "experiment" recalls Wordsworth's own description of Lyrical Ballads, and like the poet's, Sullivan's ambitious and passionate "experiment" may well engender strong responses.  The text is meant to propound and to reflect in its very composition a "rigorous" way of thinking marked by recursive, self-reflexive, and synthetic approaches to knowledge, as opposed to a "systematic" way of thinking marked by linear, logical, and "philosophical" reasoning (103).  The stated aim of this aggressively interdisciplinary work is "to provide a starting point for more fruitful discussions of [Wordsworth's] literary theory, his philosophy, his educational ideas, his social and moral purposes, and his poetic and rhetorical strategies for reaching an audience" (12).  Students of Wordsworth and British Romanticism will find much to interest them in Sullivan's book.  They will also find much to question, beginning with its wildly inflated claim to be a "starting point" for Wordsworth studies.

Richard W. Clancey, Wordsworth's Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth

Richard W. Clancey, Wordsworth's Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth. New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xxiii + 215pp. $65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22560-1).

Reviewed by
J. Douglas Kneale
University of Western Ontario

In reconstructing Wordsworth's classical education at Hawkshead" (xv), Richard W. Clancey emphasizes the fundamental importance of the concept of ethos in the growth of Wordsworth's style. Comprising "honesty, truth, and audience-concern" (9), ethos is at once an Aristotelian principle and a Wordsworthian signature. It begins with Wordsworth "in his mother's arms, at her knee, among his father's books, in his presence and shadow" (7), and it develops-with more continuity than disrupture-through the admirable, "holistically" based (51) education that Wordsworth received at Hawkshead Grammar School and his deepening intimacy with the classics at Cambridge. In a book on a poet whose originality owes much to his origins, Clancey argues for the importance of Wordsworth's teachers, and his teachers' teachers, in the formation of a poetical character whose romanticism is thoroughly grounded in its classicism.

Kathleen Jones, A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle

Kathleen Jones, A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. xix + 313pp. illus. $29.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22731-0).

Reviewed by
Judith Thompson
Dalhousie University

The Romantic period, with its literary circles and coteries, its close collaborations and incestuous alliances, has long offered fertile ground for the development of a new form of literary biography, that would be more intersubjective, intertextual and historicized, taking into account recent research into plural nature of subjectivity and textuality as well as new historical understanding of the way the "lives of the poets" are interwoven with, and constructed in collaboration with, their others (readers, editors, publishers) and their material and economic circumstances. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the presence of such group biographies as William St. Clair's The Godwins and the Shelleys, or Nicholas Roe's carefully historicized and intertextual Wordsworth and Coleridge: the Radical Years, little has been done to break down prevailing and longstanding notions, originating in the Romantic period, of biography as the writing of a singular self. While the loosening of the canon and the rediscovery of women writers have, as it were, enlarged the optical field to take in ever more moons and satellites, the gravitational pull of the Romantic ideology is so powerful that our attention seems inevitably drawn to the center of any subjective universe.

Kathleen Jones's A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle exemplifies the difficulty of breaking prevailing paradigms. In choosing to write a group biography focused on the moons and satellites of planet Wordsworth, she makes an admirable effort to recenter and enlarge our perspective upon romantic subjectivity and life-writing. She moves the Great Men, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, to the margins, where they appear only relationally, weaving in and out of the lives of one another and of the women in their lives, the multiplicitous Saras, Marys, Ediths and Dorothys who are the real subject of this biography. Their wifely, sisterly, motherly and daughterly talents as emotional and domestic managers, building and navigating an intricate web of relationships, facilitated the creation of great romantic poetry (and greater romantic egos), but took an enormous emotional and physical toll. This book opens up rich territory, and it is to Jones's credit that she attempts to look at it whole, to interweave multiple stories and trace patterns of similarity and difference between generations, all the while drawing our attention to the ineluctable realities, economic, material, domestic and physiological, that underlie, underwrite and undercut the grand romantic story. In the end, however, her book does not succeed—not because of its plural topic, but because of its theoretical reductiveness. Relying upon limited and outdated sources, reflecting not at all upon its own methodology, paying scant attention to its subjects as writers, A Passionate Sisterhood, like its subjects, fails to live up to its own creative potential.

Thomas Pfau, Wordsworth's Profession: Form, Class, and the Logic of Early Romantic Cultural Production and John Rieder, Wordsworth's Counterrevolutionary Turn: Community, Virtue, and Vision in the 1790s.

Thomas Pfau, Wordsworth's Profession: Form, Class, and the Logic of Early Romantic Cultural Production. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. xii + 454 pp. illus. $49.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-2902-6).
John Rieder, Wordsworth's Counterrevolutionary Turn: Community, Virtue, and Vision in the 1790s. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997. 273 pp. $41.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87413-610-5).

Reviewed by
Margaret Russett
University of Southern California

The theses of John Rieder's and Thomas Pfau's recent books present striking parallels, a fact that reflects at least as much on the theoretical climate both critics inhabit as it does on their shared topical focus. Although it may be unsurprising to find similarities between two studies of Wordsworth—each of which, moreover, concentrates on a limited number of works from early in the poet's career—more notable are the ways each positions itself as post-New Historicism, even while insisting on the rigorous articulation of historical context. For both critics, this stance involves a renewed attention to the category of the aesthetic, defined not as the evasion or mystification of history but as the precise and determinate response to questions posed at the level of material circumstance. The cultivation of aesthetic (i.e., "literary") experience, argue Pfau and Rieder, constitutes the particular ideological project of the middle class in its late-eighteenth century period of consolidation. What Pfau calls the "virtual commodity" of "unselfconscious aesthetic interest" (1, 65) surfaces in Rieder's account as, more simply, the "literary community held together . . . by poetry itself" (Rieder 216–17). The construction of literature as an autonomous domain thus solves a "problem of cohesion or social totality" which (Rieder 46), because it cannot be addressed by the available modes of political representation, instances the modern concept of class itself.


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