Short Reviews

RC Reviews is a collection of 700-800 word reviews on the most recent scholarship relating to British Romanticism, its authors, history, and ideas.

Ashley Cross, Mary Robinson and the Genesis of Romanticism: Literary Dialogues and Debts, 1784–1821 (Routledge, 2017). xiii + 288 pp. (Hdbk., $140; ISBN 9781848933682).

David Sigler
University of Calgary

Ashley Cross’s new monograph, Mary Robinson and the Genesis of Romanticism, works in two directions at once: it scrutinizes the oeuvre of a single author, but it also presents Romantic-era writing as a network, something thoroughly collaborative, competitive, and communitarian. Cross, in presenting a study of Mary Robinson’s literary writings as she responded to her contemporaries and inspired her successors, gives us a model for understanding “authorial identity grounded in dialogic exchange” (3), and for apprehending Robinson’s writing across genres. Thus it offers a different vision of Robinson than has emerged in previous studies, such as Daniel Robinson’s The Poetry of Mary Robinson: Form and Fame (2011) and Paula Byrne’s more biographical Perdita: The Life of Mary Robinson (2004), both of which stress the unusualness of Robinson’s celebrity instead of her more typical struggle to be accepted, as a woman...

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Anthony Howe. Byron and the Forms of Thought (Liverpool UP, 2013). 205 pp., (Hdbk., $ 99.95; ISBN 978-1846319716).

Chris Washington
Francis Marion University

Like any good study of Byron does, Anthony Howe takes his subject seriously as both a writer and thinker, but unlike other studies Howe’s book features a methodology perfectly in line with Byron’s own compositional practices. Howe intentionally plays with the scholarly book form in order to demonstrate how form evinces its own complicated thought process, just as, the book argues, the forms of Byron’s poems do. Howe’s book adopts an essayistic approach, as does Byron on Howe’s reading, even in Byron’s most seemingly non-essayistic works like Don Juan (1819-1824). Positioning himself against the idea that Byron was an important literary and cultural historical figure but not an important writer as famously encapsulated by Goethe and Arnold’s opinions, both of who labeled him an anti-intellectual, Howe seeks to reclaim Byron from this critical judgment, which Byron has never fully shaken off.

The larger context...

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D. B. Ruderman, The Idea of Infancy in Nineteenth-Century British Poetry: Romanticism, Subjectivity, Form (Routledge, 2016). 273 pp., 5 b&w illus. (Hdbk., $112.00; ISBN 9781138191853).

Diana Edelman
University of North Georgia, Gainesville

What do sleeping babies, dead babies, and lyric poetry have in common? D. B. Ruderman explains in The Idea of Infancy that contemplating sleeping and dead babies literally affects poetic form, which, in turn, creates new conceptions of identity on the part of the reader. Although childhood and the imagination have long been constitutive of Romanticism, Ruderman carves out a new understanding of infancy in the period by reading it through the lens of poststructuralist discourses and psychoanalytic theory.

Ruderman attempts to recover the “more disturbing and philosophically fraught notion of infanthood” that he pits against the “sentimental view of childhood,” which, he rightly argues, tends to be the dominant narrative in the history of Romantic criticism (2). This newer, darker view of infancy challenges linear narratives of development in which infancy is perceived as one stage in a progressive...

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Matthew Wickman. Literature After Euclid: The Geometric Imagination in the Long Scottish Enlightenment (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016). 304 pp., 7 illus. (Hdbk., $69.95; ISBN 9780812247954; Ebook; $69.95; ISBN 9780812292534)

Aaron Ottinger
University of Washington

Matthew Wickman’s Literature After Euclid: The Geometric Imagination in the Long Scottish Enlightenment (2016) is an investigation of the history of figures of history, as mediated through literary forms. The study asks: What is the shape of history in relationship to the shape of geometrical figures? And how has the development of geometrical figures impacted our image of history?

Instead of a straight (time)line, Wickman’s geometric figure of history resembles the line of Thomas Reid’s “geometry of visibles,” according to which space is spherical, and thus the course of history curves back upon itself. In a curved image of history, Modernism germinates in the 1700s, and Enlightenment “undead” encroach on the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries (24, 129). The claim is surprising because Wickman posits that this figure of history emerges in the Scottish Enlightenment and is far more complicated than Futurist...

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Susan Wolfson, Reading John Keats (Cambridge University Press, 2015). 198 pp., 10 b&w illus. (Hdbck., $52.00, ISBN: 9780521513418; pbk. $19.99, ISBN: 9780521732796; ebook $16.00, ISBN: 9781316308059.)

Brian Rejack
Illinois State University

For guidance on the path of reading John Keats, it’d be difficult to find a better Virgil for your journey than Susan Wolfson. As readers of her ample body of scholarship should expect, Wolfson is here a consummate close reader, attending always to the minute formal, sonic, structural (and otherwise) details that make Keats’s poems the beguiling texts that they are. I found myself again and again coming across “ah-ha” moments which pointed toward my own inadequacy as a reader (e.g. “Of course! Why did I never before realize that Hyperion begins with a bunch of lines featuring initial spondaic feet?? I’m such a fool…”). But in addition to that immensely satisfying micro approach and the brilliant insights about Keats’s poetry it reveals, Wolfson’s book also offers an overarching poetic biography, tracking the broad scope of Keats’s development as a poet. Though a short book, Reading John Keats nonetheless manages...

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Bonaparte, Felicia, The Poetics of Poesis: The Making of Nineteenth-Century English Fiction (University of Virginia Press, 2015). 336 pp. (Hdbk., $49.50; ISBN 9780813937328)

James Lello

St Catharine’s College, Cambridge

What is meant by the conspicuous proximity of the twin desiderata announced in the title of the book under review: “Poetics” and “Poesis”? How might they relate to nineteenth-century English fiction?

Bonaparte argues that to see the nineteenth-century novel as continuing the tradition of realism is erroneous: “The view that the nineteenth-century novel was and wished to be ‘realistic’ has less to do with the form of that fiction and far more with our own assumptions.” Because of the apparent crisis in religion during the nineteenth century, writers instead had to “make the world anew,” either through a practice of mythic symbolism or George Eliot’s advocacy of “the idealistic in the real.” Names, etymologies, genres: all these become ways of “embodying” ideas in narrative and developing a practice of “symbolic signification.” “Poesis,” taken etymologically here, refers to “making” in just...

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Paulin, Roger, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel: Cosmopolitan of Art and Poetry (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2016), 662 pp. (Pbk. £29.95; ISBN 978-1-909254-95-4; PDF version free at www.openbookpublishers.com//download/book/452)

Nicholas Halmi

University of Oxford

August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845) has long languished in the shadow of his younger brother Friedrich, whose essays and aphorisms of 1797–1800 helped defined the literary program of early German Romanticism. Though in his lifetime August Wilhelm was the better known and more celebrated of the two brothers—he boasted justly that his Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature were read from “Cadiz to Edinburgh, Stockholm and St. Petersburg”—his reputation never recovered from the devastating caricature of him by his former student Heinrich Heine in The Romantic School (1835). This is not the only reason, however, that no comprehensive biography of Schlegel has appeared in any language till now: his interests were remarkably varied (e.g., classical philology, medieval German philology, classical and German prosody, contemporary German literature, Shakespeare, Calderón, the history of drama, Provençal poetry, Italian...

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Akel, Emily, Benjamin Disraeli and John Murray: The Politician, the Publisher, and the Representative (Liverpool University Press, 2016). xiv + 206 pp. (Hdbk., £85.00).

Robert O’Kell

University of Manitoba

The subject of this book, the publisher John Murray’s attempt in 1825–26 to start a newspaper that would rival The Times, is a fascinating story of great ambitions, plots and counterplots, mysteries, betrayals, calamitous failure, and slanderous disclosures. No wonder that it has been taken up many times. Samuel Smiles in A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891), Andrew Lang in The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart (1897), and W. F. Monypenny in Volume I of The Life of Benjamin Disraeli (6 vols., with George Earle Buckle, 1910–20) all discussed the attempt to found The Representative at some length. And more recently, Disraeli’s other biographers—B. R. Jerman (1960), Robert Blake (1966), Sarah Bradford (1982), Stanley Weintraub (1993), Jane Ridley (1995), and Robert O’Kell (2013)—have all provided succinct analyses of the matter. 

Regina Akel’s account is...

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Laura Mandell, Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). 240 pp., 4 b&w and 14 color illus. (Hdbk., $90.00; ISBN 9781118274552).

Lauren Schachter

University of Chicago

I read a digital edition of Laura Mandell’s 2015 Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age, so her advertisement’s request that any reviews of it be “sew[n] or staple[d] . . . into the cover” gave me pause, not only because it would be difficult for me to comply, but also because this difficulty illustrates the transitional medial environment that interests Mandell (xiii). Each chapter of her self-described manifesto examines “something one can do with a book” (writing, reading, critiquing) through the lens of “the change from coterie to mass-print to digital culture” (xiii). Moving skilfully across historical periods and topics from language philosophy to psychoanalysis to pedagogy, Breaking the Book advocates for a self-critical examination of book culture with the goal of carrying the best of the print humanities forward into “a brave new digital world” (xii). Since we have too often been blind...

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Rohrbach, Emily, Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (Fordham University Press, 2015). xi +185 pp. (Hdbk., $85.00; ISBN: 978-0823267965; Paperback, $9.99; ISBN: 978-0823267972).

Lauren Neefe

Georgia Institute of Technology

“We are in a mist,” Keats writes in the letter of 1818 to J. H. Reynolds, giving Emily Rohrbach the primary point of reference for the title of her first monograph, Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (2015). Keats claims that  “We are now in that state—We feel the ‘burden of the Mystery’” (qtd. in Rohrbach 1). This encumbered state is, Rohrbach observes, precisely not the condition of imaginative insight Wordsworth describes in Book XIII of The Prelude (1805) when, during the ascent of Mount Snowden, he finds himself suddenly above the mist, “which meek and silent, rested at my feet” (qtd. in Rohrbach 4). The mist, in which Keats finds himself and Reynolds, resonates in the uncertainty of mystery, the condition of negative capability. It resounds as well in a play on “missed.” The elusive, Rohrbach reminds us, predicates the modern...

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