July 2001

Andrew Bennett, Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity

Andrew Bennett, Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity. Cambridge Studies in
Romanticism Series, no. 35. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xiii + 268pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-64144-6).

Reviewed by
James Najarian
Boston College

Andrew Bennett, the author of Keats, Narrative and Audience (Cambridge, 1994), returns to the topic of the poet's audience in his second book, Romantic Poets and the Culture of Posterity. Bennett argues that Romantic writers were not only concerned with their posthumous reception—like authors of earlier eras—but they began to frame their reception in terms of an ideal audience, so that posthumous reception became the imagined ideal or precondition of poethood: "Posterity is not so much what comes after poetry as its necessary prerequisite—the judgement of future generations becomes the necessary condition of the art of writing itself" (4). Writers not only imagine their poetry surviving them, but surviving them in a peculiar way. The death or dissolution of the poet becomes an imagined necessity for the timelessness of his poetry. Neglect during the poet's lifetime is written into this narrative. Neglect actually adds to the cachet of posthumous fame. The reclamation of the writing of the neglected-but-rehabilitated poet finally redeems his life. The idea of "genius" is crucial here, as neglect seems to authenticate genius; Isaac D'Israeli and William Ireland equated the two. A brief poetic life like Keats's—or Chatterton's or Shelley's—both takes part in and sustains this imagined trajectory.


Richard Cronin, The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth

Richard Cronin, The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth. Romanticism in Perspective Series.  London: Macmillan, 2000. viii + 225pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22749-3).

Reviewed by
Mark Canuel
The University of Illinois at Chicago

In recent years, the historical study of Romantic writing has led more or less seamlessly to a study of reading audiences or the "reading public." For many critics, that is, taking an interest in the "politics" of Romantic literature, or Romantic "ideology," entails an attempt to account—from a genetic point of view—for precisely where politics or ideology come from. Whether the object of study is a public or multiple publics (or counterpublics), the point of these explorations is that publics have ideologies and ideologies provide the conditions under which works are written and received; the reading public is thus said to "influence" or "inform" canonical and non-canonical Romantic writing in a way that has been unappreciated by critics before this time. The Romantic writer, it might be said, becomes an audience for his or her audience, and the difficulty of determining the meaning of literary utterances has been solved, somewhat surprisingly, by suggesting that the utterances of publishers, reviewers, and participants in the popular "press" are more stable or easier to read than the utterances of poets and novelists.

Richard Cronin's The Politics of Romantic Poetry does something different because it does not merely take a view of literary works as if they needed to be untangled by the pre-adjudicating utterances of an audience. His subject, in fact, is not the politics of poetry (as the title would suggest) as much as it is the poetry of politics; he sees the works he studies—from the Jacobin poets of the 1790s to Byron, Shelley, and Keats—as more directly engaging the beliefs and assumptions of an audience in order to secure poetic authority. If historicism's familiar gesture is to see the audience as determining the "historical and cultural context" for the meaning of literary works, Cronin sees those works, by contrast, as interpretations and determinations of their audiences.


Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality

Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality. Romanticism in Perspective Series. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 2000. ix + 220pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22671-3).

Reviewed by
Alan Bewell
University of Toronto

In this book, Mark S. Lussier announces "physical criticism," a theoretical perspective that seeks to illuminate the productive interchange between literature and science, particularly the ways in which physical theory and poetic expression share similar models in their representation of the mind and physical world. Lussier's goal is to take criticism beyond the mechanistic and dualistic models of mind and universe that continue to influence contemporary thought—the world of Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Newton—toward a theoretical perspective that responds to the far more complex and dynamic models of the mind in relation to the physical world that emerged with Romanticism and are now being renewed in contemporary science, especially in biology, ecology, and theoretical physics. Quantum theory has undercut the Newtonian absolutes of space and time. The stabilities of matter in the Newtonian cosmos have been replaced by indeterminacies and relativity, and the meaning of time, always a flexible concept, has been transformed. Since Heisenberg it has been difficult for scientists to employ naively the Lockean model of experience, in which the mind passively registers the sensory data supplied to it by the outside world. Scientists can no longer be said to be removed what from they observe, something that has not been lost on social constructivists. Ecological criticism has insisted even more powerfully upon the crucial necessity for human beings to recognize that they exist in nature and that they need to develop new, less destructive ways of interacting with it. Lussier's "physical criticism" synthesizes ecology and physics in order to provide an alternative to the cultural legacy of mechanistic philosophy. He uses the term "dynamics" to describe this more complex and holistic conception of the interaction of the mind and the physical world. In his view, Romantic poetry not only anticipates these developments, but has played an important role in providing "physical criticism" with the language and metaphors needed for representing this new world.


Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Edited by Judith Pascoe

Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Edited by Judith Pascoe. Petersborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2000.  444pp. illus: 16 halftones. (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-55111-3171). CAN$21.95/US$15.95 (Pap; ISBN: 1-55111-201-9).

Reviewed by
Terence Alan Hoagwood
Texas A&M University

Not only for the importance of Mary Robinson's poetry, much of which it makes readily available for the first time, but also for the sake of the high quality of scholarship which it represents, this book is one of the more valuable contributions to Romantic-period studies in many years. The judiciously edited poetic contents are supplemented valuably (consistent with other volumes in the series, Broadview Literary Texts) by editions of ancillary primary material (letters and early reviews), increasing the scholarly utility of this important book. The learned editor's graceful, unobtrusive, but outstanding critical judgment, which is expressed in the substantial introduction, for example, is another sort of supplement which also contributes to the book's value. The volume is aptly and handsomely illustrated with four portraits of Mary Robinson (the editor's introduction makes plain how Robinson's intellectual integrity always suffered from the popular and pictorial tendency to substitute her pretty face for the substance of her trenchant and often bitter writings) and twelve illustrations which are engravings by Caroline Watson after Maria Cosway's drawings illustrating Robinson's poem "The Wintry Day."


Orrin N. C. Wang, Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory

Orrin N.C. Wang, Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. x + 232pp. (Hdbk; 0-8018-5220-X).  $17.95 (Pap, 2000; ISBN: 0-8018-6525-5).

Reviewed by
Adam Carter
University of Lethbridge

"Il faut etre absolument moderne."
–Arthur Rimbaud

In "Literary History and Literary Modernity," Paul de Man theorized an "inherent conflict" between the concepts announced in his title--concepts which, he suggested, might even constitute "logical absurdities."1 "The continuous appeal of modernity," de Man wrote, "the desire to break out of literature toward the reality of the moment, prevails and, in its turn, folding back upon itself, engenders the repetition and continuation of literature. Thus modernity, which is fundamentally a falling away from literature and a rejection of history, also acts as the principle that gives literature duration and historical existence" (162). This inherent conflict, de Man contends, determines both literary history and the structure of literary language. However, the manner in which it does so, de Man concedes, "cannot be treated within the limits of this essay" (162). Although inevitably reductive, it would not be wrong to conceive of Orrin Wang's Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory as an attempt to think through this inherent conflict and certain of its implications within the broader horizons of a book-length study.


John Whale, ed., Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France: New Interdisciplinary Essays

John Whale, ed., Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France: New Interdisciplinary Essays. Texts in Culture Series. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000. xii + 228pp. £40.00/$69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7190-5786-8).   £13.99/$24.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-7190-5787-6).

Reviewed by
Steven Blakemore
Florida Atlantic University

John Whale's collection of interdisciplinary essays is important given the rich variety of Burke's language and thought, which often embrace a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives--historical, literary, sociological, and cultural. In the first chapter, Whale traces the historical reception the Reflections has met, stressing the ways in which the text has been appropriated by a variety of writers and hence has taken on a kind of secondary afterlife. Aware that the contributors to his volume are also involved in these appropriations, Whale emphasizes the complex negotiations that occur whenever the Reflections is read.