April 2002

Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780–1800, & Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790–1840, edited by Catherine B. Burroughs

Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780-1800. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 46.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xiv + 272pp. Illus.: 20 halftones.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77116-1 ).
Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840. Edited by Catherine B. Burroughs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.  xv + 344pp.  Illus.: 1 halftone, 4 line diagrams.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-66224-9).

Reviewed by
Melynda Nuss
The University of Texas at Austin

The link between women and the Romantic drama has been unusually fertile in the past several years.  Perhaps because of women's association with theatricality, or perhaps because of the unusal number of women who made their mark as playwrights, actresses, and critics in the Romantic period, the new field of Romantic drama has focused a good deal of attention on women and women's concerns.  Even works which explore the works of the cannonical male playwrights, like Julie Carlson's In the Theatre of Romanticism, devote a good deal of time to the charismatic figure of Sarah Siddons, Joanna Baillie's work has already generated a full length study by Catherine Burroughs, and Elizabeth Inchbald, the actress and playwright who was also England's first major dramatic critic, has begun to make critics aware of the astonishing diversity of roles that women played in the Romantic theatre.  The two books under review here, then, represent something of a second generation of criticism on the role women played in the Romantic drama.  They not only expand the analyses of women in the Romantic drama beyond the small canon of Baillie, Inchbald, and Siddons, but they also represent a questioning of some of the field's initial assumptions--that women operated under severe constraints in the male dominated world of the theater, that women's work is always (or usually) progressive in terms of politics and gender, that women's writing is largely confined to the closet and their public impact limited to the body onstage, and that women were confined by certain domestic ideologies. Together, these two books provide a broader and more nuanced view of the way that women participated in the drama as playwrights, critics and actresses, and the way that the drama enabled women to participate in public life.

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William D. Brewer, The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley

William D. Brewer, The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh-Dickinson University Press, 2001.  246pp.  $39.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8386-3870-8).

Reviewed by
Judith Barbour
University of Sydney

There is no denying the dramatic interest and thematic pertinence to the fictional writings of William Godwin and Mary Shelley of the metaphor of the "mental anatomy" (Introduction 15–17 and passim), which gives the title to William D. Brewer's critical monograph, and contours its extended comparison of this father-and-daughter pair of authors. An anatomy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (in the old form of the word "an atomie") is a violent delapidation of an organic unity. In the primitive conditions of hospitals and morgues contemporary with the Godwin-Shelley writers, only cadavers could be anatomized and made intelligible, dissected and made visible, the veins, nerves, and musculature traced, flayed, and probed. The metonym of the eye—its "terrible aspect"—is hegemonic in Enlightenment cultural politics. In one pathetic instance, the dead foetus, or as it was officially called the abortion, could by now be anatomized in situ in the dead gravid uterus, as the "naturalistic" optics and perspective machines of graphic artists gave the burgeoning male profession of scientific obstetrics its first breakthrough. Incidentally, "abortion" was one of the key words inserted by Percy Bysshe Shelley into the manuscript-in-the making of his pregnant lover's and soon-to-be-wife's Frankenstein (1818).

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Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein to Falkner. Edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra

Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein
to
Falkner. Edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra.  New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xxvi + 250pp.  $65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-77106-0).

Reviewed by
Lisa Vargo
University of Saskatchewan

The very idea for this volume provides evidence for a significant reappraisal of Mary Shelley's career as a writer, a process that began in the late 1970s, when Frankenstein became an object of critical attention and a popular classroom text.  Further recuperation of Shelley's critical reputation has been aided by the appearance of editions of Mary Shelley's letters (1980-1988) and journals (1987), by critical studies by Anne K. Mellor (1988) and Jane Blumberg (1992), and by the suitably titled The Other Mary Shelley (1992). More recently access to fiction by Shelley was made possible by the appearance in 1996 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley from Pickering & Chatto and by single volumes from Broadview Press and from other publishers.  Mary Shelley's Fictions joins two other volumes of essays, Iconoclastic Departures (1997) and Mary Shelley in Her Times (2000), in communicating "the vitality and richness of current Shelleyan criticism" (ix).  The majority of the contributions that make up this volume took their first form in papers delivered at a series of conferences on Mary Shelley in Britain, Canada, and the United States during, as Nora Crook puts it, "the double bicentenary of Mary Shelley's birth and Mary Wollstonecraft's death" (xix).  In tracing the development of Mary Shelley studies, Nora Crook suggests in her introduction to the volume that "[w]e are now in a phrase of transition towards--let us say--'The Inclusive Mary Shelley,'" and it is her hope that this collection is "partly its product" and "partly its producer" (xx).  The fourteen essays, which are arranged into four sections, go a long way towards achieving inclusiveness in their considerations of Frankenstein, The Last Man, Mathilda, Valperga, selections from her short fiction, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, Lodore, Falkner, and the fragmentary "Life of William Godwin."

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Mark Storey, The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period

Mark Storey, The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period. New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xi + 197pp.  $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-23044-3).

Reviewed by
J. Morgan
University of Kentucky

In the preface to The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period, Mark Storey positions his work within a school of Romantic criticism that takes the self-conscious role of questioning or doubt on the part of the Romantic poet to be the central factor in the development of Romantic poetry.   However, whereas earlier studies, such as Charles Rzepkas's Self as Mind and Andrea Henderson's Romantic Identities: Varieties of Subjectivity, treat the development of this self-conscious attitude in relationship to a more "psychological and phenomenological point of view," Storey prefers to concentrate, as he says, "much more centrally on the nature of the poet, on how each poet struggles with a definition of poetry that involves a definition of the self as poet, and on how this struggle manifests itself in the poetry" (ix).  In essence, Storey takes the position that we will be able to better grasp the how Romantic writers struggled with the concept of poetic identity if we avoid reading their poetry in light of more "abstruse" models of subjectivity (viii).  I should note though that Storey seems to takes this position not so much from a desire to shout his defiance at "theory" than from a quiet belief in the interpretability of poetry, the lives of poets, and the intersections between the two.  As such, Storey's book is not wholly a polemic, but more a practical demonstration of what one can do with texts without a structured theoretical framework.

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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.

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