December 2003

Richard Cronin, Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824–1840

Richard Cronin, Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824-1840. New York: Palgrave, 2002.  vii + 296pp.  $69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-96616-3).

Reviewed by
Cynthia Lawford
Independent Scholar

Though the subtitle of Richard Cronin's latest book is English Literature, 1824-1840, a skim of the table of contents should alert those who hope it will give them a strong sense of the distinctiveness of the period's literature. Of the eighteen names listed under eight chapter headings, Tennyson's name occurs four times, as his work is given detailed treatment in four chapters. Browning, Carlyle, and Mary Shelley each receive discussion in two different chapters, and a decent amount of space is accorded to Coleridge, Shelley, Byron, Barrett Browning, and Macaulay. Add to that lot Caroline Lamb, whose Glenarvon (1816) alone wins her attention, and precious few names are left who have not long been considered as unmistakably Victorian or Romantic, indeed, precious few whose writings have not been considered essential to our understanding of what those two terms mean for English literary history. Those few are Benjamin Disraeli, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Letitia Landon, Felicia Hemans, George Darley, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, John Clare, and Catherine Gore. Among those, Disraeli alone is seen to deserve space in two chapters, as he wrote a novel using Byron and Shelley as characters.

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William H. Galperin, The Historical Austen

William H. Galperin, The Historical Austen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. viii + 286 pp. Illus.: 4 halftones.  $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8122-3687-4).

Reviewed by
Mary A. Favret
Indiana University, Bloomington

In a recent profile in The New Yorker, Slavoj Zízek recalls the failed revolutionary rhetorics of the late '60s, insisting that they offered, at least, a sense of possibility, of alternative futures. Now, with the hegemony of American capitalism, he laments, we imagine no alternatives and have the bleakest sense of possibility. The probable is all too palpable: "[I]t is much easier for us to imagine the end of the world," notes Zízek, "than a small change in the political system." For all the differences between them, Zízek's stance nonetheless approximates that of William Galperin in his important, revisionary study, The Historical Austen. At the turn of the nineteenth century, when Great Britain was consolidating its empire, when the cultural norms of domesticity were pressing more forcibly upon women, when economic and political changes were sculpting a straitened version of the real, Galperin finds Austen simultaneously registering and resisting this reality. Acutely aware of the rise of the realistic novel, "in which she surely knew her own instrumentality," and alert to the "probabilistic" (215) and hegemonic world view it inscribed, Austen chafed, wrestled and devised experiments to distance herself from the probable and make space for the possible. Increasingly in her writing career, Austen broached the possible through a sense of belatedness, or, as Galperin sees it, through nostalgia for "a [lost] interval when other prospects were abroad" (215). In so doing the novelist becomes, in Galperin's hands, more Romantic, more historically-minded and more urgently contemporary than ever before.

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Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Shelley's Textual Seductions: Plotting Utopia in the Erotic and Political Works

Samuel Lyndon Gladden, Shelley's Textual Seductions: Plotting Utopia in the Erotic and Political Works. Studies in Major Literary Authors Series.  New York: Routledge, 2002. xviii + 351pp. $90.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-415-93702-7).

Reviewed by
John Kandl
Walsh University

Samuel Lyndon Gladden's Shelley's Textual Seductions itself presents a seductively engaging study of the political implications of Shelley's major "erotic" works, including Oedipus Tyrannus, The Cenci, Julian and Maddalo, Epipsychidion, Laon and Cythna, and Prometheus Unbound. Throughout the book, Gladden demonstrates how Shelley's "processes of textual seduction model political strategies for displacing larger oppressive social structures" (xvi ). "Time and again," Gladden states, "Shelley stages the erotic as a device for renegotiating power and privilege, so that every context in which the erotic figures must be understood as a resolutely political one" (xvii). Acknowledging that the erotic has traditionally been associated with the apolitical and private, Gladden draws upon a "range of interpretive strategies" (xv) as well as an impressive range of critical authorities, to reveal the ways in which, for Shelley, the physical (or public, exterior world) and the psychological (or private, interior world) "dissolve into a radical contingency" (xvi). Shelley's dissolution of boundaries between the private and the public, which Gladden playfully and appropriately terms "ooziness," expresses at once the most definitive characteristic of the erotic while exploiting its subversive potential for exposing, and offering alternatives to, oppressive social relations. Gladden contends that Shelley, perhaps to avoid charges of treason, transposed "the language of radical politics into a discourse of eroticism," developing "a parallel language for the production of anti-hegemonic texts [which enabled him] to speak about political engagements even amidst seemingly apolitical retreats to pleasure, love, and aesthetics" (18).

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Dustin Griffin, Patriotism and Poetry in Eighteenth-Century Britain & David Morse, The Age of Virtue: British Culture from the Restoration to Romanticism

Dustin Griffin, Patriotism and Poetry in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. x + 316pp.  Illus.: 7 halftones.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-81118-X).
David Morse, The Age of Virtue: British Culture from the Restoration to Romanticism. New York: Palgrave, 2000.  viii + 330pp.  $69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22353-6).

Reviewed by
George Justice
University of Missouri-Columbia

Both of these books take seriously affective identifications that are commonly depreciated as "ideology" in much recent critical study. Dustin Griffin's Patriotism and Poetry in Eighteenth-Century Britain examines well-known poets during the century in the context of various understandings of "patriotism"; David Morse's The Age of Virtue surveys a broad swath of writing during the century in relation to "virtue." A strength of both books is the flexibility with which they address their topics. Patriotism and virtue emerge from these studies as crucial ways through which writers understood themselves and their culture. The authors' takes on their subjects result in refreshing works of scholarship (in the case of Griffin's book) and criticism (in the case of Morse's sometimes maddening book). Some readers may rush through the pages of these books looking for a central argument, but the absence of artificially unifying theses emerges, finally, as a strength rather than a weakness.

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Susan Manning, Fragments of Union: Making Connections in Scottish and American Writing

Susan Manning, Fragments of Union: Making Connections in Scottish and American Writing. New York: Palgrave, 2002.  vii + 249 pp. Illus.: 7 halftones.  £55.00/$69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-76025-5).

Reviewed by
Janet Sorensen
Indiana University, Bloomington

Scotland, once relegated to the margins of studies in Romanticism, has reemerged in recent scholarship as a geographical and intellectual site that at once anticipated key Romantic topoi and provided the conceptual basis of much Romantic cultural theory. Susan Manning's contribution to these studies is the most theoretically sophisticated and wide-ranging to date, moving fluidly between cultural politics, post-structuralist and psychoanalytic methodologies and traversing Scottish and American texts produced between the 1707 Act of Union and the American Civil War. At all points hesitant to identify causal relationships between specific political and cultural circumstances and the philosophical thought she outlines, Manning nonetheless makes a convincing argument regarding the significance of the post-Culloden Scottish intellectual milieu to subsequent Romantic motifs of fragmentation, of structural dismemberment, of incomplete memory, of unregistered mourning, and to the unstable narratives of union designed to acknowledge and sometimes overcome these threats to personal and national identity. In her discussion of the Scottish and North American literary negotiations of such fraught narratives, Manning profoundly complicates the very notion of national Romantic traditions. Temporally, she reveals links between Scottish Enlightenment and Romantic thought, particularly through her focus on David Hume and the Common Sense philosophers, such as Thomas Reid, who sought to discredit Hume but unwittingly propelled his views into the future. Spatially, she demonstrates the intricate connections between Scottish and North American writing as she describes how that most American "structure of thinking," e pluribus unum, is "characteristic of the writing of the Scottish Enlightenment" (2).

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Jerome J. McGann, Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web

Jerome J. McGann, Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web. New York: Palgrave, 2001. xv + 272pp.  $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-29352-6).  $19.95 (Ppbk; ISBN: 1-4039-6436-X, 2004).

Reviewed by
Ron Broglio
Georgia Institute of Technology

Jerome McGann's introduction "Beginning Again: Humanities and Digital Culture, 1993-2000" gives us a glimpse at how far computing in the humanities has come in less than a decade, and it signals possible directions for the future. McGann situates humanities computing at a critical moment:

[W]e stand on the edge of a period that will see the complete editorial transformation of our inherited cultural archive. That event is neither a possibility nor a likelihood; it is a certainty. As it emerges around us, it exposes our need for critical tools of the same material and formal order that can execute our other permanent scholarly function: to imagine what we don't know in a disciplined and deliberate fashion. (18)

The way scholars work with new media has changed drastically over the years. As a collection of McGann's essays during the 1990s, Radiant Textuality bears witness to these changes--from digital editing in the mid-1990s, to pondering the ontology of the text in the late-1990s, and then to critical gaming in the new millennium. As the collection proceeds, chapter by chapter we see McGann's concerns shift, themes emerge, and new possibilities arise alongside the developments in digital technology. Unifying the diverse experiments in Radiant Textuality is McGann's persistence in finding ways that new media can improve the exploration and interpretation of aesthetic works.

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