March 2006

Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism

Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xviii + 328 pp.  Price. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-81668-8).

Reviewed by
Kathryn Pratt
Auburn University

Feminist inquiry in Romantic studies achieves new sophistication with the publication of books such as Adriana Craciun's study, which addresses the need for scholarship on sexuality in order to supplement the vast range of works on gender that have already enriched the field.  After the early emphasis on male writers' representations of women and, in recent decades, the recovery of popular and respected women writers who had been written out of the Romantic canon, critical attention necessarily turns to the historicizing of Romantic feminism.  In other words, recent developments in feminist theory demand a self-conscious critique of feminist ideology: how do feminist notions of gender and sexual difference reify the women they purportedly seek to liberate?  Examining how representations of the body disrupt normative notions of sexual difference at the very moment of their cultural enshrinement in the early nineteenth century, Fatal Women of Romanticism offers a compelling and timely argument for the importance of women's literature to an understanding of the cultural history of the Romantic Period in Britain.


Kevin Hutchings, Imagining Nature: Blake's Environmental Poetics

Kevin Hutchings, Imagining Nature: Blake's Environmental Poetics. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. xiv + 256 pp. $75.00/£57.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7735-2342-1).

Reviewed by
Dennis M. Welch
Virginia Tech

Because scholars since Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry (1947) have generally considered Blake an adversary of nature, he has largely been avoided in the recent emergence of eco-criticism among Romanticists.[1] Kevin Hutchings's book changes this situation and deserves much respect for doing so.

Imagining Nature seeks to delineate a "distinctively Blakean view of the relationship between humanity and nature," a view challenging "the traditional Western notion that humans should exercise a hierarchical and narrowly anthropocentric 'dominion'" over the non-human world (3). Hutchings's strategy involves a double focus, in which he finds Blake distinguishing between nature itself and Enlightenment discourses about it, opposing and critiquing mostly the latter instead of the former. Deeply aware of discursive ideological renderings of nature, Blake shows that Enlightenment philosophy, science, and religion colonize it with anthropocentric systems of thought.


Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830 2nd ed.

Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002. 172pp. $39.95/$17.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0253337135, Pbk; ISBN: 025321369X).

Reviewed by
Sarah M. Zimmerman
Fordham University

Anne Mellor's latest book brings to bear on the field of British Romantic women's writing recent debates about women and the public sphere. She invokes two pervasive critical accounts: Jürgen Habermas's theory of the emergence of a "bourgeois public sphere" in eighteenth century Europe, and feminist narratives of the development of gendered "separate spheres" that culminated in the Victorian ideal of a domesticated womanhood. These historical paradigms do not readily map onto one another (chronologically, geographically, or theoretically), yet both accounts rehearse the rise of a predominantly masculine realm of public debate and discursive exchange. Mellor challenges both models, finding Habermas's "conceptual limitation" of the public sphere to propertied men "historically incorrect" (2), and "the theoretical paradigm of 'the doctrine of the separate spheres'" limiting for our understanding of the period's lived experience and literary culture (7).


Peter Otto, Blake's Critique of Transcendence: Love, Jealousy, and the Sublime in The Four Zoas

Peter Otto, Blake's Critique of Transcendence: Love, Jealousy, and the Sublime in The Four Zoas. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. xiv + 365 pp. $95.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-818719-X).

Reviewed by
Kathleen Lundeen
Western Washington University

Night the Ninth of The Four Zoas has been likened to the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The words epiphany, apotheosis, and climax have all been used to describe the grand finale of Blake's unfinished epic, in which all of life appears to rush together to restore the transcendent unity that was shattered in Night the First. In a recent study of The Four Zoas, Peter Otto argues otherwise. "It is my contention," he writes, "that rather than urging sublime transcendence, The Four Zoas hopes to thwart it." He explains, "The poem aims to delay the movement of the sublime from blockage to transport and elevation, long enough for the reader to see the warring visual and verbal elements of the fallen world as the fragmented and dismembered body of humanity" (8). "Blake's poem," he goes on to argue, "directs us to a human rather than transcendent reality. Contrary to the thrust of the sublime, therefore, the 'transcendence' canvassed in this poem is horizontal and temporal rather than vertical and eternal" (33-4). In the 300 pages of commentary that follow, Otto defends his thesis through an exhaustive explication of the poem, including its graphic design.


Alan Richardson, British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind

Alan Richardson, British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 266 pp. $65.00/£40.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0521781914).

Reviewed by
Joel Faflak
University of Western Ontario

Alan Richardson's detailed and provocative British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind reads the nineteenth-century concern with the imagination and the mythopoeic powers of the mind through the lens of Romanticism's fascination with brain science of its own era. This reading corrects the view that Kant, or more generally German metaphysics, largely taught the Romantics, by way of teaching us, what they needed to know about how the mind makes sense--and makes sense of--the world. The Romantics were reacting against a too materialistic Enlightenment empiricism, a story which finds its main plot in Coleridge's rejection of Hartleyan associationism in Biographia Literaria. Or as Richardson argues in "Neural Romanticism," the book's Introduction, "Although literary Romanticism has most often been associated with idealistic and transcendental conceptions of mind, the many points of contact between scientific and literary representations of the embodied psyche helps remind us of an antidualistic, materialist register within Romantic writing that has, until recently, been badly ignored" (36).


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.


Julia M. Wright, Blake, Nationalism, and the Politics of Alienation

Julia M. Wright, Blake, Nationalism, and the Politics of Alienation. Athens: Ohio UP, 2004. xxxiii + 230. Illus: 5 b&w. $44.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8214-1519-0).

Reviewed by
R. Paul Yoder
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Julia M. Wright's Blake, Nationalism, and the Politics of Alienation is a well-researched study that situates Blake in the political struggle to define an English (or sometimes British) national identity. Wright is less concerned with "Blake's ideology" per se than with "the formal and rhetorical strategies with which he sought to propagate that ideology," and so she limits her discussion, "almost exclusively, to Blake's printed works" (xxvi), as opposed to Blake's letters, notebooks and manuscripts. The book has a sort of chiastic structure: Wright devotes Chapter 1 to Laocoön and Chapter 6 to Jerusalem (both late works), part of Chapter 2 and all of Chapter 5 to Milton, and all but one section of Chapters 3 and 4 to America and Europe; shorter discussions of Poetical Sketches, Visions of the Daughters of Albion, The Song of Los and The [First] Book of Urizen fill out the remaining pages. There is little or no mention of Thel or The Book of Los, and only passing reference to the Songs, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and the Book of Ahania. Wright's topic is "not the 'liberating potential of discursive practices,' but the pan-ideological competition to control the representation of the individual and, more crucially, the community through which the individual is defined" (xxiii). That is, Wright focuses more on competing rhetorical strategies than on the different systems those strategies serve, a distinction that is often difficult to maintain. Nevetheless, the chapters on Laocoön, America and Europe, and Jerusalem are especially strong, and Wright offers some good insights on the social implications of some of Blake's key images.