January 2009

Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism

Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. xxxi + 224pp. ISBN: 0-8166-3979-5; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3979-3 (Hdbk.), $60.00. ISBN-10: 0-8166-3980-9; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3980-9 (Pbk.), $20.00.

Reviewed by
Debbie Lee
Washington State University

It seems appropriate that Gunter von Hagens held his London exhibition Bodyworlds in the same neighborhood where Jack the Ripper took his victims. When I attended the 2002 exhibition at the Atlantis Gallery on Brick Lane, I was both fascinated and freaked out. It progressed from body parts to full corpses, in postures that mocked their lifelessness. One was a horseman, one held what looked to be a cape but turned out to be his entire skin, while others mimicked athletes: a runner, a basketball player, a swimmer, and a pole-vaulter lodged half-way between floors. Then there was a room dedicated to the development of the baby in embryo.

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Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 280 pp. $80.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0512854008).

Reviewed by
Dana Van Kooy
University of Colorado at Boulder

Just as Mont Blanc has been central to the Shelleyan canon, so too the sublime as an aesthetic discourse has been pivotal to our understanding of Percy Shelley as a poet, a philosopher, and a radical. Cian Duffy's Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime challenges the "critical orthodoxy which assumes not only that there is such a thing as a generic 'romantic sublime', but also that this 'sublime' rehearses the transcendentalist paradigms of [Kant's] Critique of Judgment" (5). Eschewing Burke and Kant, Duffy reorients the Shelleyan sublime through two other texts: C.F. Volney's Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les Révolutions des Empires (translated into English in the early 1790s) and Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1766-88). Both texts, according to Duffy, embody the eighteenth-century idea of "ruin-sentiment" (38-9), a term which links imperial collapse to moral decadence and, as a discourse of political and social reform, offers to resolve the terrifying prospect of ruin through an appeal to moral restraint. Shelley, Duffy argues, takes this causal formulation a step further; the sublime provides the means of representing the inevitable imperial failure as a natural cultural process that mirrors society's moral and political corruption. Shelley's sublime landscapes—significantly, inhabited by volcanoes, avalanches, and other events marking geological catastrophe—signify the natural necessity of revolution. This essentially inverts the traditional theistic discourse of the natural sublime; instead of pointing to God as the organizing principle of life, Shelley's sublime exposes "the artificiality, the un-naturalness of contemporary social structures" (9). Duffy's study places a new emphasis on the catastrophic imagery of the natural sublime while it also redefines the Shelleyan sublime as an "aesthetic ideology" in order to be attentive to the figurative power of the natural sublime to change the observer's conception of what is "natural" or what is "right."

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Kevin Gilmartin, Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832

Kevin Gilmartin, Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Xii + 316 pp. 3 Illustrations. $90.00 (Hdbk; 0-521-86113-6).

Reviewed by
Anthony Jarrells
University of South Carolina

The implicit claim of Kevin Gilmartin's Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832, is that containment is as apt a metaphor for romantic-period writing as the more widely used explosion. Of course, the effort by conservative writers to counter what was thought by many in the period to be a very real threat of revolution did itself lead to an explosion of print. Indeed, it is precisely this tension that Gilmartin finds at the heart of the "counterrevolutionary" enterprise: how do those who see print as a suspect vehicle of revolution engage in a print-based campaign to counter such a threat? Gilmartin's first book, Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in early Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), explored the radical side of the struggle. His new study brings a similar, rigorous approach to the "pervasive rhetorical and literary dilemma" (13) that occupied those writers working to forestall the movement chronicled in Print Politics. The five chapters of Writing Against Revolution trace the myriad forms in which this rhetorical and literary dilemma found expression: from pamphlets and tracts (chapters one and two), periodical reviews (chapter three), and novels (chapter four), to attempts (chronicled in chapter five) by two canonical writers of the period—Robert Southey and Samuel Coleridge—to extend counterrevolutionary practices beyond specific moments of crisis and to articulate "a model for a more stable society" (207). Against a scholarly field that tends to associate romantic writing with progressive strains and causes, Gilmartin aims "to demonstrate the enterprising and productive (rather than merely negative and reactive) presence of counterrevolutionary voices in the culture of the romantic period" (9).

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Matthew S. Buckley, Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama

Matthew S. Buckley, Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006. x + 191pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-8018-8434-9).

Reviewed by
Lissette Lopez Szwydky
Penn State University

Matthew S. Buckley's Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama is "an effort to render explicit, and thus pull into the active present, modern drama's connection—it's 'secret link'—not only to the drama of the French Revolution but also, and through it, to the dramas of the pre-Revolutionary past" (152). The author uncovers the modern drama's "secret link" to the past through an interdisciplinary analysis of the politics of the French Revolution as played out both in the streets and on the stages of Paris, as well as London. Although the title of the book suggests an historical approach to developments in the drama from the late-eighteenth century to the early-twentieth century, Buckley instead offers a history of the dramatic character of the French Revolution, its relationship to the dramas staged in the decades immediately before and after, its influence on English political and literary authors, and finally "the Revolution's relationship to the formal development of modern drama between 1780 and 1840" (1). The aims of the book are many, but in its multi-national (France, England, and Germany) coverage of the theatricality of politics during this period, its focus is fixed on the permanent effects of the French Revolution on European cultural production.

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Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire

Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire. New York: Palgrave, 2006. 256pp. Illus: 8 halftones. ISBN-13: 978-0-3339-9314-9 (Hdbk.), $69.96.

Reviewed by
Julia M. Wright
Dalhousie University

This important collection of twelve essays, arising from a 2000 Blake conference at Tate Britain, offers an array of historical frames through which to recontextualize Blake—from sensibility to eighteenth-century ideas of sexuality, and from the Sierra Leone project to the diverse religious cultures of Blake's England and debates about art, economy, historiography, and proselytization. "Nation" and "Empire" are capacious categories here, allowed to float freely, as they did in Romantic-era discourse (though there are moments when distinctions between patriotism and modern nationalism, cultural nationalism and ideas of the nation-state, or settler colonies and invaded colonies would have contributed to a clearer picture of "Blake, Nation and Empire"). The aim of this volume is to continue the cultural materialist project of Clark and Worrall's earlier collections and, hence, to focus on the "minute particulars" of Blake's time and place—a project richly pursued here. This collection is not divided into parts, but I have organized my discussion below to highlight some continuities, and complementarities, among these diverse chapters beyond their shared historicist orientation.

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