August 2009

Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing

Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xi + 249pp; illus. $101.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 052187419X; ISBN-13: 978-0521874199)

Reviewed by
Brian Bates
University of Denver

In Wordsworth Writing, Andrew Bennett challenges several pervasive myths about Wordsworth, revisits the most significant cruxes of twentieth-century Wordsworth criticism, and sheds fresh light on Wordsworth’s poetic practice. Bennett carries out this three-pronged revision by questioning the assumption behind many studies of Wordsworth’s life and poetry: that Wordsworth composed poetry without actually writing. Wordsworth has long been considered a poet who composed aloud while walking outdoors, but Bennett contends that this view of Wordsworth as a spontaneous poet of nature misrepresents how he wrote the majority of his poetry. Instead, Bennett demonstrates that Wordsworth’s concern with the process of writing—from thinking about writing, to inscribing words on the page, false starts, writing blocks, and re-writing—defined his poetic identity, choice of subject matter, and passion for poetry.

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Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism

Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 318pp. ISBN-13: 9780521879118 (Hdbk.), $103.99

Reviewed by
Matthew VanWinkle
Ohio University

Adam Potkay’s ambitious study provides a deep background for a word of particular interest to Romantic era writers, a word that since has fallen into relative disfavor. By tracing instances of joy through a range of religious and literary texts, Potkay seeks to establish two constants in its variable history. The first is that joy, as distinct from words or concepts nearly synonymous, bears a close relationship to narrative. The second is that joy is inextricably involved with questions of ethics. Given how rapidly he surveys two and a half millennia of cultural history in the West, Potkay cannot always give each of these claims equal or consistent attention. Even so, he develops these claims persuasively, supporting them with a richness of detail and a clarity that still recognizes complexity. The result is a thoughtful and a bracing book that suggests both the need for and the appeal of further scholarly interest in its subject.

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