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

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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).

The leading terms of Brewer's discussion—psychological exploration, analysis of the workings of the mind, delineation of ruling passions—are announced at the start in Godwin's pithy declaration: "The thing in which my imagination revelled the most freely, was the analysis of the private and internal operations of the mind, employing my metaphysical dissecting knife in tracing and laying bare the involutions of motive" (qtd. in Brewer 15). This, Brewer writes, is Godwin's "account of the composition of Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794)"; and he adduces the examples of dramatist Joanna Baillie and novelist Mary Hays, "a disciple of Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft," whose writings in the 1790s devled into human passion and prejudice, the "power of the human mind," and the "springs which set it in motion" (Brewer 15, quoting Hays in 1796).

Enter a caveat, pointing out that Godwin wrote his account of the imaginative jouissance that had shaped Caleb Williams, and distinguished between his own creative purposes in fiction and the then prevailing canons of novelistic realism, not in 1794, but in 1832. In hindsight, Godwin can perceive the connections between minute psychological operations, and literary authority and moral significance. The 1794 debut of Caleb Williams into the London of the Treason Trials, gripped by wartime paranoia and state repression, carries forward a history of "the private and internal operations of the mind" into the sphere of public morality and national governance. In this re-weighting of the gravitas of private conscience and self-knowledge, Godwin rejoins at the close of his career a movement, sponsored at first by women writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, to challenge the rigidity of their exclusion from the public intellectual sphere, and moreover to redefine the formative importance of such so-called private matters as sexuality, labor, childhood education, and parenting.

A manuscript fragment was drafted by Mary Shelley in late 1836 when she was starting to compose a memoir of her late father. While she concedes that "pot-boiler" hack writing was often forced on Godwin by the need for a livelihood, Mary Shelley claims that even his earliest writings show gleams of his later mastery of psychological fiction, what Mark Philp, in his editorial introduction to the href="">Collected Novels and Memoirs of William Godwin, terms Godwin's unfolding of "an alternative history, the history of mentalities" (1.42). Of his apprentice sermons from the dissenter pulpits at Ware and Stowmarket, hastily got up for publication in 1783, she writes:

The Sermons are entitled Sketches of History . . . . They are peculiar from displaying that tendency to dive into & anatomize the human heart, which is so principal a feature in all Mr Godwins writings – & also by that lofty conception of the excellence of human nature which led him to consider its absolute perfection no dream of the imagination . . . he had a firm faith in the powers inherent in Man to raise himself to heroism & surpassing excellence. href="#FOOT1">[1]

Demonstrably, Mary Shelley in 1836 is echoing Godwin's self-analysis in 1832, his "metaphysical dissecting knife" "displaying that tendency to dive into & anatomize the human heart." Brewer quite rightly emphasizes the rhetoric of anatomy as a master light of Godwin's seeing and of Mary Shelley's reading of him. But he passes over Mary Shelley's idealizing of Godwin's novels, her attribution to him of a "firm faith," irrespective of his probing analytic powers. In her youth, Mary Shelley read Godwin's work in the afterlight of Mary Wollstonecraft's death, and Godwin in old age read his own work in the reflected light of his daughter's mollifying vision. A spate of writing from both Godwin and Mary, between 1816 and 1818, coincided with traumatic life events: Mary's half-sister Fanny Imlay's suicide; Mary's marriage to the poet P. B. Shelley after his first wife's violent death; and the death of the Irish barrister and defender of civil liberties, John Philpot Curran, who is the dedicatee of Godwin's novel Mandeville (1817), written in the heat of Godwin's reading of the pre-publication manuscript of Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, while Frankenstein itself is dedicated to "the Author of Caleb Williams." From 1831–1832, another flow of writing and rewriting saw Shelley's Frankenstein, and Godwin's Caleb Williams, St Leon (1799) and Fleetwood, or The New Man of Feeling (1805), revised and republished with a panoply of authorial prefaces in the Standard English Novels series.

Brewer eschews the practice of reading authorial autobiography between the lines of fiction, and his key phrase "mental anatomy" is stiffly restricted to fictional characters. He claims that this puts him in the company of Godwin and Mary Shelley (18). Godwin's focus on subjects representative of the public historical order of things, and his stated distaste for personal revelations, support Brewer's claim here. But Mary Shelley presents a different case. Her empathetic female portraits, and the histrionic sensibilities displayed by many of her protagonists, draw inspiration from the London and American theater stage, as well as the popular portraits and stage scenes of Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery in the early years of the nineteenth century, a sub-genre adapted and developed by the illustrated magazines to which she contributed. And she was moreover the biographer of a whole family of writers who had, as it were, delegated this task and legacy to her.

The dustjacket illustration to the hardback copy of Brewer's book is taken from the frontispiece of the Standard English Novels reissue of Godwin's Fleetwood. In the 1832 edition, the caption of that frontispiece reads: "I dragged the clothes which Mary had worn, and rent them into long strips and shreds. I struck the figures vehemently with the chairs till they were broken to pieces." The illustration shows a scene of iconoclastic frenzy, a violent demasking of a failed god, as the protagonist Casimir Fleetwood bludgeons a doll-sized replica of his supposedly adulterous wife Mary. This nightmare moment of revulsion is the countervailing strike to a dream of possessing and incorporating the Other, be that a woman, child, or demonic Creature. Throughout a tortuous series of part-confessions and part-retractions, Fleetwood struggles under this tremendous dialectics of imagination and fails to win through it other than in scanty ejaculations of words. The assailant's left foot appears to trample a set of corset stays and a brassiere.

This dustjacket image points up the dangers in reading fiction along a continuum with everyday life relationships, so it has a cautionary aspect, not least for critics inclined to read fictional characters as transparent indexes of authorial motives. When it was first published in 1805, Fleetwood had precipitated the long-suffering friendship of Godwin and Thomas Holcroft into a bleak estrangement that lasted until a melancholy reconciliation at Holcroft's deathbed in 1809. The habit of reading "to a key" (identifying a living person with a fictitious persona) betrayed Holcroft, who identified himself with a harsh father in the novel whose only son commits suicide, as his own son had done. Facing his book with this Gothic image, Brewer seems to remind himself and his reader to hold to the conventions of differentiating auto-biographical transparency from character psychology.

Brewer's text aims at a humanities college readership and comes equipped with a comprehensive array of recent scholarly editions and critical enquiry. The ground plan is a grid in which novels of both writers are ranged in chronological order, first for Godwin and then for Shelley, enabling a reader to study any one chapter as a self-supporting discrete entity. This plan bears its fruit strictly according to type, without sprouting any multi-colored sports or mutations to upset the apple-cart. One omission from this scrupulously compiled bibliography is John Bender's Imagining the Penitentiary: Fiction and the Architecture of Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (University of Chicago Press, 1987), which explores the role of the carceral imagination in the English novel during "the decade of Godwin's Caleb Williams (1794)" (Bender 63).

Brewer's study presents two formidable talents at the beginning of the modern English profession of letters, both of them publishing at the center of the metropolis of the book business, London, and its satellites in Dublin, Edinburgh, and (increasingly) Philadelphia, New York and Boston. The technique of accounting chapter-by-chapter, topic-by-topic, across the fictional corpus has the disadvantage of any assemblage of parts: the whole remains unanimated and unbreathed. His even-handed distribution of emphasis tends to flatten the highs and lows of Mary Shelley's and Godwin's reading-writing collaboration, especially in 1817 (working on the first Frankenstein) and 1831 (working on the revised Frankenstein). Their common sponsorship and oversight of the revised editions of 1831–1832 marks the highwater publishing event of a sustained pedagogical and revisionist oeuvre, a literary achievement within the mentor-ephebe influence relations idealized by Romantic literature. Bypassing vital contexts of exchange, Brewer has let an opportunity go by to deepen his evaluative comparisons of their texts.

1. I gratefully acknowledge Lord Abinger's permission to quote from the Shelley-Godwin manuscript Dep. c.606/1, at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. A hypertext edition of Mary Shelley's biography of Godwin may be viewed at: <> Shelley, Mary. Life of William Godwin. The unfinished text from the Abinger papers deposited at the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Ed. Judith Barbour, with Clara Tuite. March 2002. Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service, University of Sydney.

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

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Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein
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."

Part 1 contains three superb essays concerned with "The Craft of Writing"--how far Shelley's writing is the work of someone engaged with the craft of writing as opposed to viewing writing as a means to exploring concepts and themes.  Nora Crook's spirited and intelligent "In Defence of the 1831 Frankenstein" re-examines the claims scholars and editors have made for preferring the 1818 Frankenstein for its 1831 revision.  She works carefully with specific examples and refutes the critical commonplace that Mary Shelley became more conservative in her outlook.  This essay presents an important redress of the critical balance about the editions, but it also invites a more general reconsideration of Shelley's supposed political conservatism in the 1830s, a controversy that other essays in the volume also address.  Sophie Thomas looks at fragmentation in The Last Man, a novel where reduction of the human race is accompanied by the proliferation of the plague.  This double action is echoed by the novel, which is purportedly assembled from a series of fragments, in which Thomas cogently argues "the problem is no longer of the unfinished, but rather of finishing" (24).  Thomas traces metaphors of fragmentation through a consideration of the author's Preface, concluding that the novel is unfinishable by its relation to the introduction, and ultimately it is "the incompleting effects not only of writing, but of ending, that are felt to be everlasting" (37).  In a pioneering essay on Shelley's neglected and misunderstood novel Lodore, Richard Cronin calls the novel the only work by Shelley in which she "fully recognizes that the study of human personality is inseparable from an understanding of economics" (39).  He notes the influence of Edward Bulwer, who was an admirer of Byron, Shelley, and William Godwin, and suggests Bulwer's example inspired her to write in a hybrid style which mixes the sentiment with the styptic.  Through his careful analysis of style, Cronin demonstrates how the craft and concepts also found in Bulwer's work place Lodore in the vanguard of its time, as the novel of courtship is transformed into the novel of marriage--"the kind of novel practised by the great Victorians" (49)--and allows Shelley a new authorial stance.

Four essays in the second section are concerned with the matter of gender, an issue upon whose ground recent critics of Mary Shelley have most often tread.  It is interesting to note that four of the five contributors are male. Anne-Lise François and Daniel Mozes draw upon critical perspectives of feminine passivity in Romanticism, Annette Baier's critique of Kantian intentionalism and the agency of the object of romantic love to consider how Mathilda "challenges both male universalism and its feminist responses within Romanticism" (69).  Accordingly the work is "an exposition of the limitations of Enlightenment faith in the saving powers of communication" (68), as well as an examination of "the complexity of the culture's constructions of feminine personhood" in which female selfhood "is often confused by, and at odds with, her own intermixed will to love and power" (72).   Daniel E. White considers Italy and the revision of Romantic aesthetics in Valperga to demonstrate how the story of Euthanasia "opens the possibility for a different kind of power, and a different experience of sublimity" (76).  Michael Eberle-Sinatra defines the thematic concern of authorship and gendering in Frankenstein and The Last Man as a struggle in text and paratext (title, name of author, epigraph, and preface) over different gender positions in which "fear" and "ambition" are "key operatives" (95).  In an imaginative defense of Shelley's short fiction, A. A. Markley notices "the remarkable frequency with which she experimented with the plot devices of identity switches, clothes changes, disguise, and cross-dressing" in tales from the Keepsake (109).  He makes reference to the Dods affair and to the cross-dressing plays of Shakespeare.  If her tales of cross-dressing end, as do Shakespeare's plays, with a reassertion of order and the status quo, Shelley calls attention to "the often arbitrary nature of gender categories" (123) and "consistently dazzles her readers with women who boldly step out of their socially prescribed roles in order to effect change and improvement to the patriarchal world in which they live" (124).

Shelley's fiction in the context of the public sphere unites the four essays in the third section.  It is in this section that the essays especially move towards less examined works and aspects of Shelley's writing.  In "'Little England': Anxieties of Space in Mary Shelley's The Last Man," Julia Wright considers how the novel acts as "an extended refutation of reassuring representations of England as a well-defended sanctuary" (129).  Shelley's focus is Romantic insecurity, which arises from a "tension between the infinite imagination and the scale of global geography" that "critiques key discursive strategies for coping with imperial space as England turned outward to establish what would become the Victorian empire" (131).  This original and intelligent essay does much to take Shelley's novel beyond the preponderance of readings of the novel as a work of life writing.   In a re-evaluation of "its displaced attack on contemporary nineteenth-century power-structures, and the proposition of a doctrine of love as a possible answer to the problems of all ages" (159), Lidia Garbin's helpful reading of Perkin Warbeck suggests that "historical fiction became the means through which Shelley could express her political anxiety, and in this she found a mentor in Scott, despite Scott's quite different politics" (151).  Garbin applies Walter Scott's "classical notion of a universal nature" to a reading of Perkin Warbeck in her consideration of Shelley's purpose in writing about the Yorkist pretender.  Shelley attacks "both usurped and legitimate monarchy and absolutist power" (152) and demonstrates "a yearning for social and political reforms which originates in Shelley's upbringing in a radical environment" (153).  David Vallins suggests that interpretations of Shelley's writing in terms of gender obscure how her philosophical and political values "coincide with those of leading male Romantics" (165).   He examines her negotiation with negation and transcendence in Lodore through a reading of its references to Coleridge and Wordsworth.  Fiona Stafford's admirable "Lodore: a Tale of the Present Time?" also moves beyond issues of gender to offer a provocative examination of the novel's engagement with British experience in the 1830s, including the Reform Act of 1832.  Stafford demonstrates convincingly how the novel might be read "not merely as a novel suited to the taste of the day," but also and more tellingly "as a much more profound reflection on recent political history" (189).

The final section of the collection contains three essays on Shelley's parental legacy.  Some Mary Shelley scholars are resistant to such an approach, as readings of her works as biography about her parents and about Percy Shelley and Byron seem an unfortunate legacy of her daughter-in-law's campaign to contain Mary Shelley's authority into a ladylike act of memorializing her male betters.  However, these contributors present sophisticated re-evaluations of the presence of biography.  Like the attention that Lodore receives in the volume, it is good to see notice given to Shelley's final novel, Falkner.  Marie Mulvey-Roberts considers Frankenstein as rewriting Wollstonecraft and the abject with a provocative reading of the subject of the dead mother.  Mulvey-Roberts combines psychobiography and archival research into practices during the 1790s of reviving the drowned.  Julia Saunders notes that during the writing of Falkner Mary Shelley's father, William Godwin, died.  Saunders argues that despite a tempered view of life, Shelley "remained loyal to a 1790s brand of radicalism" evidenced by the Godwinian elements of the novel (213).  Graham Allen tackles the literary crux of why Shelley left unfinished her "Life of William Godwin" in a thoughtful manner by suggesting with recourse to Godwin's own work that Falkner as a meta-memoir allows her to write about her father without having to relive the trauma she wishes to avoid (232).  The novel "fictionalizes and thus returns us to the history and reception (and thus the trauma) of her own father's narrative (memoir) of her mother" (236).

This volume contains essays of a consistently high quality.  Mary Shelley's Fictions provides an important contribution to Mary Shelley studies as it goes further than any other collection in looking at the entirety of her fictional corpus.  It offers both the specialist and those less familiar with Shelley illuminating readings of aspects of her fiction.  Mary Shelley's Fictions redresses the neglect by critics of much of her fiction and makes an irrefutable case for the value and interest in her writings beyond Frankenstein.   It can only be hoped that the volume will inspire further inquiry and debate about Shelley's writings, including her reviews, travel writing, lyrics, and literary biographies.

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Christopher Z. Hobson, Blake and Homosexuality

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Christopher Z. Hobson, Blake and Homosexuality. New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xxii + 249pp. Illus: 20 b&w line drawings. $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-23451-1).

Reviewed by
Kevin Hutchings
University of Northern British Columbia

When teaching William Blake's poetry and designs, I occasionally encounter student questions concerning a number of explicitly homoerotic representations in such works as Milton and Jerusalem.   Because Blake was not himself homosexual, I have tended to explain these representations as an aspect of the poet's iconoclastic propensity to "shock" his readers out of socially induced modes of complacency (as Blake clearly attempts to do, for example, in some of his more outrageous "Proverbs of Hell" in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).  Fortunately, Christopher Z. Hobson's Blake and Homosexuality has given me much food for thought, showing me how incomplete and problematic my understanding of Blake's homosexual representations has been.

I cannot overstate my admiration for Blake and Homosexuality, which is, in my view, one of the most interesting books of Blake criticism to have appeared in recent years.  As the book's title suggests, its focus is upon the politics and poetics of homosexual representation in Blake's oeuvre.  Combining a keen sensitivity to historical detail with a carefully nuanced approach to formal textual analysis, Hobson offers a new and original interpretation of Blake's work, one that is certain to make an important intervention in Blake studies, English romanticism, and the cultural history of homosexuality.  The book's inclusive treatment of both the visual and verbal representations comprising Blake's corpus is highly admirable: presupposing the importance of engaging with Blake's visual art in order to arrive at an adequate understanding of his poetry, Blake and Homosexuality incorporates twenty fine black-and-white reproductions of Blake's art and designs, each of which Hobson skillfully and extensively analyzes, deftly teasing out its homosexual and other cultural implications.  Hobson's consideration of Blake's work is at all times intellectually rigorous, deploying a well-balanced dialectical logic to support complex thesis arguments which are carefully and clearly delineated.  Hobson's book also stands out for its exemplary presentation: it is a pleasure to read such sensitively argued, elegantly written, and flawless prose.

At the risk of oversimplification, the book's outline may be summarized as follows. In the Preface, Hobson takes issue with Michel Foucault's influential thesis, briefly articulated in The History of Sexuality, that homosexuality was not seen as a distinctive mode of identity (with all-pervasive ramifications) until the later nineteenth century. By invoking early nineteenth-century discussions of homosexual practice as represented in hostile pamphlets and sensationalistic English journalism, Hobson brings Foucault's claim very much into question, thus opening a critical space in which to proceed with his own investigations. In Chapter 1, Hobson conducts a fascinating and informative historical sketch of eighteenth-century homosexual culture in England, delineating among other things the legal prohibitions, mob violence, and penal punishments facing London's homosexual populace. The chapter goes on to investigate a genteel Republican tradition, articulated in English literature from Milton to Cowper, of anti-homosexual thought and sentiment, speculating that Blake was keenly aware of and responsive to this tradition in his own writing and art. Subsequently, Chapter 2 undertakes a critical analysis of the aggressively masculinist heterosexism informing Blake's early views of sexuality and gender.  Invoking W. J. T. Mitchell's admonition that Blake scholars must eschew the respectable politeness of their traditional discourse in order to recover a more authentic, "dangerous Blake,"1 Hobson explores Blake's early responses to such traditional "obscenities" as masturbation and voyeurism (xii). The remaining chapters build upon the contexts delineated in the book's early discussions: Chapter 3 conducts historically sensitive examinations of the texts and designs comprising The Four Zoas; Chapters 4 and 5 outline Blake's poetic and artistic responses to his most influential precursor, John Milton; and Chapter 6 conducts a paradigm-shifting examination of key homosexual representations in Blake's great epic poem Jerusalem, including a fascinating revisionary discussion of Vala's lesbian relationship with Jerusalem, as well as a comprehensive investigation of Shiloh's status as the only masculine "Emanation" to be directly identified as such in Blake's poetic mythology.   Finally, by focusing on Blake's gradually developing advocation of a truly "Universal Toleration," Hobson's Conclusion makes a convincing argument concerning the crucial role homosexuality plays in the development and articulation of Blake's famous, lifelong critique of political and moral tyranny.

During the course of his narrative, Hobson necessarily engages in a fair amount of speculative historicism.  Because Blake did not write any straightforward, expository accounts of his response to contemporary heterosexism, Hobson is forced to formulate a number of careful, logical conjectures concerning Blake's likely awareness of anti-homosexual polemics in contemporary literature (polemics which were very often subtly rendered and of minor thematic importance to the works in which they appeared).  This speculative approach to history informs other areas of the book's argument as well.  For example, by marshaling the liberal insights articulated by Jeremy Bentham in his unpublished critiques of anti-homosexual prejudice in contemporary culture, Hobson reaches the reasonable and enabling conclusion that it was "intellectually possible to arrive at a relatively positive view of homosexuality within the framework of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century thought--and to do so without being homosexual oneself" (18-19). Thus, while acknowledging Blake's non-awareness of Bentham's discourse, such discussions pave the way for Hobson's subsequent analyses of Blake's developing tolerance for, and celebration of, homosexuality.

Among his productive historical speculations, Hobson proposes that Blake's revised presentation of the Moral Law in Copies C and D of Milton may have been inspired partly by the infamous Vere-street persecutions of 1810-11.  At this time, the London newspapers were full of sensationalistic stories concerning homosexual practice, stories which covered and likely helped to encourage violently hostile public reactions against alleged and convicted homosexual "criminals."   Although we cannot be absolutely certain that Blake followed these stories, it is highly likely, as Hobson argues, that Blake indeed noticed and responded to them in his contemporary art and writing.  While such historicism is frankly and openly speculative, it is consistently productive of new and provocative close readings of Blake's art and poetry.  Indeed, at times (as, for example, in Chapter 5's discussion of "'Calvary's foot': Vere-Street and Blake's revision of Milton"), Hobson's speculations make unprecedented sense out of esoteric passages which had not been adequately accounted for prior to the publication of his book.

One of the basic arguments of Blake and Homosexuality is that Blake's view of homosexuality evolved during the course of his artistic career from a relatively negative and stereotypical perspective toward a much more positive and open-minded one.  For Hobson, Visions of the Daughters of Albion is a pivotal text in this regard: although the poem and its illuminations hint at alternative modes of sexuality, they seem ultimately to suggest Blake's conformity to the sexual status quo.   This unfortunate and oft-indicted textual complicity does not, however, cause Hobson to join the chorus of commentators who have decried Visions as sexually and ideologically regressive.  Rather, he sees in Visions the productive (if ultimately unrealized) beginnings of Blake's emerging critique of heterosexism, a critique which, despite its ideological shortcomings, "raises the possibility of sexual gratification other than through heterosexual intercourse" (35).  Hobson's critical insight is an important one; for by evaluating Oothoon's discourse on sexual relations primarily in terms of its affirmation or negation of heterosexual equality between men and women, Blake's readers have in recent years often unwittingly produced hetero-normative interpretations of the poem, effacing a whole potential area of inquiry concerning the early development of Blake's sexual politics.

Given its focus on sexuality, Hobson's book has important implications for gender-based studies of Blake's thought.  Among other things, Blake and Homosexuality takes issue with the implicit thesis, articulated in the work of scholars like Marc Kaplan, Brenda S. Webster, and Margaret Storch, that Blake's depictions of homosexuality conform to the classical Freudian notion that "male homosexuality is based on unreadiness for mature [hetero]sexual relations and involves symbolic humiliation of women" (142).  Anticipating the present-day homosexual rejection of this Freudian dynamic, Blake, in Hobson's view, not only affirms same-sex desire as a mode of physical and ideological emancipation, but also in his later depictions of homosexuality Blake retrospectively criticizes his own earlier "poetics of masculinity," a discourse which, because it tended to affirm masculinist sexual aggression, has understandably led a number of prominent readers to charge Blake with misogynistic leanings.

Thus, in his Conclusion, Hobson responds to critical assessments articulated by Anne K. Mellor and Richard E. Matlak, whose introductory comments on Blake in their recent anthology British Literature 1780-1830 depict Blake as a writer whose philosophy of gender was ultimately in league with the sexist discourses of his day.  Hobson's contrary argument is that Blake's conceptions of gender and sexuality are much more fluid and complex than Mellor, Matlak, and others have tended to assume.  Since editorial assertions published in anthologies have the ability to exercise a disproportionate influence upon the minds of readers previously unfamiliar with anthologized material, Hobson's critical intervention will perhaps encourage students of Blake to adopt a more dialectical interpretive approach to Blake's writing, one that is sensitive to the manifold complexities informing the poet's representations of gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation.

The only aspect of Blake and Homosexuality that gives me brief pause for regret is the question of the book's position with regard to contemporary critical theory.  In the Preface, Hobson identifies his critical practice as "'constructionist' with 'essentialist' leanings" (xvi).  Certainly, such a critical positioning contributes to the impressively dialectical rigor informing the book's argument.  It is, nevertheless, unfortunate that, in a study of this caliber and importance, the author does not offer a more detailed description of the relationship between his sexual and textual philosophies, including his implicit critique of "constructionist" models of homosexuality (xvi-xvii).  In particular, I cannot help wishing that Hobson had briefly situated his criticism in relation to recent and relevant theoretical work done in the dynamic fields of gay, lesbian, and queer studies.  After the Preface's above-mentioned and all-too-brief critique of Foucault, which tantalizes one with the hope of a more protracted theoretical engagement, Hobson proceeds directly to his fine historical and formalist investigations, foregoing any engagement with groundbreaking work on homosexuality conducted by theorists like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Judith Butler, Jonathan Dollimore, Alan Sinfield, and others.  This omission is regrettable simply because Hobson's work is every bit as astute as the work of these prominent thinkers, and one gets the feeling that by engaging at least briefly with their insights Hobson's book would take on added critical relevance and importance.  But this omission is far from disabling; indeed, a major attraction of Hobson's study is its intellectual accessibility: one need not be familiar with postmodern critical terminology and discourse to understand, appreciate, and engage with the book's many fine insights.  Thus, Blake and Homosexuality is certain to stand the test of time, being the product not so much of "cutting-edge" theoretical inquiry but rather of exhaustive archival research, thoughtful synthesis, and cogent argumentation.  All in all, I heartily recommend this book to anyone pursuing critical interests in William Blake, English romanticism, and homosexual studies.


1. See Mitchell, W. J. T. "Dangerous Blake." Symposium, "Inside the Blake Industry: Past, Present, and Future." Ed. Morris Eaves. Studies in Romanticism 21.3 (Fall 1983): 410-16. (Back)

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Mark Storey, The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period

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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.

As a direct result, Storey's chosen methodology leads him to write an engaging, often insightful book that illuminates many local details within particular texts and brings to light connections between writers not often associated with one another, specifically John Clare and Byron.  What holds this collection of chapters on different writers together is a central line of argument which asserts that the Romantic poets all struggle with the questions "What is a Poet?" and "What is the function or nature of poetry?" and that despite the seeming confidence of such works as "The Preface to Lyrical Ballads" or "A Defence of Poetry," these writers remain "conscious of poetry's tendency to undermine and vitiate, to desert them" (186).

The first chapter takes as its theme Wordsworth's attempts in "The Preface to Lyrical Ballads" to work out what Storey sees as the most vexing question of Wordsworth's literary career: "What is a Poet?'  Though Wordsworth believes he has provided an answer in his preface, Storey draws our attention to the conflict, "the contradictions in the argument, the frequent clashes between what is postulated in the preface and what happens in the poems themselves" (2).   In Storey's view, behind the grandiose and contradictory figure of the poet in the preface "stalks that less comforting idea of the poet as supreme solitary figure" (13), which is found in the poems.  Storey hones in on the contradictions inherent in the fact that the poet by virtue of being removed from the world of "real men" is taken out of contact with the well-springs of poetry.   Thus, he concludes that while Wordsworth remains conscious of these "difficulties," he leaves them largely unresolved.  The most satisfying part of the analysis in this chapter comes as Storey links the generic figure of the Solitary to his concrete manifestations in the Lucy Poems, "Michael," and, most importantly, "Tintern Abbey."  The Solitary figure's nature is a product of death, as Storey demonstrates in his reading of these poems about which he concludes: "The major absence anticipated here is the poet's own: at the end he, like his own past, will have gone.  He becomes his own Lucy figure, in that he too will require memorialising" (26).

Though there are two chapters devoted to Wordsworth in the book, we turn, in the second chapter from Wordsworth, who appears willing at least early in his career to live with these contradictions, to Coleridge whose desire for consistency very often is his own undoing.  Storey develops his reading of Coleridge's career by reminding us of Coleridge's lifelong struggle to find a style: "his problems with style should not be underestimated: far from being a mere matter of escaping an unsuitable, high flown style, it is from him . . . a reflection of his questioning nature, and in particular his constant agonising about his sense of himself" (30).  Just as Coleridge fails to overcome this early "florid style," he likewise remains caught between his revolutionary youth and conservative principles, between his belief in the power of the imagination and imagination's failure to "make sense of the aftermath of the French Revolution" (36), and between his belief in the divine creative power of the poet and his belief in the monotheistic God of Christianity.   For Storey, Coleridge's problem really seems to come down to the fact that he fails whenever he tries to be prophetic, tries to force the prophet's mantle on to his own shoulders.  Only in rare poems, most especially "Frost at Midnight," does he succeed, and here his success is proportionate to the humble nature of his subject.

The Prelude is the central text of Storey's third chapter in which he argues it is the document through which we know Wordsworth and the document through which Wordsworth came to know himself.  As such, we should not be surprised that Wordsworth continued to tinker with the poem as this is a reflection of his changing conception of himself.  The poem's text comes to be the very embodiment of the problem of identity for Romantic poets: the poem is intended to represent the mind of the poet, but it keeps changing as the poet rethinks his understanding of his "self."  In Storey's estimation, Wordsworth's problem has its origins in "the gap between past and present . . . the self as it was then, and the remembering self" (67).  It is a conflict between his youthful belief that his spirit was "singled out, as it might seem, for holy services" and his mature sense that he had to "Take refuge and beguile myself with trust / That mellower years will bring a riper mind and clearer insight" (I.228-34).  Storey finds this conflict reflected in Wordsworth's recurrent use of images of balance and hanging in the earlier versions of the poem.  Such images are, in Storey's view, the most apt for representing the nature of the poet.  Unfortunately, the older Wordsworth, driven by the desire to present a coherent, unified vision of himself, systematically removes or alters the images of balance in the 1850 edition of the poem, which results in the poet's "caus[ing] his own sense of himself to disappear" (80).

In what is the least satisfying section of the book, the fourth chapter carries forward the idea that the search for closure or stability works against the success of the poetry by examining this tendency in the works of Percy Shelley and John Keats.  To put a phrase, but not a sentiment in Storey's mouth, Shelley is an "optimistic prophet" who believes that poets should use their works to help reform the world.  As Storey reminds us, Keats did not share this view; he preferred to emphasize the poet's responsibility to make his works as beautiful as possible by "load[ing] every rift with ore" (88).  Though this appears to set up a vision of poetry and dialogue between these two poets, such vision and dialogue fail to emerge in the rest of the chapter.  Instead, we first turn to Shelley, who, we are told, even in his best poems, like Prometheus Unbound, is "on a quest in which the search for political, moral, and aesthetic truth is really inexplicable" (102).   Storey connects this with a tendency for characters, especially characters who are figures for the poet, e.g., Alastor, to merge with other characters and become "united in their harmonies, but united in solitude" (98).  Though Storey believes Shelley intends this strategy to allow characters to know themselves without falling victim to the "dark idolatry of self," he concludes, however, that Shelley's desire for a "sense of unity and oneness is self-defeating"; "[t]o be one is, in these terms, to be nothing" (105).  At this point, we return to Keats, who is presented as the Romantic poet who has the greatest success in balancing the demands of poetic identity and personal identity.  The degree of his success in this area may, Storey thinks, come as somewhat of a surprise to some as Keats's best known statements about the connection between poetry and identity seem to run counter to this idea.  Of course, the most famous statement Keats makes regarding the poet's identity is that the poet has no character at all.  As such, the poet is always vulnerable to having his identity overwritten.  Thus, Keats explains his inability to complete Hyperion by claiming that it was too Miltonic, that the influence of Milton overrode his own poetic endeavor.  Rather than seeing this as the loss of poetic identity, Storey makes this vulnerability the very essence of poetic identity.  Keats's poetry is the means by which he attempts to divest himself of identity, to "get outside the prison of his body" (116).  His greatest successes in this endeavor come in the Odes, especially "Ode to a Nightingale," where "on the very point of ecstasy, the bird leaves him" (116).  As a result, the "poet is left with his own heavy burden of self, the very thing he had wanted to avoid . . . and that is its paradoxical success: its questions are honest, and the refusal to answer them is the guarantee of the poem's aesthetic honesty" (116).

While Keats appears to have been threatened by what Bloom calls strong poets, John Clare, according to Storey, faced a similar threat, though from a different source.  Instead of having his poetic voice impinged upon by the voices of dead poets, Clare was beset by the expectations the reading public had for a Peasant Poet.   Throughout his career, he is conscious of the "so evidently self-contradictory" nature of his existence, of how such a "'plain unpolished fellow' should be presented to the public" (121).  In his earliest poetry, Clare seeks for an identity through the "the obvious path of imitation" (124), combining as he does so elements from peasant poets, like Robert Bloomfield," along with "mythopoeic" elements from the eighteenth-century Spensarian" (124).   However, by the time Clare begins work on The Shepherd's Calendar, he has discovered "a distinctive voice for himself, a clear, clean-limbed, sure-footed gait that rarely leaves him" (130).  The essential element of Clare's distinctive style is his ability to identify with nature without imposing on it: "he can enter the bird's song, into its very existence . . . . He, the poet, has heard a truer poet, and he is happy to withdraw" (136).  Unfortunately, this poetry failed to find an audience, which left Clare to face the most vexing problem of all: "if no one knows him, then he is in effect nothing" (145).  Storey closes the chapter with a reading of Clare's "I AM" as a final assertion of the self that is "essentially self-defeating" (152).

In the final chapter of the book--not counting the short postscript on George Darley--Storey thoughtfully explores the connections between the works of Lord Byron and Clare.  Though Storey addresses the obvious connections between the two, most notably Clare's identification with Byron and his attempts to rewrite some of Byron's most famous works, the real substance of his argument develops out of the two poets' recognition that "freedom to some extent depends upon imprisonment" (157).  In both cases, Storey examines the influence this had on the poets' personal lives and how this, in turn, affected their literary productions.   In Byron's case, this has been described as "a shift from 'Romantic' to 'Augustan', a move back away from current trends toward the old established deities" (161).  Storey claims that much the same opposition can be found in Clare's oeuvre: while "he is working on . . . The Shepherd's Calendar, he is also writing, in The Parish, an extensive satiric attack on the countryside as he knows it: celebration is matched by cynicism" (161).  Storey argues that the conflicts created by shifting between perspectives lead both men to write poems "about the way in which nothing has any value any more, as all the customary meanings have been lost" (175).   As a result, "the value of poetic experience is questioned, as the protracted dream becomes an apocalyptic nightmare, and words themselves become . . . instruments of torture" (177).

Throughout the book, Storey remains true to the convictions expressed in his preface, relying on the weight of poetic evidence to pull the arguments aloft.  Indeed the greatest virtue of this book is the degree to which it brings readers into contact with poetic texts, leaving them, at times, pleasantly immersed in the rich variety of quotations.  However, while we expect any scholarly study to be rigorous in its interpretation of the text, the expectations must be that much higher for a study that rests its claims to veracity and utility on the openness of the text to interpretation and on the direct connection between poetry and poet.  For this reason, the least satisfactory aspect of Storey's book is the tendency to leave the grounds for his arguments under developed.  Most often, this tendency is found in the form of truth claims that he leaves unsubstantiated.  Take, for example, the following: "Like Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, Clare often reverts to the religious concept of 'joy' in order to explain poetry's significance" (136).  In support of his assertion, Storey quotes the following lines: "It wast an early joy to me / That joy was love and poesy."  Yet, there is no explanation for why Clare's concept of joy here is religious and not secular, or even of what it would mean were the religious sense of joy the operative one.  What is likely of greater concern is that in certain crucial instances his overall line of argument rests on having the reader accept a more complicated reading of a text when a simple one is readily available.   Two instances of this tendency seem particularly troubling.  First, in discussing Coleridge's "On Receiving a Letter Informing Me of the Birth of a Son," Storey exclaims that "nothing . . . quite prepares us for the turn of the sestet:

And now once more o Lord! to thee I bend,
   Lover of souls! and groan for future grace,
That ere my babe youth's perilous maze have trod,
   Thy overshadowing Spirit may descend,
   And he be born again, a child of God.

This is so strange that it becomes weird" (39).  Well, perhaps so, but not, I think, so transparently weird as Storey appears to believe.  Since he goes on to connect this passage with a correlation between "creativity and death [as] a recurrent theme of much Romantic poetry" (39), it looks as if Storey sees in the passage an implicit death wish for the child.  Yet, a much simpler, and hence less weird, reading of the passage is readily available: Coleridge hopes his son will choose to be baptized before he faces the perils of youth.   At the very least, one would like to see some pains taken to justify setting such a reading of the passage aside.

A second instance of this problem comes in his discussion of the dedication to The Revolt of Islam which he claims reveals a Shelley who "is curiously in the poem, and yet not; he is the poet, but stands back from the poem wondering what it is" (94).  While Storey is correct in thinking that Shelley is speculating about identity at this point, he appears to have confused what--or, more precisely, who--is in fact the object of speculation.  When the speaker asks, "And what art thou?", his query is directed at Mary (to whom the dedication is addressed) not at the poem, as the stanza following the one Storey cites makes plain enough:

They say that thou wert lovely from thy birth,
   Of glorious parents, thou aspiring Child.
I wonder not--for One then left this earth
   Whose life was like a setting planet mild. (ll. 100-04)

The One in this passage is surely Mary Wollstonecraft who, as we all know, died while giving birth to Mary Shelley.

While these flaws mar Storey's book, they certainly do not compromise its overall success.  The line of argument he pursues is clear, the evidence for his position refreshingly abundant, and the implications of his conclusions for understanding the larger field of Romantic studies thoughtfully outlined, if not pursued in detail.  The book, finally, is tantalizing, in both positive and negative ways.  It delivers just enough of what it promises to leave the reader in pleasant anticipation of the next turn of the page; yet it holds back just frequently enough to leave the reader aching for things just out of reach.  Storey has written a significant book on the problem of identity, but he has come very close to having written a much better book.

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Brad Sullivan, Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge: Refiguring Relationships Among Minds, Worlds, and Words

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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.

The book's oft-repeated and overstated premise is that "Cartesian assumptions continue to rule us" (6).  As a saving alternative to "our uncritical acceptance and application of a Cartesian/Newtonian ["Platonic" will be added later] model of knowledge that can no longer be considered valid" (1), Sullivan reconstructs Wordsworth's "ecology of mind."  The poet is presented as a secular prophet who can help lead us across the deserts of Cartesian dualism toward a promised land of moral, social, and pedagogical renewal: "Our goal as learners and educators must be to reconnect 'knowledge' in its broadest sense with the experiences, the feelings, and the needs of the individuals who construct and live within it. . . . Wordsworth is one of the thinkers who can show us how" (Introductory Epigraph).  This doubled approach to "Wordsworth"--as the object of evidentiary literary and historical interpretation and as an exemplary model constructed (or reconstructed) in the service of specific ideological commitments--gives urgency and purpose to Sullivan's work.   It also leads, at times, to literary criticism that is partial, superficial, and inaccurate.

There is, of course, a long literary and cultural tradition--carefully nurtured by Wordsworth and Coleridge themselves ("Prophets of Nature, we to them will speak / A lasting inspiration") and running through Mill's "education of the feelings" to M. H. Abrams's "natural supernaturalism" to recent studies in romantic ecology--of turning to Wordsworth's poetry as a defense against the alienating encroachments of Western positivism.  The conscious efforts of Wordsworth and other Romantic writers to bridge the epistemological fissures ("Cartesian" or otherwise) between subject and object, mind and nature, reason and feeling that had opened in the Enlightenment are a commonplace of Romantic criticism.  Sullivan's study fails to engage (at times even to recognize the existence of) this extensive body of relevant scholarship.

It is one thing to "take seriously" Wordsworth's philosophical thought.  The determination to do so is a genuine strength.  It is quite another to suggest that such an endeavor is both necessary and novel because Wordsworth is generally regarded "as a 'primitivist,' 'an unread poet of Nature'" (64), or because he "is generally dismissed as a serious thinker because he speaks the language of Poetry" (36).  The supporting evidence for these generalizations seems to be Matthew Arnold's famous pronouncement in the nineteenth century and a misleadingly slanted summary of Abrams's exposition of expressive literary theory in The Mirror and the Lamp.  (It is indicative that Abrams's Natural Supernaturalism, like Geoffrey Hartman's Wordsworth's Poetry 1787-1814, does not appear in the Works Cited.)  Much of the best work on Wordsworth in the last ten years--not to mention the last half century--has, in fact, taken seriously, even when deconstructing or interrogating, the philosophical, intellectual, and even "scientific" contents and implications of the poet's discourse.  One must question both the accuracy and the politics of representing "the history of Wordsworth criticism" primarily in terms of "the unfortunate implications of reading Wordsworth through a 'Cartesian filter'" (2).

Having presumed this unfortunate state of critical affairs, Sullivan sets out to remedy it by proposing his own "filters" for reading Wordsworth: "the classical rhetorical tradition and twentieth century [sic] efforts to revise science" (18).  These two discourses are represented as sharing common epistemological ground with each other and with the poet's own thinking about the relation between the mind and external reality.  All three are empirically-based; all three build knowledge on the foundation of perception and personal experience; and all three locate the individual percipient as a participant in larger interrelational processes of meaning making.  Wordsworth, we are told, "attempt[ed] to develop a model of knowing that re-admits the affective, personal, context-bound elements of knowing" and that links "the developing 'self' with developing social and natural contexts" (18).  Such knowing, of which poetry is the privileged model, "is constructed in terms of relationship, interaction, and negotiation rather than in terms of traditional dichotomies such as subject and object, mind and thing, art and science, and so on" (18).

There is little in these representations that will seem unfamiliar to students of Wordsworth and Romanticism.  Such ideas are commonplaces, mutatis mutandi, of the humanistic critical tradition.  What is different, although not original, is their grounding in "revisionary" and "alternative" traditions of Western rhetoric and science instead of nineteenth-century idealist thought.   Like such recent critics as Karl Kroeber, Jonathan Bate, James McKusick, and Mark Lussier, Sullivan foregrounds contemporary developments in biology, neuro-psychology, quantum physics, and systems theory that have influenced twentieth-century ecological and environmental movements.  One is not always sure whether Sullivan envisions Wordsworth as a proto-ecological poet who genuinely anticipated contemporary environmental theory or whether he asserts no more than the existence of compelling and illuminating similarities.  Both positions appear in the text.  What is clear and forcefully conveyed is, first, the desire to repossess the discourses of knowledge and truth from the sway of grammar, logic, and "systematic" philosophy and, secondly, the desire to provide a credible "scientific" framework for understanding Wordsworth's conceptions of mind and self.

Sullivan seeks this framework in the ideas of scientists and scientific theorists such as David Bohm, Morris Berman, Antonio Damasio, and, above all, Gregory Bateson.  The latter's position in Mind and Nature that "all experience is subjective" (87) is the starting point for Sullivan's attempts to demonstrate affinities between Wordsworth's epistemological speculations and those of "many of the most advanced thinkers of the twentieth century: psychologists, language theorists, neurologists, anthropologists, and physical scientists" (88).  These thinkers and Wordsworth have in common, according to Sullivan, a rejection of philosophical, scientific, and empirical models that posit a knowable "objective" reality separate from and prior to perception.  Common, too, is the rejection of any form of philosophical idealism or "mysticism" "requiring that spirit/mind/imagination be separate from, and somehow superadded to, physical processes" (105).  "Tintern Abbey," for instance, is described as "an effort to forge an intellectual faith based on empirical rather than intuitive revelation, a faith grounded in biology rather than in 'spirituality'" (69).

As both Wordsworth and Coleridge were profoundly aware, the immediate dangers of such a physically and perceptually-based theory of knowledge are determinism and solipsism.  Sullivan argues that Wordsworth, in specific contradistinction to Coleridge, developed an "ecology of mind" capable of slaying both those dragons.  Once again, it is Bateson's "cybernetics" that provides the interpretative model for viewing "mind" as "emergent" within self-regulating, self-correcting information systems.  According to Bateson, such systems display, while remaining irreducibly physical, "mindful" and "mindlike" characteristics.  Sullivan offers the following example: "Like an ant colony, which behaves as if it were a single mind and yet contains ants which act according to their own rudimentary minds, systems such as human families, cultures, and ecosystems may be, in fact, minds which are both constituted by and constitutive of the individual minds at work within them" (110).  The Wordsworthian subject, then, while firmly rooted in empirical acts of perception, achieves personal identity and imaginative creativity by participating in and interrelating with "larger mind-like processes of family, social structure, and the natural world" (82).

One of Sullivan's most adventurous theoretical moves is to align ecological science with what is rather confusingly introduced as "the classical rhetorical tradition" (18).  This "tradition" turns out to be, historically considered, a "counter-tradition" begun by Isocrates and the Sophists in opposition to Plato, which Wordsworth is said to have learned from Quintilian's Institutes.   The possible influence of Quintilian on Wordsworth's poetics has not gone unnoticed by recent critics, and Sullivan adds to our knowledge by noting some revealing parallels between the Institutes and the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.  (One may find less persuasive the oversimplified characterizations of Platonic philosophy and the unsupported assumptions regarding Sophistic influences on Quintilian.)  Sullivan's real interest, however, is not in source or influence studies but in theorizing, following Kenneth Burke, "A Broader View of Rhetoric" (121) as "the construction and sharing of symbolic meaning" (118).  Deploying this "all-encompassing sense of rhetoric," Sullivan asserts an "ancient and ongoing battle between philosophy and rhetoric" (10) and denominates Wordsworth, notwithstanding what would have been the latter's strenuous objections, a "rhetorical" as opposed to a "philosophical" poet (122).  One might suggest here that Sullivan's reconstruction of "rhetoric" seems far too broad (what form of human discourse would not be, in these terms, "rhetorical"?) and his representation of "philosophy" far too narrow (a pervasive problem stemming from the reduction of "philosophy" per se to "Cartesian" premises) to be very useful as critical or historical designations.

Sullivan positions Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge as an alternative "critical discourse" both to "traditional" and to poststructuralist studies of the poet.  (The text is as summarily and simplistically dismissive of deconstructionism as it is of Abrams.)  Its goal is to reconstruct the familiar Romantic values (ideologies?) of unity, relationship, personal experience, and growth on the presumptively solid grounds of ecological science and representational rhetoric, thus rescuing them not only from Cartesian dualism but from the "mysticism" and "spirituality" of Romantic idealist epistemology. Like Kroeber, Bate, and other ecological Romantic critics, Sullivan's project reminds us that Wordsworth sought "In nature and the language of the sense" an empirical basis for his philosophical speculations and personal development.  It is a reminder worth having as a corrective to exclusive critical preoccupations--whether constructive or deconstructive--with the Romantic sublime, the apocalyptic imagination, and the autonomous self.

Inevitably, however, questions arise about the extent to which Wordsworth's poetry projects a consistent belief in the emergence of mind within natural process, as well as the extent to which twentieth-century materialist thought--whether critical or scientific--is an appropriate screen for reinterpreting Romantic constructions of mind, imagination, and spirit.  On the one hand, there is very little in Sullivan's celebratory account of Wordsworth's empiricism to suggest the profound and pervasive ambivalence that the poet expressed concerning "the tyranny of the eye" and the "abyss of idealism."  On the other, Wordsworth's deeply-felt religious commitments and intuitions are too easily dismissed as rhetorical sleights-of-hand: "The larger mind and himself become one, and 'God' is a familiar placeholder which he posits and then quickly frees of its conceptual freight" (112).   One may speculate (thinking, perhaps, of the famous description of London in The Prelude) how convincing Wordsworth would have found the ant-colony model of a "larger mind" constituting and constituted by smaller "individual minds."

One difficulty with the book, especially given its wide-ranging critical and polemical ambitions, is that its reconstruction of "Wordsworth" is based on limited and selective references to a limited number of "early texts, including the 'Essay on Morals,' the Lyrical Ballads (and all the Prefaces), the 1797 Borderers, and the 1805 Prelude" (18).  The "Essay" is not widely familiar, even to Romanticists, and Sullivan makes an interesting case for its importance.  For obvious reasons, however, he focuses on "The Preface to Lyrical Ballads" as Wordsworth's major theoretical exposition of an "alternative model of knowing."  One wonders in what ways a consideration of other theoretical statements, for example, the 1815 Preface to Poems and the Essay, Supplementary, might have modified certain generalizations about Wordsworth's overall philosophies of mind, self, and poetry.  Indeed, there are numerous generalizations in the text that might have profited from a wider consideration of or familiarity with the poetry.  An example is the erroneous conclusion that "Wordsworth carefully avoids constructions of Imagination as an autonomous power of creation" (66-67).   The Simplon Pass episode from Book 6 of The Prelude, like many other passages that come quickly to mind, is not discussed.

Sullivan does provide, in Chapter 8 on "Poetry and Composing," short readings of three lyrical ballads: "We are Seven," "The Solitary Reaper," and "Tintern Abbey."  The readings, which focus on constructions of "identity" and "relationship" between personae, characters, nature, and readers, seem almost doctrinairely sentimental in their avoidance of the dialogical, textual, and conceptual complexities that critics of various theoretical persuasions have found.  It is also not obvious how, on a practical level, these "ecological" and "rhetorical" readings differ substantially from "traditional" Romantic accounts of organicism and the sympathetic imagination.  Are we drinking old wine from new bottles, or has the vintage genuinely been permuted?

Considered as an interdisciplinary "experiment" aiming "to embody the natural connections of literary study, rhetoric, and systems theory," Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge is an innovative, aspiring work that rewards attention, however successful or unsuccessful it proves to be at "combin[ing] theory and application into praxis" (169).  As a work of Wordsworth criticism, the text would be improved by a more comprehensive and responsive engagement with scholarship in the field and a more informed and subtle encounter with the "unknown modes of being" that traverse Wordsworth's poetic thought.

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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

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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.

Public life is the focus of Betsy Bolton's Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780-1800.  Bolton's central contention is that although the theater opened up a space where women could participate in public life--an "intermediate public sphere," somewhere between the public, male-dominated domain of coffee houses, newspapers, and parliamentary debate and the private feminized space of the bourgeois household--theatrical genres tended to script women into certain well defined political roles.  These roles, according to Bolton, were shaped by two notions of theater, which she calls the sentimental and the spectacular.  The sentimental theater tended to bring the nation together by cultivating sympathy; spectacular theater raised the spectacle of mob delusion and violence.  While both types of theater envisioned a crucial role for female performers, the roles that women were assigned were limited and highly sexualized.  The sentimental theater either emphasized women's vulnerability or portrayed politically powerful women as a danger to the nation; the spectacular theater emphasized the danger of relying too heavily on appearance and publicity (always the woman's forte). Cartoons and caricatures treated public women like the Duchess of Devonshire as actresses, and how popular sentiment associated both actresses and public women with demagogues.  Both women of the theater and men of the people "sought to influence public opinion while remaining professionally dependent on public favor" (2), and both, therefore, were dangerous to the nation.

The first section of Bolton's book, "Romancing the State: Public Men and Public Women," concentrates on the sentimental theater.  There, women's roles were largely scripted by male-authored romances -- both literary romances and the dramas that drew on them. Although the romance genre encompasses a broad range of readerships and political opinions, Bolton is able to sketch a typical dramatic romance plot, based on Garrick's Cymon and Coleman's Blue Beard, which first sets up a female political ruler, who often gains power through her sexual prowess and her identification with theatricality and spectacle, but then rejects and abjects the powerful female in order to reestablish the superior claim of the sentimental hero, who either marries the powerful female or deposes her.  Public women, Bolton argues, created life stories that drew elements from prose romance--protean role changes, miraculous recoveries, and an epic sense of England's destiny--but in the public's perception those romances fell into the dramatic romance pattern: the powerful female is exiled or clearly subordinated to the hero in order to be incorporated into the male version of the sentimental ending.  The first case she treats is Emma Hamilton's romance with Horatio Nelson.  Hamilton, herself a noted actress in private theatricals, used her talent for protean movements and striking poses to stage her own rise from an unwed, abandoned mother to the role of Lady Hamilton, the British ambassadress to Naples and a confidante of the Queen.  Her hyperbolic displays of patriotism essentially created Nelson's image as romance hero.  But her power was too much for the popular press, which abjected Hamilton's theatricality and her sexual morality, and ultimately reformed Nelson's heroic mythos into a homosocial vision of patriotism and power, a heroic mythos complete with a feminized theatrical (and spectacular) body.  The next chapter examines the way that Mary Robinson fell victim to the same variety of romance nationalism.  Like Emma Hamilton, Robinson's claim to power rested on her sexual charm.  Robinson, however, worked to reclaim her image by structuring herself as a romance hero--asserting her right to defend her reputation to the death, demonstrating female prowess in literature and history, and insisting on the justice of female dueling.  Bolton sees Robinson's own Lyrical Tales as a direct challenge to Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, and although Wordsworth never directly responds to that challenge, Bolton sees Wordsworth's portrait of the Belle of Buttermere (coincidentally also named Mary Robinson) and the painted theatrical mother in The Prelude as an attempt to tell the story of a woman corrupted and betrayed by the theater and by her own theatricality.  Ultimately, Bolton argues, Wordsworth's vision of the crowd at Bartholomew Fair stands as a nightmare depiction of the nation seduced and entranced by a corrupted, prostituted theatrical muse--the very picture of Mary Robinson.

Given the problems of romance, it comes as no surprise that the plays by female dramatists that Bolton finds most liberating are plays that take up farce. The history of early eighteenth-century farce emphasizes the form's subversive relationship to authority, whether that authority be theatrical, critical, or governmental.  Female dramatists used that "license" to question the assumptions behind sentimental visions of empire, nation and gender.  Hannah Cowley's Day in Turkey and Elizabeth Inchbald's A Mogul Tale and Such Things Are unsettle the boundaries between East and West by making their Eastern sultans either fools or enlightened Western style rulers, and unsettle the traditions of sentimental romance by dramatizing women's power over men in terms of love and courtship and by suggesting that even that power has its roots in women's enslavement.  But the mixed drama did more than simply unsettle existing notions of imperial and gender relations.  Bolton argues that Inchbald's Such Things Are offers a complex critique of sentimental benevolence and willing slavery, and that Wives as they Were, Maids as they Are shows women resisting colonial surveillance and economic inferiority by consciously managing both their language and their roles.  The farce, however, is a mixed blessing for women: "Truth appears, but disarmed of its potential to set free, to set at odds, or even to upset the status quo" (237).  Women grasp power, but only within the liminal space of the theater and only according to its rules.

Catherine Burroughs's essay collection Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840 echoes Bolton's concern with women's roles and women's power, but the essay format allows its contributors to explore a wider range of issues through a broader variety of critical approaches. The volume is divided into five sections--"Historical Contexts: Revolution and Entrenchment," "Nations, Households, and Dramaturgy," "Performance and Closet Drama," "Criticism and Theory," and "Translation, Adaptation, Revision"--but each of these essays shares an overarching concern with the ways that women adapted to the gendered circumstances confronting them as playwrights, actresses, translators, critics, theorists and theater managers.  The resulting essays not only show the range of options available to women in the theater of the time but also illustrate the difficulty of making generalizations about the "role" that women played in that theater.  Jeffrey Cox, for example, begins the collection with an essay arguing that our recovery of Romantic women in the theater has actually been hampered by a combination of two "dramatic ideologies": a traditional ideology that is "unable to conceive of women writers at this time as possessing significant aesthetic, cultural, and institutional power" (24) and a feminist ideology that tries to conscript any women writers found into the feminist cause.  Such ideologies, Cox argues, not only prevent us from seeing that women truly did exercise significant aesthetic, cultural and institutional power in the theater of the Romantic period, but also from seeing that the power those women exercised was often conservative.  Cox does an excellent job of showing that three of the most powerful women of the day--Joanna Baillie, Sarah Siddons, and Anna Larpent--were actually more conservative than critics would like to believe.  Whereas Baillie's work is often radical in terms of gender, it is quite conservative in terms of politics, Siddons's performances emphasized the traditional female values of fragility, passivity and domesticity, and Larpent, "like a Phyllis Schlafly of the Romantic era" (42), consistently used her power as the wife of the Lord Chamberlain's Examiner of Plays to keep politically radical and culturally disturbing plays off the stage.  Although Cox notes that he could have assembled a more radical slate of dramatic writers--Mary Shelley, Elizabeth Inchbald, and Jane Scott are the three whom he mentions--the point remains that ideology should not blind us to the fact that women writers used their power in the service of a variety of political, cultural and social views, some of which we might find repugnant.

And indeed, all of the essays in the section that Burroughs has entitled "Nations, Households, and Dramaturgy" seem to answer Cox's call for a more complex view of women's political involvement.  Although all three essays argue that women used the dramatic form to comment on politics, each of them recognizes that women's politics go far beyond the contemporary feminist vision, and often occupy spaces that are indefinable in our terms.  Katherine Newey, for example, argues that female dramatists like Hannah More, Ann Yearsley, Frances Burney, and Mary Russell Mitford use historical tragedy to trouble the boundary between fact and fiction that demarcates the "male" space of political activity from the "female" space of the novel.  But although Newey finds Hannah More surprisingly radical in matters of politics--at least in Percy--she recognizes that women's writing does not always conform to a "triumphalist feminist" (96) narrative even when women transgress their traditional boundaries in terms of agency and performance.  Jeanne Moskal's essay on Mariana Starke complicates the issue of politics still further.  Although Starke's The Sword of Peace (1788) comments on two of the most controversial events of the late 1780's, the Warren Hastings trial and the abolition of the slave trade, the complex nature of Starke's response to these events leads Moskal to conclude that "the labels 'radical,' 'liberal,' and 'conservative' may themselves be instruments too blunt for continued use in our recovery of women writers of the Romantic period" (126).

But whether women's playwriting was conservative, radical, or a mixture of the two that is hard to define, there is no doubt that women were subjected to gendered standards, and some of the best essays in the volume illustrate how women worked around the constraints of the theater that confronted them.  Greg Kucich's essay "Reviewing women in British Romantic theatre" finds male critics surprisingly welcoming towards the works of women writers, but, at the same time, finds that that "welcome" actually made the stage into "a feminized space for affirming established codes of gender appearance and behavior while simultaneously controlling strenuous, potentially uncontainable, threats to those very models of gender propriety" (56).  Male reviewers praised women's beauty, their morality, their "softness and suffering" (57), and their general adherence to duty and propriety, but complained when women made unwonted incursions into the masculine realm of politics and when they violated propriety by exploring antisocial areas like Gothic horror.  Many male reviewers took it upon themselves to instruct these scribbling women in the proper forms of writing and to re-impose proper standards of gender norms and conduct onto the public stage.  These norms could be particularly restrictive for women who ventured into the traditionally male realm of criticism, as Marvin Carlson and Thomas Crochunis show in the book's section on "Criticism and Theory."  Both essays deal with Elizabeth Inchbald, who, as Carlson notes, was "not only the first British woman to present a series of critical prefaces for a wide range of dramatists, current and classic, but [also] the first British critic to do so" (210).  Carlson notes the way that Inchbald develops her critical authority is by carefully referencing Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson and drawing on her own experiences as an actress and playwright.  She implicitly justifies her own position as a female dramatist by noting that women are often forced to assume "the masculine enterprise of an author" (216) by necessity, not by choice.  And she develops a critical voice that is both learned and self-deprecating in order to establish simultaneously authority and deflect criticism.  Thomas Crochunis takes up where Carlson leaves off by suggesting that both Inchbald and Baillie offer a complicated series of "authorial performances" in their plays and prefaces: the performed play, the published text, and the theoretical and critical commentary all work together to create the author's public persona, and the various personae created in the closet and on the stage alternately complemented, reinforced and competed with each other to create a number of different readings of both plays and performances.

Crochunis's essay also suggests another major theme of this collection: the tension between closet drama and stage drama.  Women dramatists have often been seen as creatures of the closet, particularly after Catherine Burroughs' excellent Closet Stages, which argues that privatized theatricals were actually quite liberating for female authors.  But the essays here argue for a more creative tension between the private world of the closet and the public world of the stage.  Susan Bennett argues that instead of seeing an opposition between closet drama and stage drama, we ought to see the boundaries between stage and closet, and between public and private spaces, as contested and in flux.  Marjean Purinton's essay "Women's sovereignty on trial" suggests an interesting application of this theory.  Purinton argues that the two leading women in Joanna Baillie's The Tryal stage a series of mini-dramas, or "trials," which trouble the boundaries between public spaces and domestic spaces so as to confuse and expose the artificiality of spaces identified as public and private.  These dramas within dramas transform the economy of courtship and marriage into an economy of speech and expose the ideologically charged structures that "reify gender performativity designed to restrict female agency to the appearance of domestic concerns" (150).  Performance, then, as Bolton argues, opens up a space where women can participate in public life, even though Baillie's play was actually confined to the space of the domestic closet.  Jacky Bratton and Gilli Bush-Bailey are even more sanguine about the role that female dramatists could play onstage in their essay on Jane Scott's Camilla the Amazon.  Bratton and Bush-Bailey workshopped Camilla with a group of honors students in the Department of Drama, Theatre and Media Arts at the University of London, and their essay details some of the ways in which the performance process exposed the sophistication of Scott's use of convention and the transgressiveness of her view of gender.  Students learned how some of the "stagier" melodramatic conventions, such as melo and costumes, could actually enhance their characters' emotions and how staging some of the moments of power and powerlessness in the play could enhance or undercut gender relations as they appeared in the script.

The book's final section contains two excellent psychological studies of women in the Romantic drama.  The first, Jane Moody's "Suicide and translation," examines the ways that translation offered female playwrights like Elizabeth Inchbald and Anne Plumptre a sort of plausible deniability behind which the playwright could experiment with plot and character without being "blamed" for the final outcome of the play.  Moody shows how Plumptre used the veil of translation to illuminate the complexities of Pizarro's mistress Elvira in Kotzebue's Pizarro and how Inchbald emphasizes the vices of the rake and augments the distress of her heroine in The Wise Man.  But what is even more fascinating is the psychological effect of translation on the female translator.  Moody finds Inchbald's characters wrestling with the dilemmas of translation--"Where does the authority of the original end, and self begin? What is myself? How do we belong to one another?" (273)--and ultimately experimenting with self-annihilation in the form of suicide, as if the annihilation of the author/translator within the text necessarily entailed questions of self-slaughter.

The second essay takes a somewhat different course:  Julie Carlson revises the thesis of her 1994 In the Theatre of Romanticism: Coleridge, Nationalism, Women to take into account the way that female writers deal with the dynamic of remorse that she treats in her larger work.  In the Theatre of Romanticism argues that the first generation Romantics--most notably Coleridge--responded to the threat of Godwinian rationalism by making the theater a space of the mind, focusing on imagination, illusion, and dreams to counter the threat of heartless necessity.  This led to a theater where remorse takes the place of revenge--where thinking and feeling present a superior alternative to action--and where women become marginalized actors, individuals who act without thinking, or who cannot think without going mad.  The present essay complicates that thesis by looking at the ways that two powerful theatrical women, Elizabeth Inchbald and Joanna Baillie, dealt with the theater of remorse.  Carlson finds that women were much less quick to give up Godwinian rationalism, largely because the alternative for them was chivalry.  Instead of being bogged down by remorse and revenge, their project was to remake love, with all of its emphasis on appearance and illusion, into a more rational emotion.  For these women reason and illusion are not inconsistent.  Instead, they work to make illusion and beauty consistent with reason--to glorify independent women in middle age who have no interest in falling for men and no interest in being saved.  Carlson's thesis also leads to some interesting reflections on time.   These women realize that the world that they live in is not ready for this type of love, so their plays deal with the question of what it means to live in the mean time--ow women might deal with revising cultural attitudes towards change and historicize the practice of illusion that underlies their exhibition in the theater.

If these two books have a fault, it is the general fault inherent in recovery work.  As Cox's essay suggests, there is still a sense of discovery in these essays--a sense of surprise that women participated in the theater in such numbers, that their work gained such acceptance, that women used the theater to comment on politics, and that women authors expressed such a range of political views.  But there is also a sense in these essays that it is time to move beyond recovery.  Now that we have established that women had power in the Romantic drama, where do we go from here?  The answer, I believe, is to go beyond the range of the drama and establish these women's significance to Romanticism as a whole.  If, as Cox argues, "it has become impossible to conceive of a Romanticism that does not take into account Charlotte Smith or Mary Robinson or Felicia Hemans"  (23), it is not because of the number of essays asserting their popularity, their politics, or their power. It is because very early on critics worked to integrate these women's concerns with the general concerns of Romanticism.  It is crucial for scholarship in the Romantic drama to take a similar direction.  Despite the excellent scholarship that has been done on Romantic drama in the past ten years, it still remains possible to conceive of a Romanticism that does not include The Borderers or Remorse--not to mention the work of Elizabeth Inchbald, Joanna Baillie, and so many others.  There is much in these volumes to make the case that our vision of Romanticism ought to include these women.  Bolton's excellent reading of a Day in Turkey and Moody's canny analysis of translation in Inchbald and Plumptre go a long way towards proving that these women ought to be considered in our thought about authorship and imperialism.  But to consider them that way involves a change in emphasis.  These plays are not important because they were written by women; these women were important because they wrote these plays.

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