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Martin Priestman, Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780–1830

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Martin Priestman, Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xiii + 305pp. Illus.: 7 halftones. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-62124-0).

Reviewed by
Mark S. Lussier
Arizona State University

Given the pronounced tendency in Romantic Studies to ground critical efforts historically and to re-examine past assumptions from that historical prospect, a book exploring the full range of "these [Romantic ] poets" in their "infidel phase" (6) was somewhat inevitable. And while Martin Priestman's Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830 traverses much familiar territory, the book steadfastly realizes its aim "to show how the possibility of being an atheist impacted on a wide range of poets and other writers" (257). Thus, while one can certainly agree with Priestman's initial self-assessment that "the core idea of this book is simple" (1), such modest, self-effacing critical humility, although rare and welcome in any scholarly investigation, hardly does justice to the motives for and results of this detailed re-assessment of one of the "givens" within Romantic thought. Taking the last first, this book strives in every possible way to provide its readers aids for reflection, including the quite useful "Glossary of Theological and Other Terms" (whose entries ranges from "alchemy" to "Zoroastrianism" [258-62]) with which it concludes. Such glossing is necessary to do justice to the spectrum of thinking and writing Priestman engages, and this range is evoked near the conclusion to the work's "Introduction," where the author carefully defines the terms of his engagement. Upon completing this satisfying assessment and re-examination, Priestman amply proves the case that the issues analyzed "touched everybody" (10).

The book positions the multifaceted and prolific writer and scientist Joseph Priestley as a portal of entry into the boundary conditions of the topic, since he responds also to every aspect of emergent and established atheism. Thus, Priestman opens with a detailed analysis of the last generation of writing in the eighteenth century, which includes the attacks on Gibbon, Hume and d'Holbach mounted by Priestley. The work, then, moves into the emergence within British culture of the study of mythologies through Knight's A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus, Bryant's Analysis of Ancient Mythology, and Volney's Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires. Such comparative mythology, although not novel, "made very clear the possible dangers of this rising field of research" (22), and when the comparativist project was extended by "the rapidly expanding field of Orientalist knowledge" (25) fueled by Sir William Jones, Priestley responds by declaiming the "irrational . . . obscenities" (26) of Hinduism when compared to Christianity. By chapter's end, Priestman provides evidence confirming both the range and complexity of atheistic thought, where "distinctions between republicanism, reform agitation, Unitarian Dissent, millenarian enthusiasm, deism and atheism seem to break down . . . as groups leaning towards one or the other combine and interconnect" (43).

The work's second chapter, "Masters of the Universe," re-examines the influence exerted by Lucretius, whose De Rerum Natura "offers a model for many of the poets to be discussed in the rest of the book" (45), and the chapter extends this position by considering the relatively neglected poetry of Sir William Jones, Richard Payne Knight, and Erasmus Darwin. Epicurean philosophy was certainly not new to the English literary tradition, given its influence on empowered Restoration writers like Rochester, Dryden and Evelyn, but Priestman's exploration of this influence in pre-Romantic poets anchors the discussion in then current cultural dynamics. In the case of Jones, "the strongest impact of his Indian-based writings was to establish the idea of a rich, vivid and largely admirable belief system outside of both Christianity and the classical mythology which long habituation had largely drained of its 'alternative' potency" (50). Jones's poetry presents "all world religions and mythological systems as interrelated and as equally worthwhile objects of study" (54), with this worthy subject providing inspiration for the mythic cycle offered later by Robert Southey. Shifting attention to Richard Payne Knight, "the perfect embodiment of the links between libertinism, religious infidelity and political radicalism" (55), Priestman probes how Knight's mapping of phallic potency reconstructs "a fundamental worship of creative energy" that preceded "any notions of anthropomorphic or external deity" (57). The author skillfully identifies several Lucretian strains within Payne's comparativist approach, which articulated an "aesthetic of energy" that clearly casts long shadows across the Romantic poetic enterprise. The third figure considered, Erasmus Darwin, has been often associated with the emergency of a "lyricized science" that impacted virtually every Romantic poet, yet in works like The Economy of Vegetation or The Temple of Nature, Darwin offers "an increasingly organized assault on the biblical account of creation" (62) founded upon material principles and spawns opposition that destroyed his reputation. In articulating the emergent understanding of mythological connections between cultures, the three writers "declare their membership of an elite of initiates, whose insights into the purely provisional nature of religious imagery give them a resemblance to those Brahmin, priest-kings and hieroglyphists their work often discusses" (70). As well, although each author was attacked for their shared comparativist concerns, "all three assume that poetry has a vital function in articulating or even constructing the other realms--political, aesthetic and scientific--in which they were so actively engaged" (75).

The continued relevance of poetry to the determination of the sociology of knowledge provides the pivot into a consideration of Blake's peculiar relationship to radical and atheistical thought. Priestman follows E. P. Thompson and Jon Mee into the radical underground within which the poet operated in the 1790s, which included Swedenborgianism, antinomianism, Quaker theological dissent, and political radicalism. Of course, as a result of prior intense scrutiny, the chapter on Blake offers, perhaps, insights most familiar to Romantic scholars, but Priestman does an exemplary job of extracting concepts resident in "comparative mythography" and tracking them as they are "reiterated and elaborated throughout Blake's work" (92). The chapter, then, succeeds in broadening the cultural foundation from which Blake's "libertarian or even libertine insistence on bodily and sexual fulfillment" (97) emerges and contextualizes the poet's deployment of "polytheism as a psychodramatic construction" (98) capable of figuring the spiritual state of ever man.

The fourth chapter continues the application of collective insights gathered in the opening two chapters to individual writers and their social and cultural contexts by examining "The tribes of mind: the Coleridge circle in the 1790s." Like the Blake chapter, the focus on Coleridge moves through the well-documented intellectual vacillations of a poet obsessed with atheism, an obsession that "haunts his poetry" (122), yet Priestman provides a new perspective onto this obsession by initially exploring Anna Laetitia Barbauld's direct Unitarian responses to Coleridge's apparent "infidelity" (128). This "public image . . . of atheism" (132), in contrast to the private grappling of Coleridge with the complex of ideas defining free-thought at century's end, propels the chapter through the Pantisocracy scheme shared with Southey and, once it collapsed, the transference of this desire to the Lake District, where Coleridge encountered deistic and atheistic thought in friendships with Thelwall and Davy. Yet in all these relations, Coleridge's tendency is to attempt to "bring around" (136) infidel writers to a "'Christianizing' progress beyond an initially shared theory of energy as the principle unifying mind and matter" (136). Thus, the crucial insight that Coleridge was "often suspected of atheism, keenly interested in atheism and perhaps drawn to atheists as a way of exploring potential aspects of his own intellectual make-up" provides the shift into a deeper analysis of the role of "Unitarianism" as the Coleridgean "alternative to Paineite deism or Godwinian atheism" (139). With great care, Priestman provides a summation of prior critical efforts addressing the mergence of German philosophy, Platonic idealism, Spinoza and pantheistic commitment in Coleridge's developing philosophy and how such strains interrelate in "the idea that in the act of creation the poet can reduplicate the 'infinite mind', of which he can become a 'monad' or independent projection" (148). Priestman then traces this complex through "The Eolian Harp," "Kubla Khan," "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and other well-known works to provide a "picture" of Coleridge as a writer "torn between the unorthodoxies of pantheism and idealism" (154).

Somewhat inevitably, the work turns to Wordsworth, yet where the Coleridge chapter focuses on strong presences that define the spectrum of his flirtation with atheism, this chapter analytically negotiates the "deliberate omissions of religious affirmation" (157) that recurs in Wordsworth's poetry and prose writing. The first form of silence probed, "Wordsworth's deliberate suppression of many of his own actions and beliefs in the formative 1790s and beyond, through some of literature's most notorious acts of non-publication" (157), engages the degree of separation between radical early works and the "new phase of poetry" following 1797, which "aims consciously at resolution and quietude" (170). To this early self-suppression, perhaps best evoked by The Borderers and A Night on Salisbury Plain, one must add the long-delayed and oft-revised The Prelude, which Priestman considers relative to William Cowper's The Task. The dialogic relationship between the two poems, in the author's view, "exemplifies Wordsworth's customary mixture of sympathetic homage and criticism towards the poem he clearly takes as his model on many occasions" (173), but unlike Cowper, Wordsworth's ambiguous language offers "layers of sublime obfuscation" (177) which avoid "religious preference" even as they synthesize "Lockian material nature and the Lockian psychology of sensory perception" (181). Thus, while a number of radical and atheistical ideas flow through Wordsworth's great suppressed works, the "identification of sublimity with obscurity" offered by Burke provides a mechanism for the linguistic emphasis on "the psychosomatic powers of the imagination" (179), and such an emphasis allows the poet to position "mountains as fundamental to the moral instruction" (182) even as it masks the infidel influences that inform such a position.

With Chapter Six, "Temples of Reason: atheist strategies, 1800-1830," this study returns its attention to broader cultural developments leading "to the disappearance of a shared middle ground" between "orthodox apologists" and "the infidels" that defined earlier manifestations of the atheism debate (184). Unlike the prior period examined in the first half of the book (1780-1800), Priestman forcefully argues that the limitation of publication possibilities offered infidel writers between 1800 and 1830 only four options: "The four possible strategies were: to publish and be damned; to write but not publish; to publish under a pseudonym; and to write with enough of an air of disinterested scholarship to avoid prosecution" (184). Turning immediately to William Paley's Natural Theology, Priestman finds "the justification for the whole book" (185) in Paley's "common-sense" argument from design and his critique of Darwinian "evolutionism" (188). Against this apologist position Priestman positions Richard Carlile's Address to Men of Science, which was "written during one of many imprisonments for publishing 'blasphemy'" (191), Sir William Drummond's The Oedipus Judaicus, which resulted in the author's "immediate branding . . . as an 'infidel'" (192), and Robert Taylor's The Diegesis; Being a Discovery of the Origins, Evidences, and Early History of Christianity, which resulted in his imprisonment. By providing this spectrum within which atheistical thought was disseminated, Priestman's skills as a writer emerge with power in this section as evinced through the critical insights constructed carefully in earlier chapters (e.g., the leveling tendencies of Orientalism, the drive for a comparative mythology, and the scientific challenges to orthodox theology). While Carlile, Drummond, and Taylor encounter resistance, condemnation, and incarceration, William Godwin's "clearest declarations of atheism" (198), published in 1818 and 1835 avoided prosecution through his "very canny sense of how far it was possible to go in publishing one's actual views, and of the appropriate register in which to do so" (199). As the few writers evoked here suggests, the range of Priestman's critical gaze is the compelling achievement of this work, providing a thorough grounding for the boundary condition of freethinking that confronts Romantic writers and the shifting cultural scene wherein these ideas were modified. Thus, the chapter's closing emphasis on Robert Owen and his influence on the rarely examined writing of Frances Wright and Eliza Sharples adds depth and breadth to the discussion and further provides a transatlantic dimension to the "English" encounter with atheism.

Perhaps the most expected discussion of free thought and atheism occurs in "Pretty paganism: the Shelley generation in the 1810s" (Chapter Seven), yet once again Priestman takes the expected and pushes it into the unexpected. As the author asserts, "Shelley, Byron and Keats all fit easily into almost any definition of infidelism, and actively and unashamedly declare as much" (219). Plunging into Shelley's Queen Mab, the chapter recounts the work's publishing history, which resulted in the imprisonment of the underground printer William Clarke (who published a pirated edition in 1821) and which was republished by Richard Carlile ("who was already in jail" [220]). Of course, the pivotal role Mab plays in Shelley's own personal history and his development as a free-thinking reformer has received considerable past critical attention, but Priestman's systematic linking of the poem's range to that found in Southey and Darwin's poetry is achieved with skill and clarity. As well, when the chapter extends beyond Shelley to the "deist women poets such as Charlotte Smith, Mary Robinson and Mary Tighe" (224) as a prelude to an in-depth consideration of the later poetry, this chapter unveils little-appreciated links where the poetic practices of Shelley and Keats are interrelated with the women writers and later poets as they pursue "a separate realm where passion and the quest for beauty can be played out to their logical extremes away from the political and religious repression of contemporary England" (226). Priestman progresses through the full range of Shelley's poetry, identifying the Southeyan roots of "rural protagonists overthrow[ing] the centres of power in justified rebellion" (228) at work in The Revolt of Islam, tracing the epistemic split in "Mont Blanc" to Shelley's response to the same split in Wordsworth (234-6), and grappling with the problematic presence of Byron in Julian and Maddalo. In this last case, while the poem obfuscates somewhat the poets' differing positions, one can only agree with the author's argument that "whatever his philosophical inconsistencies, however, Byron certainly publicized and made glamorous the stance of the solitary individual somehow ennobled by his exclusion from a Christian order in which he may or may not believe" (238). However, this crystallization of concerns through Byron, via Manfred and Cain, is perhaps the least satisfying section of this otherwise exemplary study, since it provides nothing remarkably new to our understanding of Byronism. Once the work shifts to Keats, however, the book does provide a strong corrective to the critical tendency to read him "as the non-polemical poet par excellence" (244), thereby participating in the revaluation of Keats undertaken by Roe and Cox, among others. Thus, in several works, but most specifically in Endymion and Hyperion, Keats evokes a "sense of perpetual evolution" (251) that reconnects with the diverse threads woven across the entire argument.

In concluding this masterful and detailed re-assessment of a complex of ideas "too easily taken for granted" (253), Priestman rightly suggests that the "honest doubt" evoked by Victorian writers like Tennyson and Charles Darwin "were only the mildest restatements of views and ideas furiously circulated and debated between the 1780s and 1820s" (253), and the amassed evidence proffered achieves the aim of the book by showing "how the possibility of being an atheist impacted on a wide range of poets and other writers" (257). Given the complexity of the topic and the diverse threads woven into its argument, Priestman's Romantic Atheism, written with concision and clarity, provides the best historical foundation yet offered for assessing the impact of 'infidelity' on Romantic praxis and should become a touchstone text for any future engagement with radical thought, politics, and writing in the Romantic period.

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Kenneth Daley, The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin

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Kenneth Daley, The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001. ix + 169pp. Illus. $36.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8214-1382-1).

Reviewed by
Ernest Fontana
Xavier University

Given their obvious affinity of interests and sensibility and their importance in the Bloomian canon as strong critics, one would have expected more studies than currently exist of the interrelationship of Ruskin and Pater. One looks in vain for a study of them that is comparable to Delaura's study of Newman's influence on Arnold and Pater. Daley's study of Pater's possible revision of Ruskin's critique of an emerging concept of Romanticism attempts to fulfill this need. In his book, Daley focuses on what he feels are important topics shared by both writers: Wordsworth, the Italian Renaissance, and Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. The last chapter deals with the possible relation between Ruskin's Slade lectures, given at Oxford in the 1870's, and Pater's contemporary critical project.

Daley's study does successfully demonstrate the importance of Pater as a critic who argued for the value and significance of Romantic literary and artistic forms that enact "the transformation of the material world through the power of individual temperament" (17). Much of Pater's view of Romanticism as a counterpoise to Classicism derives from Goethe and Hegel, both of whom the German-phobic Ruskin eschewed, a point that Daley does not sufficiently emphasize. What is less persuasive is Daley's contention that Ruskin's critical writing constitutes the pre-text against which Pater's view of Romanticism is written.

This thesis presents several problems. Certainly the fact that Pater cites Ruskin only once in a footnote does not invalidate Daley's argument. But what does render Daley's argument problematic is his attempt to pin Ruskin down to a fixed position against which Pater can be seen to write. Ruskin's imagination and field of response are always in process, and though he is critical in Modern Painters (Vol. 3, 1856) of Romantic poetry's indulgence in what he designates "the Pathetic Fallacy" (as he terms the falsification of subjectivity which Daley argues Pater recuperates), Ruskin elsewhere, notably in the letters of Fors Clavigera, in The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, and in Praeterita, strongly enacts the expressionistic subjectivism he seems to have deplored in 1856, as John Rosenberg, Jay Fellows, and Paul Sawyer have demonstrated.

Ruskin is more than a mere art or literary critic; he is, even in his apparently critical prose, a great Romantic autobiographical writer, who consistently dramatizes his own sensibility, whether his subject be Turner, Tintoretto, glacial formations, or railroad journeys. If Pater read Ruskin, did he assimilate only his critical ideas--"his response to Ruskin's ideas" (42)--or did he read Ruskin as he read Pascal, Winkelmann, and Montaigne, for his distinctive and individualized temperament? Daley's study assumes that Pater's hypothetical reading of Ruskin was a very un-Paterian gleaning of ideas rather than a characteristically Paterian apprehension of a distinctive and partially antithetical temperament. The most compelling attempt to identify such a response by Pater to Ruskin remains Robert and Janice Keefes' speculative reading of Pater's imaginary portrait, "Apollo in Picardy" (Walter Pater and the Gods of Disorder [Athens: Ohio University Press, 1988]). They contend that Pater's portrait of Prior Jean, who is eventually driven into madness by his physical and largely sexual response to male beauty, is based on Pater's reading of Ruskin's incomplete and terminally visionary Praeterita. The Keefes recognize, as Daley does not, that a Paterian reading focuses on the nuances and mysteries of temperament not primarily on clear and distinct ideas, and, furthermore, that Pater's fiction is itself a form of criticism as his criticism is often a form of fiction.

Because Daley does not sufficiently engage Pater's fiction, largely ignoring Marius the Epicurean and Gaston de Latour, he simplifies Pater's position as one that "[purges] Ruskin's theory of its transcendental bias" (8). Pater, in his late fiction, in his "Introduction" to Shadwell's translation of Dante's Purgatorio (1892) and in his 1888 review of Mrs. Ward's Robert Elsmere, moves from the solipsistic aestheticism of the 1870s to a position that in fact expresses a "transcendental bias" in which he makes allowance for "a great possibility" that "opens wide the door of hope and love" (Essays from "The Guardian" [London: Macmillan, 1910] 68).

In the case of Ruskin, Daley also simplifies and in doing so suppresses crucial Ruskinian conflicts and tensions. For example, Daley's four-page account of Ruskin's view of the Renaissance ignores the fact that while Ruskin deplored Renaissance Palladian architecture, his response to Renaissance Venetian painting, beginning with his discovery of Tintoretto in 1845 and culminating in his religious "deconversion" before Veronese's painting of Solomon and Sheba in 1858, was passionate and enthusiastic and anticipated Pater's own "School of Giorgione." If one reads Ruskin's letters along with his published works, one sees that his response to the Renaissance was complex, contradictory, and laced with qualification and reconsideration. The same simplification is found in Daley's treatment of Ruskin's relationship to Rossetti. Daley cites Ruskin's late Oxford lecture "Realistic Schools of Painting: D. G. Rossetti and M. Holman Hunt," thereby simplifying the complex personal and professional relation between Ruskin and Rossetti and their considerable correspondence in the 1850s and 1860s.

Despite its limitations, Daley's study does suggest possible topics for future exploration. For example, Daley's frequent citations of W. J. Courthrope's searching criticisms of Pater in The Quarterly Review suggest that this provocative and intelligent reactionary's The Liberal Movement in English Literature warrants a critical edition and a study of its influence on American anti-Romantics like Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More. One key difference between Ruskin and Pater lies in their responses to prose fiction. Whereas Ruskin could read Scott's novels with admiration, he found the more realistic and naturalistic fiction of the nineteenth century repellent (see his "Fiction Fair and Foul"). In contrast, Pater, because of his knowledge of French fiction, of Balzac and Stendhal, for example, recognized the novel as a serious form of contemporary cultural practice. A study of their varying responses to the novel would be useful and illuminating.

Since both Pater and Ruskin wrote on a wide range of topics, any attempt to juxtapose them must be more selective and focused than Daley's effort to pin down their use of a vague and floating concept such as "Romanticism." Architecture is of course Ruskin's primary interest, and it is an increasingly important element in Pater's late fiction, particularly evident in the unfinished Gaston de Latour, and "Apollo in Picardy," as well as in the essays "Amiens" and "Vézelay." It is as if Pater sought to emulate and consciously compete and contend with Ruskin on Ruskin's own ground. Thus near the end of his life Pater, in his increased emphasis on Christian architecture, appears to be moving towards Ruskin rather than swerving away from him as Daley argues. This process suggests, as Denis Donoghue observes (Walter Pater: Lover of Strange Souls [New York, 1995] 259-60), a richer site of possible intertextual revisioning than the somewhat formulaic topic Daley has chosen through which to interrogate the literary and imaginative relationship of these two writers.

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Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation

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Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 40. Cambridge University Press, 2000. xii + 255pp. £37.50/$48.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77328-8).

Reviewed by
Anne Williams
University of Georgia

Ever since professional criticism of the Gothic emerged in the early decades of the twentieth century, this literature's relationship to high Romanticism has been a vexed question. Although early critics such as Eino Railo (The Haunted Castle, 1927) took it for granted that since Gothic motifs and archetypes appeared in "Romantic" poets such as Coleridge and Keats, the two modes were fundamentally akin. It was the newly professional critics of the equally emergent "Romanticism," however, who established, usually by simply ignoring their favored poets' use of Gothic conventions, that Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" had nothing in common with Lewis's Wandering Jew, for instance, or that Keats's Gothic edifice in "The Eve of St. Agnes" was no Udolpho (though Keats himself had commented on the "fine Mother Radcliff [sic]" names he had chosen for his characters). And as feminist critics have more recently demonstrated, another latent motive for marginalizing Gothic works lay in their associations with women both as writers and as readers.

Michael Gamer's fine study directly confronts this critical amnesia or repression. In exploring the historical roots of the literary phenomenon we now call "Gothic," he exposes not only the ways in which this concept emerged around the turn of the nineteenth century in Britain, but he also argues provocatively that "the reception of gothic writing . . . played a fundamental role in shaping many of the ideological assumptions about high culture that we have come to associate with 'romanticism'" (2), and that the "Gothic's reception tells us much about how readers . . . organized and attempted to make sense of gothic as a 'new' kind of writing" (3).

Romanticism and the Gothic begins by looking at certain critical readings of Wordsworth's "Peele Castle" in order to demonstrate this process by which the "the Romantic ideology" emerges out of critics' efforts to "strip from a text its concerns with the political and aesthetic movements of its time" as a means to "glorify its ability to transcend the pettiness of its own historicity, not to mention erasing any embarrassing fondness it might have for the passing artistic fancies of its day" (20). Gamer points out that by emphasizing the "sublime" aspects of the castle and the scene, audiences, beginning with Wordsworth himself, enable the subject to appear "entirely masculine, absolutely elevated, completely transcendent, and . . . utterly universal" (20). In other words, "Romantic" rather than "Gothic."

The first chapter, "Gothic, reception, and production," examines the economic and cultural processes at work during the emergence of the Gothic and Romantic modes. Reader reception, Gamer argues, has been another crucial element to consider. As he points out in chapter two, "'gothic' does not seem to have become a critical term denoting genre until two decades into the nineteenth century" (49); this long process of definition had begun with Walpole's The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story in 1764, and by the 1790's "Gothic" was clearly the most popular form of contemporary writing: this chapter tracks this "explosion." Gamer convincingly argues that objections from readers, authors, editors, and reviewers reveal, as he shows, some "common assumptions about purity--whether sexual, generic, national or editorial--and about reading both as process and social threat" (50).

The book's remaining chapters discuss three examples of Romanticism's complex interaction with the Gothic as Gamer tackles the debates swirling around and within Lyrical Ballads, Joanna Baillie's dramas, and Sir Walter Scott's fiction. Gamer reveals how a rereading of these works in the context of this partly unconscious cultural struggle deepens our understanding of then emerging and now familiar works. His way of reading Lyrical Ballads, and especially Wordsworth's "Preface" of 1800, provides, to my mind, the best part of this book. Within the context Gamer recreates, we see Wordsworth's essay as a complex defensive strategy with several not always consistent aims. For instance, Wordsworth wishes to distance himself from "The Ancient Mariner" and attempts to control reader response to his own works, such as "The Thorn," so that they "become a kind of antidote to gothic reading" (121). Joanna Baillie is equally haunted by "stupid and sickly German tragedies." She strives to distinguish the supernaturalism of her plays (in the high and purely British Shakespearean tradition) from the illegitimate corruptions of "German" influence. And Scott, Gamer argues, used his assessments of Gothic fictions to help create himself as a public author, to construct "a gendered hierarchy of gothic fiction and drama that privileges the 'masculine' gothic of Walpole and Lewis over the 'feminine' of Radcliffe and Reeve by allying the former with the masculine realms of imaginative autonomy and antiquarian history" (165).

Gamer's book thus makes a real contribution to our thinking about questions that have seldom been asked before by critics and scholars equally sympathetic to the Gothic and the high Romantic. And while his chief aim is to present the historical context within which the two emerged, he also shrewdly exploits the insights of other critical approaches, such as feminism, when he needs them. This strategy enables him to read the protean Gothic most insightfully. In their strange but intimate relation Gothic and Romantic appear like a figure/ground conundrum, as in that familiar drawing which can be seen as either a rabbit or a duck depending upon which pattern one chooses to focus. And it is enlightening to recognize that the "Gothic" and the "Romantic" emerged though a kind of dialectical engagement with that "other." Moreover, one finds much in the incidental insights that emerge from Gamer's many deft juxtapositions of text and context. For instance, understanding how "German" drama and the Gothic were coded as dangerously foreign and potentially subversive of British social order clarifies the outrage with which Austen's Sir Thomas Bertram regards a performance of Kotzebue's Lover's Vows at Mansfield Park. And one is surprised to hear Rezenvelt, a character in Baillie's De Montfort (1798), proclaim:

Ha! Does the night bird greet me on my way?
How much his hooting is in harmony
With such a scene as this! I like it well.
Oft when a boy, at the still twilight hour,
I've leant my back against some knotted oak,
And loudly mimick'd him, till to my call
He answer would return, and thro' the gloom
We friendly converse held.

How odd to meet the Boy of Winander in a Gothic drama! Perhaps this coincidence might speak to an unsuspected link between Baillie and Wordsworth (he was drafting bits of The Prelude around the time the play appeared and his first version of this incident was also written in the first person). Perhaps it simply means that a common boyish activity struck more than one writer as an apt metaphor for a kind of extra-linguistic communication with otherness. But it also aptly illustrates Gamer's argument that the distinction between "Gothic" and "Romantic" was initially more a matter of perception than of substance.

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Richard Gravil, Romantic Dialogues: Anglo-American Continuities, 1776–1862

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Richard Gravil, Romantic Dialogues: Anglo-American Continuities, 1776-1862. New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2000. xx + 250pp. $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22716-7).

Reviewed by
Kenneth M. Price
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Richard Gravil studies English and American literature from the Revolutionary War until about the midpoint of the American Civil War. Gravil's thorough-going knowledge of connections between British and American texts enables him to create illuminating juxtapositions and to make provocative assertions.

This book displays the strengths and weaknesses of its biases. More interested in Romantic writers than Victorians, Gravil offers an unreconstructed view of the Romantics in his emphasis on a select few writers--Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats--and he has little patience with those who would look beyond these figures. His study of literary influences is paradoxically broad and narrow at once. Expansive in its discussion of many writers on both sides of the Atlantic, Romantic Dialogues is also constricted in its lack of theoretical interests and its scant concern with history and politics. Gravil dismisses canonical revision and other current critical trends; for example, he belittles recent "definitions of context that take literary currencies to be of less account than those of merchant banking" (xii). He offers an insight into his overall view of literature when he describes a poem by Emily Dickinson as a "babel of 'quotation'" (199). For Gravil, literature grows out of literature: everyone quotes, echoes, alludes to, or rewrites someone else.

He understands "American Romanticism as a sustained effort to restate Romanticism in American terms," and though he claims that it "is not my purpose . . . to attribute every American rill to a perforation in the English tank," that is actually how the book often reads (xvi-xvii). Unable to resist the elegant put-down, he remarks, "Poe the poet is a topic I shall pass over in discreet silence" (128). And, in a similar move, instead of exploring how gender and influence intersect in the case of some notable women writers, he resorts to winks and nods. I quote a full paragraph:

     For some of the writers treated in Part 2 of this study--particularly Cooper, Emerson, and Whitman--becoming an author involves a struggle between their sense of Americanness and their sense of belonging to an English literary tradition. It is marked by pugnacity in Cooper's case, a pugnacity uncomfortably at odds with his epigraphic raids upon the entire corpus of English poetry, and by transparently inefficacious denial in Emerson's. Thoreau and Hawthorne inscribe themselves with the least anxiety in an Anglo-American dialogue. That no such struggle seems to exist for Elizabeth Peabody, Margaret Fuller, or Emily Dickinson, may need no comment. (67)

Given Gravil's disdain for the efforts to "recuperate such stuff" as the writings of British women poets (35), I find myself both unclear and uneasy about what he might be implying about Peabody, Fuller, and Dickinson. Is he again disparaging women writers? Is he saying that all women writers, because they are women, escape the father-son rivalry at the heart of a Bloomian model of influence? Is he suggesting something else altogether about these writers? I wish I knew. This paragraph is the final one in chapter three, and no subsequent chapter clarifies the point. My tastes, approaches, and attitudes are sufficiently different from Gravil's as to leave me unable to read his mind and bothered by the implication that anyone with half a wit would know what he means.

Some strengths and weaknesses of Gravil's book may be highlighted by analyzing his chapter on Whitman and Wordsworth. There is much that is sensible in the way that he absorbs and builds on the critical tradition, effectively using the work of Robert Weisbuch, John Lynen, and others. He makes a plausible and sufficiently original case for Wordsworth being the key figure behind "Song of Myself." He then discusses Whitman's emergence as a poet in light of the slavery crisis, arguing that his "response was that of Wordsworth and Coleridge in 1798: he snapped his squeaking baby trumpet of sedition, and began to construct a poetic persona free of his own political contradictions, and disillusionments" (164). Unfortunately, one can think of enough exceptions to this formulation as to make it of limited use: some of Whitman's poems, for example, "A Boston Ballad" and "Respondez," are full of political disillusionment. And to claim that Whitman's persona lacks political contradictions is to miss what makes the politics of Leaves of Grass so interesting. Gravil claims that Whitman's only figure of black self-command is the Negro drayman who appears in "Song of Myself"; the proud and indomitable Black Lucifer character of "The Sleepers" is simply overlooked. Most puzzlingly, Gravil claims that the runaway slave passage near the beginning of "Song of Myself" is an example of Whitman appropriating material from John James Audubon, though this doubtful claim is made merely via an assertion without supporting argument.

Gravil's discussion of Dickinson is more satisfying than his treatment of Whitman. With Dickinson he is more complex and supple, concluding that she may represent "the most extraordinary instance of a mind in persistent dialogue with a broad range of other poets in the history of Anglo-American lyricism" (191). He has mastered that portion of Dickinson criticism that treats her responses to British writers. Though illuminating, his approach is nonetheless strangely divorced from much of history: no mention is made of Emily's key relationship with Susan Gilbert Huntington Dickinson, the recipient of many of her poems and the focus of her emotional life, and he ignores the Civil War context and the racial and political issues of her time. We can learn a great deal from studying Dickinson in terms of her reading, but such a perspective can also mask other forces that profoundly influenced her poetry. Gravil's lack of interest in the texture of Dickinson's life is consistent with his neglect of her writing practices. That is, Dickinson was a manuscript poet whose writings, as many recent critics have argued, has been distorted to a lesser or greater extent by print editions of her work. Curiously, despite a lively and ongoing critical controversy about the editing of Dickinson, Gravil quotes from the Thomas Johnson edition of her poetry as if it were not at all problematic.

Richard Gravil's work takes its place on the small shelf of books that treat the intersection of British and American literature in the nineteenth century. Gravil adds significantly to our knowledge of cross-Atlantic connections and lays the groundwork for new considerations of an obviously important but strangely neglected field of study. Despite some shortcomings, Romantic Dialogues is a significant contribution that is certain to provoke ongoing dialogue of its own.

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Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain

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Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. x + 228pp.  Illus.: 4 halftones.  $42.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8131-2116-7).

Reviewed by
Miranda J. Burgess
University of British Columbia

The first word in the title of this book is tonally at odds with the second, and with the argument of the book as a whole. "Misogyny" sounds like a topic for an older or more naïve feminism than Mandell's fresh and sophisticated version, and its transhistorical ring belies the specificity Mandell brings to her cultural study of eighteenth-century economic history. But these impressions are misleading, as Mandell makes clear in framing her book. She begins by arguing that "[m]isogyny in representations is not about women but rather about society" (1). She ends with the assertion that the "[d]isgust allegedly aroused by women's bodies comes in fact from the stench of social inequity" (158). Moreover, she insists that "misogyny is not necessary" either to literature or to culture (158). Criticism that is to be effective in the twenty-first century must be "willing to see gender as a figure, not a thing" (157).

Yet according to Mandell's analysis, the figure of gender and an accompanying misogyny are everywhere in eighteenth-century writing, from the individual poems, plays and economic texts discussed in the first four chapters to the anthologies and critical writings that processed such works later in the century, addressed in chapters five and six. The key to the simultaneous ubiquity and unnecessariness of this seemingly essential discourse is the way in which eighteenth-century poets and Romantic anthologists and critics used misogynist rhetorics and practices to manage the pleasures of their readers. It is eighteenth-century readers and their pleasures, and the social anxiety these pleasures produce in contemporaries, that are the major topic of Mandell's book.

With this emphasis on literariness and aesthetic experience, and on the demand-side of the economy that links readers with writers and publishers, the book positions itself on the cutting-edge of literary history. Its epigraph from Cora Kaplan--"The aesthetic is going to come back: The question is, on what terms?"--gets a page to itself, preceding table of contents, acknowledgments, and dedication. The book participates in the next wave of feminist scholarship about the Romantic period, moving beyond the recovery of female poets to discuss their works in conversation (and at times in competition) with texts by their male contemporaries, and to value female-authored poems on aesthetic terms.

At the same time, Mandell seeks to retheorize questions of aesthetic judgment. What she calls "literariness" and "literary greatness" are revealed as qualities independent of the processes of canon-formation, though they sometimes work antithetically to the canon. They are qualities at stake in historical struggles for social and economic capital, but they are not reducible to products of these struggles. Rather, they are functions of reading: defined by a literary pleasure that is occasioned by literary works but produced by readers' own imaginings. Canon formation responds to, seeking to direct, readers' imaginative pleasures and desires.

Outlined in chapter one, Mandell's theory of reading builds on Freud's analysis of sadomasochistic imaginings such as the beating fantasy. "The pleasure of this fantasy comes from mobility of identifications," the continuous sliding of the mind from one position to another (25). In this way the imagination of the fantasist operates similarly to its operation in reading, and reading eighteenth-century satire in particular, for such texts "structurally push readers toward making multiple identifications" (21). Mandell traces these identifications through Dryden's translations from Juvenal and "Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire," Pope's Epilogue to the Satires, and Swift's "Cassinus and Peter" and Gulliver's Travels. She argues that criticism of these works has emphasized the assumed moral superiority of the satirist over his female satiric targets because of "pressures . . . coming from capitalism" (35).

Unlike reading, which for Mandell offers pleasures of the imagination that all readers share and that do not change with the changes of history, criticism and canon-formation have been historically influenced by economic change. Capitalism requires reading methods that replace play with one-upmanship, the desire to corner the market on literary pleasure. Moreover, capitalism demands texts that "successfully project onto women morally repugnant qualities of the capitalist businessman"--especially voracious and uncontrolled desire--"that are then disowned through disgust" (35). Mandell argues that these developing expectations increasingly governed interpretation of Swift's and Pope's satiric texts, limiting readers' ability to see the potential for play the poems offer. The process of canon-formation pushes readers and writers to substitute a "sadistic" reading practice for the play of identifications of a "sadomasochistic" reading, replacing endless, fluid play with a temporary identification with the satiric object closely followed by abjection of it.

For Mandell, as the book's Introduction makes clear, abjection is more complex than Julia Kristeva's theory, in which disgust with and denial of the body and its drives helps to maintain the subject's idealized experience of a unified self separate from the mother and distinguishable from the body (4). To the private, psychic account of abjection in Kristeva's Powers of Horror, Mandell adds a dimension of public ritual, which she elaborates through René Girard's theory of mimetic violence and scapegoating rituals. Girard describes a process in which the competing desires of many men who violently seek a single object demand the sacrifice of one man, making absolute difference of someone whose danger was that he was too much and too violently the same, revealing the fictionality of social distinctions between men. This sacrifice simultaneously draws off the recognition that one key sameness among men lies in the mortality of the body. One example is Christianity, with its sacrifice of the human Christ as a guarantee of all men's transcendence of the body and its mortal limits. Mandell argues that "[m]isogyny recurs in representations throughout the eighteenth century because it acquires those ritualistic immortalizing and idealizing functions that an increasingly rationalized Christianity can no longer support" (7). Moreover, the eighteenth century, which invented capitalism, marks the invention of the kind of modern individualized competitive subject that Kristeva's and Freud's psychoanalysis addresses (5-6). The "sacrificial crisis" of early eighteenth-century society turns on competition for control of the economic market on one hand and for literary fame on the other--and on the impending revelation that both objects of desire offer the victors a purely symbolic distinction. That literary and cultural historians working on numerous historical periods have laid competing claims to the origins of capitalism and subjectivity points to the single significant problem with Mandell's argument. For Mandell, the logic of canon-formation is at once historically specific and anthropologically universal.

The first of these explanations dominates the first, and strongest, half of the book. Here Mandell moves from Dryden, Pope, and Swift to discuss texts that have failed to become canonical. Chapter two argues that Thomas Otway's The Orphan (1680) plots a competition between men for the love of one woman, and at the same time maps a social transition from a feudal economy of endless self-dedication and self-sacrifice to a capitalist drive toward monopoly. But it does not adequately distinguish between the competing men and the humiliated woman. The woman is, finally, too sympathetic to be an object of disgust, and her power relations with her suitors are too rapidly shifting; the men's motivations are never fully distinguished from each other. For Mandell, the result is a sacrificial crisis that is fully staged but unresolved--an anxious "failure of abjection" (48). In a reading that is interesting in itself but that seems somewhat forced in its connection with Otway's play, Mandell links this failure to the events of the South Sea Bubble's collapse, a crisis that "comes from being too aware that the system is a fiction" (59). In the gap between its promised plot--a favored entrepreneur, an abjected woman, a vanquished aristocrat--and its undifferentiated reality, Otway's play dangerously reproduces the effects of the Bubble crisis.

Chapter three describes the opposite problem, a failure of literariness. Mandell argues that Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees and Modest Defence of Publick Stews (1724) and George Lillo's London Merchant (1731) are capitalist propaganda rather than literature. These texts foreshorten the play of the reader's identifications in pursuit of a single-minded, stable idealization of entrepreneurs and degradation of the prostitutes and female bawds whose activities, arguably, might be seen to resemble theirs.

The second half of the book abandons this narrative of economic explanation in favor of self-reflection on the history of literary criticism, more explicit discussion of canon-formation, and a critique of feminist literary history. Mandell's reading of Mary Leapor's poems in chapter four shows that female poets can use misogynistic representations in satire just as male poets can. It also suggests that misogyny is intimately connected with empiricism and resistance to figuration in the eighteenth century. The consequence is that misogyny and satire work inseparably together in eighteenth-century poetry, and that rhetoric becomes an important object of contemporary feminist critique. Mandell identifies this nexus as a crucial problem for feminist literary historians working on the eighteenth century and renewed attention to literariness as one possible solution. Combining a feminist impulse with a resistance to capitalist monopoly, Mandell shows, Leapor employs the demystifications typical of contemporary misogynist satire while simultaneously resisting them.

Despite a literariness that conforms with Mandell's definition, however, Leapor's poems have not been canonized. Chapter five offers an explanation, reading Romantic-period poetry anthologies as enactments of their society's sacrificial rituals; female poets represent the material life of the body, and must be considered, then rejected, in order to grant male poets monumentality and eternal life. Despite Mandell's frequent references to John Guillory's pedagogical and class-centered theory of canon-formation in his Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (University of Chicago Press, 1993), anthologization appears in this chapter as a gendered process of exclusion.

By moving away from the historical specificity of her economic analysis in these later chapters, Mandell places greater emphasis on her universalizing anthropological account of misogyny. Her readings here at times belie her framing claim that misogyny responds to particular historical conditions but that it is not itself the only possible response. Unlike the birth of capitalism, the processes of abjection and scapegoating are essential and universal, and the second half of the book brings misogyny much closer to them. At the same time, Mandell shifts from her earlier focus on readers' desires, and on the anxieties of writers and critics confronted with them, to refocus our attention on anthologists and publishers.

The closing chapter, on Anna Letitia Barbauld, is a courageous and inventive treatment of its subject, as well as a return to history. Mandell reads Barbauld's poetry through the lens of her Dissenting Christianity, with its emphases on human reform and hope for the material world. She argues that Barbauld's religion enables her to collapse the hierarchy of soul and body that characterized other forms of Christianity and precipitated its various sacrificial crises, as well as the crises of its secular successor, the capitalist economy. In this way, Barbauld overcomes the melancholy that marks most canonical poetry, including that of her own Romantic period, transcending the need for abjection. Barbauld's power of "transcending misogyny" lies in her resistance to dualism, which allows her to construct an account of virtue that lies precisely in the soul's embodied place in the world--a "connection . . . to materiality, coded as feminine"--and so to create an "alternative . . . aesthetic" as well (131-32). In reading several of Barbauld's poems, an analysis that offers its reader many pleasures, Mandell offers an exemplary demonstration of her guiding assumption that "[r]ecovering literariness and denaturalizing sexism turn out to be compatible tasks" (157).

Misogynous Economies feels to me as though it is really two books--one on the cultural effects of eighteenth-century economic history and the other on the gendering of canon-formation--brought together by an anthropological and psychoanalytic theoretical apparatus. Each of these two accounts would have been strengthened by a broader literary and a longer historical elaboration. Even so, each account remains very rewarding in itself, not least because of Mandell's refusal to quail before questions about literary formalism and the possibility of literary judgment, to reduce these questions to matters of ideology, or to empty them of social and political weight.

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James C. McKusick, Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology

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James C. McKusick, Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology. New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2000. x + 261pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-23448-1).

Reviewed by
Kevin Hutchings
University of Northern British Columbia

James C. McKusick is one of the pioneers of Green Romanticism, an emerging critical movement investigating Romantic literature in relation to the histories of ecological thought and environmental activism. His most recent book, entitled Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology, is among the important contributions McKusick has made to literary scholarship as an author of ecocritical articles, a guest editor of special periodical issues on Romanticism and Ecology, and co-editor of a significant new anthology of nature writing.1 What sets McKusick's work apart from that of Jonathan Bate and Karl Kroeber, the earliest and most widely cited advocates of English Green Romanticism, is its avoidance of an overtly polemical basis for the establishment of ecological literary criticism.2 This difference in critical approach is a crucial one, for Bate's and Kroeber's heated dismissals of New Historicist and poststructuralist critical perspectives have arguably done as much to impede the cause of Romantic ecocriticism as to encourage its advancement. By rejecting the ground-breaking insights of Alan Liu, Jerome McGann, Marjorie Levinson, Marilyn Butler, and other socially minded Romantic scholars, Bate and Kroeber have not only helped to consolidate the view that contemporary literary theory and ecocriticism are dichotomously opposed and irreconcilable; whether deservedly or not, they have helped to perpetuate the stereotype that environmental studies scholars are reactionary anti-intellectuals whose work is idealistically naive and dangerously misanthropic (because somehow disengaged from fundamental issues of social justice). In an era wherein the editorial board of a mainstream journal no less important than PMLA has by its own admission unfairly characterized environmental criticism as critically "soft" "hug-the-tree stuff,"3 Green Romanticism needs more advocates like McKusick, whose arguments are persuasive without being needlessly polemical, succeeding not by virtue of a negatively reasoned attack upon the established views of others, but on the solid constructive basis of their own intellectual rigor and critical merit.

In a nutshell, Green Writing traces the effaced history of American environmentalism by questioning the "dismissive appraisal of English literature" (3) that often informs early American writing. In particular, by examining ecological concepts in the English Romantic writings of Coleridge, Wordsworth, Clare, Blake, and Mary Shelley, McKusick's book helpfully contextualizes the natural philosophies of such early American environmentalists as Emerson, Thoreau, Muir, and Austin. Important differences notwithstanding, these English and American Romantics shared the common desire to change "the historical trajectory of human culture" by criticizing "modern technological hubris" and by affirming the ecological interdependence of all living creatures, whether human or non-human (227). By deploying an interdisciplinary approach combining traditional literary methods of close reading with insights garnered from the history of science and environmental thought, McKusick's book articulates a refreshingly new and critically incisive understanding of the authors and primary texts under study.

Provocatively, Green Writing challenges the common view, first articulated by Karl Kroeber, that the English Romantics were "proto-ecological" thinkers,4 arguing instead that these authors were in fact "the first full-fledged ecological writers in the Western literary tradition" (19). McKusick thus rejects the thesis that Romantic naturalism was ultimately frustrated by an insufficiency of scientific knowledge (its historical lack, in particular, of a Darwinian--and thus genuinely ecological--understanding of natural process). For McKusick, on the contrary, the English Romantics were themselves the genuine progenitors of modern-day ecological thought. According to Green Writing, for example, Wordsworth is an early pioneer of "human ecology" (70); Clare becomes "the first 'deep' ecological writer in the English literary tradition" (78); Shelley and Austen are early advocates of ecofeminism (109-10, 213-16); Emerson invents the field of ecolinguistics (124); and Thoreau takes his place as "America's first Deep Ecologist" (147). While this incomplete summary oversimplifies the finely nuanced and carefully dialectical arguments of Green Writing, it should help to suggest the important role Romantic literature plays in McKusick's literary history of environmentalism. If McKusick's basic claims are correct, his concluding admonition, that modern-day ecological scientists "would be well advised to reconsider the various conceptual frameworks afforded" by English and American Romantic writers (228), is by no means as audacious as it might at first seem. On the contrary, this advice conveys a much-needed call for further interdisciplinary dialogue between the arts and the sciences.

One of my favorite sections of Green Writing is its brief but illuminating analysis of various works by William Blake (works ranging from The Songs of Experience to Jerusalem). While Green Romanticists and other ecological critics often invoke Blake's famous poetic critique of Albion's "dark Satanic Mills," they have rarely examined Blake's writings in detail.5 McKusick's inclusion of Blake is important; for unlike Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Clare, Blake was no overt champion of nature; indeed, his tendency to focus on social rather than strictly natural concerns might be regarded as a criticism of the polemical arguments offered by ecological critics who advocate a movement in literary criticism away from social or "red" concerns toward ecological or "green" ones.6 McKusick's reading of Blake emphasizes the poet's response to London's contemporary industrialization, including the ways in which industrial capitalism adversely effected both the natural environment and the working-class population. This implicit combination of "green" and "red" perspectives succinctly demonstrates Green Writing's admirable tendency to account for both environmental and social realities. One can say the same thing about McKusick's interpretations of John Clare's poetry: his analysis of Clare's ecological sensibility is as remarkable for its attention to the poet's unique literary naturalism as it is for its concern to elucidate the important implications of Clare's status as a member of the contemporary peasantry. Pointing out that Clare belonged to a social class whose members were often regarded as human "vermin" (94), McKusick draws a telling parallel between anti-ecological and social modes of exclusion and "othering."

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Green Writing is its emphasis upon the importance of language in English and American literary representations of the natural environment. This emphasis is an important one, for it implicitly foregrounds literature's status as a linguistic and discursive activity, suggesting that the ecological awareness green writing attempts to inspire in its readers is ineluctably implicated in social conventions and traditions. Nevertheless, in his discussions of Emerson's theory of linguistic origins, McKusick sympathetically investigates Emerson's thesis that human language developed historically in response to environmental stimuli. Emerson's ecolinguistic approach to language may seem untenable to modern-day literary scholars, who generally accept Ferdinand de Saussure's position that signifiers refer not to things but to concepts; but Emerson's argument that human concepts are themselves "originally derived from human experience in the natural world" (126) may provide a way for ecological critics to theorize possible connections between language and the natural world, and thus to question the abstract and sometimes insufficiently contextualized character of structural linguisitics.

Earlier in Green Writing, in contrast to Emerson's naturalistic theory of linguistic origins, McKusick deploys the concept of ecotone (a term used to signify the liminal or transitional spaces where diverse ecosystems meet, mingle, and differentiate themselves) to clarify Coleridge's related ecological and linguistic concerns in "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere." McKusick's discussions of various ecotonal spaces in this poem--for example, the boundary areas between ship and sea, forest and sea, and sea and air--set the stage for an ecolinguistic analysis in which human experience in nature is understood as the product of a dialogical encounter between humanity and non-human otherness, an encounter occurring in a dynamic ecotonal space of productive linguistic uncertainty.7 This concept of language is useful not only because it helps us to understand the Mariner's ultimate transformation in "Rime"; it also serves to remind us that, despite our best intentions and efforts, humans can never access an "unmediated, unalienated relationship with nature."8 At the same time, however, an ecotonal concept of linguistic activity provocatively suggests that human interaction with the non-human world need not be conceived entirely in terms of an imperialist and anthropocentric exercise of human power over nature (as is evident in the Mariner's cruel mistreatment of the Albatross). On the contrary, the notion that human experiences in nature occur in "a language contact zone (or linguistic ecotone)" (50) optimistically suggests that nature itself may exert some significant influence upon humans, exercising a degree of agency in the encounter between humanity and nature (despite the most concerted human efforts to objectify, instrumentalize, and subjugate the non-human world).

Another interesting moment in Green Writing's analysis of language occurs in McKusick's treatment of Thoreauvian naturalism. In this chapter, McKusick balances his discussion of Thoreau's comparatively self-assured pastoral and georgic writings on Walden Pond by undertaking an examination of Thoreau's extreme discomfort in the wilder regions of the Maine Woods, where the poet-philosopher's "largely literary ideas about landscape" no longer suffice (163). In this wild encounter with external otherness, Thoreau discovers his own internal wildness, the frightening otherness at the core of his own being. McKusick's examination of this aspect of Thoreau's self-representation suggests his basic agreement with ecophilosopher Thomas Birch, who deploys a Foucauldian critical framework to argue that wildness--in both its human and non-human manifestations--indeed has the ability to destabilize complacently anthropocentric conceptions of selfhood.9 But McKusick takes this idea much further than Birch's Foucauldian discourse theory will allow, going so far as to suggest that Thoreau may ultimately have transcended his own socially constructed sense of self, finding in the encounter with wildness "a genuinely external perspective upon the prevailing and largely unexamined values of his own society" (169). Given the overall sophistication of McKusick's discourse on nature, language, and human interaction with nature, readers of Green Writing will certainly want to examine this section of the book's argument most carefully.

Green Writing is a splendid and provocative work of socially engaged ecological criticism, offering readers much food for thought. Because it so helpfully clarifies the Romantic origins of contemporary ecology, I wholeheartedly recommend it as required reading for anyone interested in environmental history, Romantic nature writing, or ecological literary criticism. As McKusick states in passing--and as his book convincingly demonstrates--a properly informed Green Romantic criticism can and must go "beyond the trite observation that much Romantic writing celebrates the beauty of nature" (110). With its concerns for the social, economic, and linguistic aspects of Romantic ecology, Green Writing goes far beyond such trite observations. By considering some of the complex relationships existing among what Félix Guattari has called "the three ecologies"--those of "the environment, the socius, and the psyche"10-- McKusick's fine book demonstrates how ecological literary criticism may help us to account for "the total material context of literary production" (15).

1. McKusick has edited special Green Romantic issues of The Wordsworth Circle (28.3, 1997) and the Romantic Circles Praxis Series (on-line at <>). His anthology, co-edited with Bridget Keegan, is entitled Literature and Nature: Four Centuries of Nature Writing (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 2001). (Back)

2. See Jonathan Bate, Romantic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition (London: Routledge, 1991) and Karl Kroeber, Ecological Literary Criticism: Romantic Imagining and the Biology of Mind (New York: Columbia UP, 1994). (Back)

3. Explaining their recent decision not to publish a special issue devoted to literature and ecology, the editors of PMLA offered the following rationale: "However unfair this may be, a general perception is that environmental studies is 'soft.' As several board members put it ..., it is characterized as 'hug-the-tree stuff'" (qtd. in Scott Slovic, "Ecocriticism: Containing Multitudes, Practicing Doctrine," ASLE News 11.1 [1999]: 5-6), 6. (Back)

4. See Karl Kroeber, 5. (Back)

5. A notable exception is Mark S. Lussier's Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality (Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2000), which includes detailed analyses of Blake's major works. (Back)

6. See, Bate, 8-9. (Back)

7. McKusick attributes the concept of linguistic ecotone to Romand Coles, "Ecotones and Environmental Ethics: Adorno and Lopez," in In the Nature of Things: Language, Politics, and the Environment, ed. Jane Bennett and William Chaloupka (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 243. (Back)

8. I borrow this phrase from Bate, 29. (Back)

9. See Thomas H. Birch, "The Incarceration of Wildness: Wilderness Areas as Prisons," in Postmodern Environmental Ethics, ed. Max Oelschlaeger (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995, 137-61), especially 151-52. (Back)

10. See Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995), 20. (Back)

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