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Theresa M. Kelley, Reinventing Allegory

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Theresa Kelley, Reinventing Allegory. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xv + 345pp. $54.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-43207-3).

Reviewed by

Esther Schor

Princeton University

The dark horse of all the "dark conceits," allegory has not been without champions in our century. Walter Benjamin reclaimed allegory for modernism in 1928, and in the sixties Paul de Man made it the centerpiece of his own rhetoric of Romanticism. Three decades later, we have Theresa Kelley's learned and ambitious study, Reinventing Allegory, which narrates the role of allegory "in the cultural and political temper of modernity" (3). For Kelley "modernity" refers to the ascendancy of the linked values of "empiricism, realism, and plain, rational speech" in the seventeenth century and to the unsettling of Platonic, Augustinian, and "syncretic" ideologies a century earlier (2). While her narrative leaves the conventional periods of literary history (Renaissance, seventeenth century, Restoration, eighteenth century, Romanticism, and Victorianism) more or less undisturbed, her book is a sustained meditation on the vicissitudes not only of allegory, but also of modernity over five centuries.

It is a powerful achievement, and its central conceit—the notion of allegorical agency—derives from a structural ambiguity in Hellenistic and Patristic allegoresis of the Bible, where allegory is simultaneously a poetics and a mode of exegesis. So profoundly are these two types of work conflated that even priority and belatedness become difficult to tease apart; the mediating allegorical integumentum implicitly assumes a priority, if not authority, over what is hidden from view. Hence, to say that allegory performs a type of intellectual and imaginative "work" is not a catachresis; allegory is from its inception a working out of abstractions in the realm of particulars; it is also a kind of interpretation that motivates an ongoing interpretive task in its readership. Kelley's reinvention of allegory lies in her fresh and vital sense of the capacity for allegory to become a formidable agent of cultural critique and subversion on the one hand, and of repression on the other.

A summary of Kelley's argument begins with her claim that allegory "survives after the Renaissance, against pressures that ought to have done it in, by making border raids on the very categories that have been represented as its contraries: realism, mimesis, empiricism, and history" (2); it "makes unexpected alliances with historical and realist particulars to insure its status as a resident alien in modern culture" (3). Kelley's metaphors recast the etymological "other speaking" in the terms of cultural alienation. As the "abjected other" of modernity, allegory becomes a guerrilla mode in the lucent realms of empiricism and rationalism. In its own badlands, however, allegory may replicate the politics of the oppressor: "As a figure that both names and abstracts, allegory is prone to forms of violence akin to those imposed by a tribe or community on a victim who is punished in the name of, or instead of, everyone else" (8). Kelley, with a nod to the work of Angus Fletcher and Spenserians Maureen Quilligan and Linda Gregerson, identifies a pull toward fixity, abstraction and mechanization as the enduring menace of allegory. Two related developments, then, attend the modern endurance of allegory: its figures become saliently material; at the same time, they become increasingly persuasive. Kelley's "explanatory model" is chaperoned by an ethical argument: "Because it is wayward, provisional, and openly factitious, modern allegory can assist a line of reasoning that breaks open self-enclosed symbols or systems and thus breaks out of the ‘habitus' of culture, whose patterns of received knowledge would otherwise close off inquiry" (11). To "reinvent" allegory, in Kelley's terms, is to participate in the ongoing, tense negotiations between abstractions and particulars, an enterprise that is "not alien, but intrinsic, to modernity" (13).

Kelley moves allegory from alienation to centrality through a metonymy: for most of the book, the agency of allegory is imputed to its figures, which are often found playing the role of diplomatic intermediary. They are said to "[tack] between abstract ideas and lived particulars" (94); to "hover over the boundary between idea and material form"(96); to "move restlessly from materiality to figure and back again" (32); to "shuttle between abstraction and materiality" (57); to "cross the divide between abstraction and real life" (42); and to "oscillate between abstraction and pathos" (172). They occupy, at their peril, "the conflicted middle space between abstraction and sensuousness" and "extend in one direction toward stony abstraction and, in the other, toward particular beings"(136, 137). On every page, Kelley's meticulous, subtle close readings engage in, rather than simply demonstrate, the demanding dialectical work of allegorical figuration.

Kelley gives this work some salutary drama by taking up historical moments when allegory has met with vehement resistance: "[T]he iconoclast critique of allegory in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the Neoclassical attack on allegorical poems and paintings; the Romantic ambivalence towards allegory; Victorian efforts to sustain the division between allegorical and realist narratives; and the return to allegory in twentieth-century critical theory and recent fiction" (4). This evenhanded summary misstates slightly the strategy of the book, for Kelley features Romanticism as a watershed for modern allegory, a crisis in which explicit, philosophically acute polemics against allegory coincide with the flamboyant and spectacular appearance of allegorical figures—figures as egregious as they are ubiquitous.

The first four chapters are each autonomous, polished essays, yet Kelley points them toward the ensuing discussion of Romanticism. Chapter 2, "Allegory, phantasia, and Spenser," takes up a the rhetorical groundwork for two tensions at the heart of Spenserian allegory: first, the "productive opposition" between phantasia (20)—that which is visible and vivid—and abstraction; second, the narrative suspensions that enhance the dubiety of allegorical abstractions. In the contrasting careers of Malbecco and Britomart, Kelley gives us the first of many meta- allegories: two competing accounts of allegory as moving toward demonic fixation (as per Angus Fletcher) or, alternatively toward the infinite deferrals of narrative (as per de Man and John Freccero). In the following chapter, Kelley takes "note of what happens when [allegorical] figures allegedly get up and move" (46); here she traces, largely through the career of Milton, "the factional use of allegorical figures in the 1640s and 1650s to the Restoration dismissal of allegorical and rhetorical figures in the name of experimental science, Anglican conformity and the crown" (48). Not surprisingly, the "unseemly seventeenth-century alliance between allegory and material, historical particulars" was understood to "magnify fractures in the English body politic"(69, 70). A Neoclassical backlash both cordoned off a normative, generic notion of allegory and, as Kelley adroitly notes, displaced a previous generation's ferocity and anxiety onto the polite arena of letters.

The focus of the following three chapters is on "allegory's stake in Romantic spectacles and images" (94). Kelley drives a wedge between Romantic theory, which reinscribes the Neoclassical bias in favor of allegorical fixation, and practice, in which "the imagined proximity of [allegorical figures] to real people and events corrodes the unvarying relation between the general and the particular" (96). Like allegory itself, Kelley takes a somewhat wayward path; I will use the first (Chapter 5) merely as an example. She opens with a discussion of Romantic historical consciousness, addresses Blake's sense of allegory's "lethal mix of absolute control and magisterial pity" (99), then examines in detail his engravings for Gray's "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat" as a way of introducing (after a brief excursus on Romantic theories of personification) the "distortions of human scale and proportions" definitive of Romantic allegory (110). Such spectacles suggest allegory's refusal to be "managed by conventional distinctions between what is real and what is abstract" (110), particularly in the Revolutionary context to which Kelley turns next. When containing or inciting violence is as much a matter of rhetorical power as political power, allegory becomes, tout court, a rather unpredictable political agent. (Of the book's numerous readings of visual and material artifacts, the discussion of Revolutionary French playing cards is among the best.) Kelley goes on to probe "the deep logic of Coleridge's resistance to allegory" as a conviction that both Scripture and persons must not be abstracted and objectified (121). A reading of a Wordsworthian countertext to this impulse—Book VII of The Prelude—closes the chapter.

Such a parade of texts and authors requires synthesis, which the chapter delivers by firmly situating "allegorism" (as Coleridge called it ) within the multiform Romantic crisis of representation: political, epistemological, semiotic. But the following chapter on Hegel, Keats and Shelley, though it is more tightly organized, does not receive as effective a synthesis, even after the brilliant, suggestive reading of Hegel's abjected, orientalized figure of Phantasie, with "its erotic dance of sensuous shapes and images" (140). Next, the devotion of a full chapter to the work of J. M. W. Turner raises an important question: is this chapter a culmination of or a coda to the preceding two? Kelley writes beautifully and perceptively about Turner's revisionary oils, watercolors, and miniature engravings, but it would take a full-dress Turnerite to deny a sense of disproportion. A more explicit linking to the prior evocations of Romantic historicism—and perhaps a contrastable pairing of Turner's allegory with Scott's historicism—might have made these fine readings more effective. Finally, in Victorian literary culture, Kelley argues, allegory recedes to the periphery of realism; she retrieves earlier metaphors of borders, of "textual friction" and "unbound and fraying edge[s]" (223, 224). While the pairing of Robert Browning and George Eliot is at moments awkward, the chapter concludes with one of the most lucid and incisive readings of the pied Daniel Deronda that I have read in years.

The conclusion vaults over some high points of modernism (where are Nietzsche's allegorical figures? Freud's Ego, Id, and Superego? Beckett's hollow-headed heroes?) to take up a strange dissonance in the contemporary discourse of allegory. Under the saturnine sign of Walter Benjamin, allegory "is the shared domain of fragment and ruin" (251); under the rising sign of postmodernism, however, allegory presents tremendous comic possibilities of "combinatorial, fictive play" (251). Benjamin's developing notion of the dialectical image throughout his career, Kelley argues, evokes "the limits modernism places on allegorical agency" (252); allegory's primary "act" is to enjoy a certain stoical freedom "from fixed inflexible codes" (258). Such an insight leads Kelley to indict what she calls "the troubled logic of postmodernism" (264), a facile "equation of allegory with postmodern virtue" (277). Allegorical agency, Kelley argues, is redemptive when and only when "it acts as a foil to its other self—the cultural authority of figures that move in lockstep to fixed meanings" (278). This is a stinging riposte to postmodernist euphoria, and decisively delivered.

The book's vast accumulation of evidence calls for more in the way of structuring devices. Reinventing Allegory might well have been divided into larger units, treating the legacy of Spenserian allegory through the turbulent seventeenth century up to the Enlightenment; the Romantic ambivalences of chapters 5, 6, and 7; and the fraught relations between realism and allegory through modernism and postmodernism. Within each chapter (and particularly in the chapters on Romanticism, which treat a great number of heterogeneous texts), a little white space and a few subchapter headings would have helped enormously; Kelley's critical stamina is occasionally hard to match.

But that may be, in part, the stamina of allegory itself. Wisely, Kelley keeps her allegory of agency alive to the very end. It animates and vindicates her readings in the English tradition from the Renaissance to the present, German idealist philosophy, the French Enlightenment, the visual arts, ethnography, and in the ephemera and automata of material culture, from caricatures of Napoleon to chess-playing machines. Of this allegorist of capability, one wants to ask: of what is Theresa Kelley not capable? This imposing, accomplished and valuable book gives no hints. For decades to come—and for readers well beyond the field of Romanticism—it will be a touchstone for all critical discussion of allegory, modernity, and much else besides.

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    Edoardo Zuccato, Coleridge in Italy

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    Edoardo Zuccato, Coleridge in Italy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. xix + 256pp. $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-16572-2).

    Reviewed by
    Morton D. Paley
    University of California, Berkeley

    This erudite and valuable study should really have been called Coleridge and Italy, for it does not attempt to re-chronicle Coleridge's time south of the Alps but instead breaks new ground in studying Coleridge's intellectual relation to Italian poetry, art, philology, and philosophy. Contesting the view that among foreign cultures Germany alone was significant for Coleridge, Zuccato shows that Italy ran a surprisingly strong second when all the aspects of its importance to him are considered. He argues that while Byron and Shelley reversed the values of the British view of Italy, they did so within the traditional binary system, with the "pagan" South now positively valorized. Coleridge's Italy, in contrast, was "Christian, Platonic, sublime." The subject matter itself is divided into "internal" and "external" history, referring to "the influence Italian culture exerted in Coleridge's intellectual life" and "Coleridge's place in the history of Anglo-Italian literary relationships."

    With respect to poetry, the influence of Petrarch, Christian and Platonist, is rightly emphasized. Regarding Dante, it was thanks to Coleridge that H. F. Cary's translation of the Divine Comedy, through which generations of Anglophone readers were to know the work, was rescued from obscurity and republished by Taylor and Hessey. Coleridge appreciated Dante's Rime, then little known in England, as well, and he was also remarkable for preferring Boccaccio's romances to his Decameron and Ariosto's minor works to his Orlando Furioso. Tasso did not interest him, and he was immune to Pulci's irony. On the whole, however, his other Italian poetical interests were remarkably catholic, embracing Giambattista Marino, Pietro Metastasio, Gabriella Chiabrera, Battista Guarini, and Givan Battista Strozzi, among others. (The different tastes of different times are indeed striking: the author remarks that in the anthology of Italian poetry complied in 1784 by Agostino Isola, best known to us as Wordsworth's Italian tutor, there are 26 poems by Metastasio and none by Dante!) Coleridge did not, of course, merely read—he translated, imitated, and reworked. Taken together, his writings after as well as about these poets show his very high degree of insight into their work.

    It is also shown how the fine arts contributed significantly to Coleridge's theory of imagination. The modern in both painting and poetry, according to Coleridge, preferred the part to the whole, while the poets of the Renaissance used general imagery and traditional themes. However, this view needs to be qualified by Coleridge's lack of detailed knowledge of the art of his own time, despite his association with Washington Allston. Coleridge's greatest degree of response was to the Renaissance, beginning with the Camposanto frescoes at Pisa and especially The Triumph of Death, which in its engraved form also stimulated Keats. (It must be said that St. Martin's Press has done a disservice to the author and his readers with its muddy reproductions of details from this fresco). Although Coleridge could take pleasure in earlier Italian art, he described the contribution of Giotto in terms of the liberation of figures from their imprisonment in two-dimensionality. Coleridge's appreciation of the high Renaissance is spirited but conventional: he elevates the Roman and Florentine schools above the Venetian (a view so widely held that it was shared by Reynolds and Blake), and he identifies Michelangelo with the sublime, Raphael with the beautiful. Coleridge appears to have been less responsive to sculpture than to painting—he called Bernini's works an "unhappy attempt at picture petrifactions," and he thought Michelangelo's only great statue was his Moses. Zuccato is fair in describing Coleridge's limitations as a writer about art:

    His comments on painting often seem to disembody the image, to atomize it into its components: he considers colour, or form, or drawing, but seldom the relations between them. Moreover, he tended to discuss these aspects in non-pictorial terms. (75)

    Zuccato's consideration of Coleridge and Italy extends beyond the vulgar language to Latin writings, and beyond literature and the arts to philosophy and political history. Coleridge proves to have had a good knowledge of Italian poetry in Latin, admiring especially Petrarch's metric epistles. Among Italian philosophers, Giordano Bruno was particularly important to Coleridge from 1801 on, at a time when Bruno was known in Germany but not in England. Bruno's philosophy of nature was for a time very appealing to Coleridge, and Zuccato accepts at least part of Coleridge's defense against charges of plagiarism from Schelling on the ground that "most basic concepts of Naturphilosophie appear in Bruno, who was popular in Romantic Germany" (129). Zuccato concurs with Thomas McFarland's view that Coleridge concluded that Bruno's views were incompatible with his own on the grounds of pantheism. Much later, in 1825, Coleridge was introduced to the work of Giambattista Vico. However, according to Zuccato, "his notes on the New Science show that he paid less attention to Vico's principles than their applications" (141). And though at first Coleridge accepted the periodization of history that was the basis of the Viconian cycles, in the end he rejected time's cycle for time's arrow. Regarding the history of Italy, and particularly of Florence, Coleridge's view was opposed to that of Sismondi, who emphasized the role of communes. "Florence was for Coleridge a sort of modern version of Plato's republic, a republic of the learned" (150). Here as elsewhere, Zuccato's distinctions are judiciously grounded in the culture of Coleridge's Europe.

    A few incidental mistakes should be corrected. The Act of Union with Ireland took place in 1800, not 1802 (8). Percy Bysshe Shelley was upper-class, not "bourgeois" (12). In the context of a discussion of Italian art, the reference to "the Viennese school" (65) is almost certainly a typo for "the Siennese school." It is puzzling to read that John Constable's patron Sir George Beaumont "had little enthusiasm for Constable" (77). However one might characterize Coleridge's feeling for Sara Hutchinson, "a moment of emotional bewilderment" is inadequate (21). A criticism of the "Select Bibliography" is also in order: although the endnote documentation of Coleridge in Italy is scrupulous and even massive, the nine subdivisions of the bibliography, with entries alphabetized according to author within each, make it hard at times to find individual items. Some seem to have fallen between the cracks. Where, for example, is Sismondi's Histoire des républiques italiennes du moyen âge, mentioned several times in the text? Where is Benedetto Stay, whose Fable of the Madning Rain is cited in Coleridge's opinion as "one of the finest satires ever written" (114)? More importantly, where are the printed sources for Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself? These are of course secondary problems, having nothing to do with this book's main subject or lines of argument.

    We are privileged to have in Edoardo Zuccato as a guide someone so learned in Italian culture and having a command of Italian literature that few if any other Coleridge scholars possess. Coleridge in Italy is a welcome study of an important subject that has at last received the attention that it deserves.

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    Robert M. Ryan, The Romantic Reformation: Religious Politics in English Literature

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    Robert M. Ryan, The Romantic Reformation: Religious Politics in English Literature, 1789–1824. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xi + 292pp. $59.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-57008-5).

    Reviewed by
    Terence Allan Hoagwood
    Texas A&M University

    This well-written book is an important contribution to studies of romantic-period literature for an unusual combination of reasons. The Romantic Reformation takes for its topics two that have been widely believed to be important as long as there have been studies of romantic-period literature: the writers' treatments of religion, and the question of the writers' religious beliefs (those topics are not the same). This book makes large statements on those topics which are simultaneously very different from received views and very responsibly considered and articulated. In a threatened profession, new books sometimes exhibit a desperate novelty or appeal for interest. Rhetorically overheated books and articles refer to "passion" and "pleasure" more often than formerly. It is still useful to recall the difference between a scholar's interest in the content of an argument and a careerist's interest in sales appeal; few of us would want to resurrect uncritically Arnold's concept of "disinterestedness"—as Jerome McGann has shown, that concept was always polemical and therefore self-contradictory (Social Values and Poetic Acts [Harvard University Press, 1988], 86)—but perhaps all of us do, or can, or should reflect on the difference between scholarly argument and ulterior motives, even in a time of faculty downsizing. In contrast, then, to the sort of book which is actually an ad for its author's own career, The Romantic Reformation displays throughout an integrity of scholarly purpose and a profound respect for its subject matter, voicing honest doubt, for example, rather than histrionics or dogma. While the achieved clarity of this book's prose opens the argument to a readership outside the small circle of specialists, the honesty and restraint of its method are exemplary and even, in an age of opportunistic anxiety, moving; so are its advocacy of an open mind, and its consistent and humane sense of the social realities that (outside one's own career) are at stake.

    This is therefore a good and useful book, owing to the integrity of its intentions and methods, and also the achieved clarity of its style; as argument, however, it voices implausible conclusions about the religiousity of Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Mary Shelley, and even Percy Bysshe Shelley; but the implausibility of these conclusions should not diminish appreciation of its originality, trenchancy, and usefulness. The intelligence of its accounts of the different senses of the word "religion," its deep learning in the historical literature of religion in England (and I suspect that we are here given only the abridged version of Ryan's long view), and its exposition of the social, political, and economic crises that religion symbolized distinguish this new book profoundly from many of those that have previously treated its topics.

    Ryan points out that "it is difficult to distinguish between the political and religious aspects of the cultural transformation experienced by English society at the beginning of the nineteenth century"; the vitality of dissenting communities and of millenarianism gave "eschatological resonance to current events . . . during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras" (3). Other scholars—E. P. Thompson, M. H. Abrams, David V. Erdman, Terence Hoagwood, Ian McCalman, John Mee, and others—have argued that the relationship worked the other way: eschatological vocabularies represented the political significance of the Revolution and the war. But Ryan's concern is the relationship between those two discursive sets, sociopolitical change and religious myth.

    The introduction states the book's primary thesis: "all the poets [treated in the book] committed themselves resolutely to this work of cultural critique," wherein "the role of religion" is "a dynamic ideology behind social and political action" (4). Ryan writes that all the writers he discusses "dedicate their talents to the subversion or revision of coercive and obscurantist systems of belief" (5). Revolutionaries and reactionaries alike understood that "to discredit Christianity [as Byron does in Cain, e.g.] was to contribute to the destabilization of the British government" (7). The reformation named in the book's title refers to the writers' creative expression of "radical dissatisfaction with the state of public religion in their time" (7); rather than compensatory fantasies about a super-power promising eternal rewards in some other world, Ryan argues, "the Romantic religious agenda was a response to history, to politics, to economics" (8).

    The first chapter of The Romantic Reformation discusses "Romanticism's historical milieu," in which "religion was perceived . . . to function as an ideology of liberation rather than one of repression" (10). Ryan characterizes Milton's importance for the romantic-period poets in this context in part by citing Milton's Of Reformation (1641): "'For the property of Truth is, where she is publickly taught, to unyoke and set free the minds and spirits of a Nation first from the thraldom of sin and superstition, after which all honest and legal freedom of civil life cannot be long absent'" (quoted, 16). Ryan summarizes the social and political importance of dissenters, of the Evangelical Revival within the Established Church, and of the Catholic Question; the chapter cites aptly Richard Price, Edmund Burke, Robert Hall (Christianity Consistent with a Love of Freedom, 1791), the Anti-Jacobin Review, works by Leigh Hunt, and anonymous pamphlets, as well as the work of recent historians and critics whose work Ryan knows and acknowledges, though his own book takes different views—e.g., E. P. Thompson, Ian McCalman, John Mee, and many others (though David Worrall's Radical Culture [Wayne State University Press, 1992] is strangely absent). Ryan contends that "the poets' increasing concern with religious matters was not a retreat from social activism; it was an energetic engagement in some of the central public policy debates of the era" (23–24). Though it may seem odd to generalize in that way about "the" poets (surely poets in the period pursued different routes toward and away from religious myths), one infers that Ryan here generalizes a pattern that has long and widely been held to characterize the careers of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Ryan interprets the political force of Evangelicalism and dissent according to the suggestion of Christopher Dawson (Religion and Culture [Sheed and Ward, 1948): "Religion, though it normally exerts a conservative influence on culture, also provides the most dynamic means of social change" (25).

    Chapter 2, with its deliberately strange title, "Blake's Orthodoxy," argues that "theologically, in the belief that fallen humanity would finally be saved only through the redemptive intervention of Jesus, Blake's thought was in harmony with that of all orthodox believers" (44). (Because Ryan is admirably alert to this sort of point elsewhere, I will point out that whether such a thought amounts to orthodoxy depends entirely on what Blake might have meant by the word "Jesus.") Pointing out that "the denial of Christ's divinity" was "a criminal offense in Britain until 1813" (48), Ryan admits that Blake's "apparent equation of Christianity with imaginative freedom would seem to rob the faith of all transcendent reference" (54), but then explicates Jerusalem as a narrative on the theme that "the Savior . . . must intervene from a transcendent realm of existence to rescue mankind when the highest human gifts prove inadequate to the effort" (55). "Any effective reformation of the national religion would require a critique so radical that it might look like atheism" (56), but this chapter reads Jerusalem as an allegory of psychological, moral, and spiritual values. As Ryan knows, such allegorical exegesis has among its dangers this one: it is as easy to say and to show that atheism required expressions so cautious that the poem might even look as if it had spiritual meanings. Ryan's chapter does take into account the poem's references and meanings in connection with historical realities of economic inequality, for example the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. Ryan finds that Blake's beliefs are consistent with Christian orthodoxy according to the formulation of orthodoxy prevalent at the time.

    Chapter 3 points out that writers as different in their beliefs as John Keble and Charles Kingsley agreed in understanding and admiring Wordsworth primarily as a religious poet (80). Ryan observes that "the Excursion was the poem in which Wordsworth most directly addressed the social and economic conditions of his country" (81), and he faults twentieth-century criticism for substituting The Prelude as the main focus of critical attention and for misrepresenting Wordsworth as "a writer alienated from history and the social realities of his day" (81). Narrating Wordsworth's progress out of the Church to the position of "at least a semi-atheist" (Coleridge's phrase), Ryan argues that Wordsworth does not later abandon his radical views, but rather accommodates them to the importance of public religion in the national life.

    Ryan suggests that young Wordsworth's naturalism modulated (via pantheism) to a theologically unsettled (and uncommitted) acceptance of the social and political role of the national church. Wordsworth's "willingness specifically to identify what elsewhere he calls Spirit, Life, Presence, etc. with what others call God is a major concession to the requirements of public religious discourse" (99). Ryan reads the Excursion as a dramatic poem that "makes an admirable effort to be true to the entirety of his experience, to the radical humanism and the natural religion he had espoused earlier in his life as well as the Christian faith he had more recently embraced" (101). Ryan's otherwise careful and learned account of intellectual and religious positions stumbles for a moment when, in connection with the character of the Solitary in the Excursion, "skepticism" is treated as if it were the same thing as "repudiation of religion," whereas, as I have pointed out elsewhere, "skepticism" was and is nothing of the kind. The poem's lack of closure represents for Ryan "a dialogue that may be fruitful even if not conclusive" (116)—a good description of philosophical skepticism and likewise Ryan's own cautious and qualified judgments.

    Chapter 4 points out the hostility of Byron's contemporary reviewers, including the writers for the British Critic, a journal sponsored by the Church, toward what they perceived as his infidelity; but (in contrast to the arguments presented in previous books on Byron including those by Leslie Marchand, Edward E. Bostetter, Jerome J. McGann,. Robert F. Gleckner, Anne Mellor, and Terence Hoagwood) Ryan contends that "amidst the angry accusations of heresy and blasphemy, few readers seemed able or willing to see that Cain owed its disturbing power not to an abandonment but to a refinement of its author's characteristic ambivalence" (122). Justly, Ryan observes that, despite "a common tendency among Byron scholars to speak as if the poet lived in a continual state of metaphysical anxiety" (124), Byron's writings, in fact, exhibit a "harmonic motion between two opposing intellectual tendencies [isostheneia is the classical term for this oscillation, though Ryan does not say so] whose mutual correction resulted in something much closer to equipoise [epoche is the classical term] than to turmoil" (124). Again, however, a problem with "skepticism" troubles this discussion, when Ryan writes that "neither skepticism nor uncritical belief seemed to him an adequate response to the condition of the universe" (124). Philosophical skepticism is not the denial of any proposition, religious or otherwise; skepticism is not a dogmatic negative but rather an open mind.

    A rare scholarly lapse appears when Ryan observes that Byron was "'bred a moderate presbyterian' [Byron's phrase], having loved the Old Testament, which he enjoyed reading with his Calvinist nurse" (126). In fact, Byron was sexually abused by his nurse, Mary (or May) Gray, who succeeded her sister Agnes in the job and who was dismissed when her repeated sexual molestations of the little boy were discovered (Leslie Marchand, Byron: A Biography, Knopf, 1957). Perhaps Byron's perception of reverence for the Bible was affected by its association, in his experience, with the sexual abuse of a child. This possibility calls into question (to say the least) the sentimental picture of the little boy loving to read the Bible with his nurse. Whether in Byron's play "Cain's discomfort expresses Byron's own response to a cosmic order that is imperfect and irrational, but which, nevertheless, is unquestionably the creation of a Divine Being" is a question that I will leave for others to consider (141), as I have elsewhere suggested a very different view of Cain.

    Prior to the chapter on Keats in The Romantic Reformation, the most important critical work on Keats and religion was Ryan's previous book, Keats: The Religious Sense (Princeton University Press, 1976), which argues that Keats was a theist (as this book does, too) and articulates the historical context of Keats's religious ideas. In The Romantic Reformation, Ryan writes that for Keats "national religion . . . provided the ideological rationale for subservience to the existing order of power" (153). Trials for blasphemy—Hone's in 1817 and Carlile's in 1819, for example, "both of which Keats followed with close attention and with admiration for the defendants" (153)—characterized the political setting in which "for liberals less eager to risk prosecution and imprisonment, there were subtler ways of impugning the national faith" (153). Ryan argues that "Keats began his poetic career as a devotee of mythology in the Humean and Gibbonesque mode [associating classical mythology with a humane social order and a love of liberty and free speculation], but that he ended it subscribing to the more critical anti-mythological views of the radical deists" (154).

    Commenting on Endymion, Ryan observes that "in an ideological milieu where Pan symbolized an alternative social order to the established Christian one, Keats's Pandean festival would inevitably have had a distinctly liberal political resonance" (160)—and this observation places Ryan's book in a positive relation with Nicholas Roe's John Keats and the Culture of Dissent (Clarendon Press, 1997). In Hyperion, "having positioned himself in the vanguard of a ‘grand march of intellect' that had left superstitions like those of Milton behind, Keats tried to make his poem express the forward-looking optimism that the Enlightenment had opposed to Christianity's retrospective emphasis on the fall of man" (166). Keats's views then changed when he came to doubt or reject the promise of immortality and when his "sentiments and language" came to resemble those of Paine's Age of Reason (168). In The Fall of Hyperion "Moneta represents the irrelevance of religious myths and rituals that operate in temples secluded from the suffering world" (174). Ryan concludes that "Keats's system left no room for palpable personal deities, or mediators, or saviors, and the political crisis of autumn 1819 [including the Manchester massacre and the trial of Carlile for blasphemy] reinforced for him the necessity of rejecting all religion but the ‘abstract adoration of the Deity' allowed by the austere piety of Paine's radical faith" (178). Ryan understands well how striking that statement is, how odd is the term "piety" applied to Keats, or to Paine, and how few scholars now working in the field are likely to accept that description.

    Ryan's chapter on Frankenstein suggests that "by making a monster the exponent of the religious system that stood in radical ideological opposition to her father's views, [Mary Shelley] set up a curious dialectic by which she was able to call the Godwinian order into question without distinctly affirming the Christian alternative, which functions so ambiguously as to leave its validity in question" (181). In fact, "neither God nor demon has any role to play in this tale of curiosity, pride, and error, in which humanity has only itself to blame and fear" (181). (This reading of Frankenstein via the critique of romantic optimism connects Ryan's book with Anne Mellor's influential Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters [Methuen, 1989]). Though the monster accepts the Christian faith, on his reading of Paradise Lost, "the faith is uniquely irrelevant to him" (184). Mary Shelley's achievement was "to challenge one system [i.e., Enlightenment skepticism] without distinctly affirming the other [religion]" (189).

    Ryan's chapter on Shelley admits the implausibility of treating an avowed atheist as a religious reformer, but (citing Henry Crabb Robinson's remarks on Queen Mab and Shelley's own notes to that poem) he suggests that the term "atheist" applied at the time to those who rejected the currently prevailing version of religion, and that Shelley's rejection of all religion expressed "a purer conception of divinity" (195). Ryan interprets "Mont Blanc" as a religious poem reacting to Coleridge's "Hymn Before Sunrise, in the Vale of Chamouni" (which was actually a translation from Fredrika Brun, though Coleridge did not indicate the fact): "Shelley details the brutal, destructive side of the natural phenomena that Coleridge's absent-minded piety attributes placidly to a benevolent deity" (198); "the point of the poem is its two-edged skepticism, its genuine agnosticism" (199). Shelley understood how "the conception of God as a royal divinity assisted the sacralization of the power structure in Europe" (201).

    This chapter's reading of Hellas portrays Shelley "representing Christianity as an ideology of liberation" in a way that Ryan finds consistent with the treatment of Christ as a social and political reformer in Shelley's earlier Essay on Christianity (209). The final chorus in Hellas ("The world's great age begins anew") "expresses as much dread of historical recurrence as optimism about renewal," and (in Ryan's view of the poem, but not in mine) "what Jesus offers is the possibility of escape from historical determinism" (217). Ryan writes that "by the time he wrote Hellas, Shelley was in the habit of treating earthly realities as emblematic of higher things" (210). I will mention that others have shown the opposite—that Shelley, like many others, had a way of representing earthly conflicts in mythological form [1]. Ryan acknowledges Shelley's "final repudiation of Christianity" (222), and his chapter on Shelley ends theistically and therefore implausibly but with integrity: "those who labor for the welfare of mankind must deny the very idea of God to prevent its corruption" (223).

    The book's "Conclusion" displays briefly but wisely Ryan's informed sense of the literary context of romanticism, pointing out informatively that "the most widely read essayist of the time was not Hazlitt, Hunt, or Lamb, but John Foster, a Calvinist Baptist whose collected essays, published in 1804, ran to eighteen editions in his lifetime" (225). Though I would point out that the journalistic circulation of the work of the romantic-period essayists call such book-based claims into question, because we cannot know how many read Hunt's or Hazlitt's essays in the Examiner, for example, it is instructive to think about Hannah More's novel Cœlebs in Search of a Wife outselling Scott's Waverley (225). More to the book's point, however, are the citations of remarks by F. D. Maurice and John Henry Newman on the spiritual influence of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and other romantic-period writers. By the contemplation of such remarks by such important thinkers, one is reminded of the mutability and fallibility of interpretations. Ryan's conclusion affirms in two ways the value of the religious interest he discerns among these romantic-period writers: social values (Thomas "Merton's orthodoxy resembled Blake's in the powerful witness it bore against war, injustice, and the arrogance of power, including ecclesiastical power" [230]) and liberal humanism: "the Romantics preserved what much of the religious community abandoned, the ideal of freshness of experience, of individual freedom, of imaginative autonomy in matters of the spirit" (232). Whether or not one shares this book's view of these romantic-period writers as believers (and I do not), or even its liberal humanism, this useful book deserves both respect and repeated readings, for its informative and thoughtful narrative of Romanticism and also for the dignity and authenticity of its voice and its vision.

    I will end by noticing an important issue to which the book calls attention without ever discussing it explicitly: I refer to the unspoken but guiding assumption that the way to interpret a poem is to try to determine what were the beliefs of the person who wrote it. That is an odd belief about poetry, I am coming to think. Like the personalistic assumptions that once flourished in literary criticism with the blessing of an older school of textual criticism—the concept of a printed text as "the physical record of [the author's] intention"[2]—and like the issues that Ryan's book explores, and like The Romantic Reformation itself, such open questions are likely to be with us for a long time.

    Notes

    1. See Stuart Curran, "The Political Prometheus" (Studies in Romanticism, rpt.), in Spirits of Fire: English Romantic Writers and Contemporary Historical Methods, ed. G. A. Rosso and Daniel P. Watkins, (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990); and on Hellas, see Hoagwood, "Literary Art and Political Justice: Shelley, Godwin, and Mary Hays," in Shelley: Poet and Legislator of the World, ed. Betty T. Bennett and Stuart Curran (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996).

    2. Reiman, "Rogers's Oxford Shelley," in Reiman's Romantic Texts and Contexts (University of Missouri Press, 1987), 43; this essay is a reprint of Reiman's review of The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, vol. 1, ed. Neville Rogers, JEGP 73 (1974): 250–60.

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    Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers

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    Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. xii + 238pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8122-3393-X).

    Reviewed by
    Julie A. Carlson
    University of California, Santa Barbara

    Those of us who attend developments in romantic drama and theater are happy to greet the appearance of Catherine Burrough's Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. It advances this field in important respects by both focusing extensively on Baillie and providing some of the historical and theoretical contexts that help us to appreciate the power of Baillie's work. The lead playwright of her age and considered by some of her peers to be the best playwright since Shakespeare, Baillie pretty much had fallen from view until roughly five years ago, when she became a rising star on conference and publishing circuits in romantic studies. A few scholars—especially Margaret Carhart and Joseph Donohue—had argued long before then for the importance of Baillie's writings, but their comments fell on ears unreceptive to the drama of romantic theater or the women writing in the period. An appreciative audience for both now thrives, thanks to the many scholars whose work Burroughs generously acknowledges. It is some measure of the rapid popularity of both fields that people have been clamouring for a book on Baillie in the last years.

    Closet Stages meets this demand in a partial respect and, by its own admission, serves mainly to set the stage for a full-scale treatment of Baillie's career. In this, as in so many events associated with theater, Closet Stages may suffer from its perfect timing by not delivering exactly what audiences for romantic theater studies have been waiting to hear. For Burroughs' focus is on Baillie as a theorist of theater, not as one of the most prolific playwrights of the period, whom she situates in the context of women writing for and about the London stage between 1790 and 1840. Clearly a valuable focus as well as an indispensable resource for further studies of female playwrights in this period, this emphasis feels at times both ahead and behind of current interest in Baillie. The interpretive frame of performance studies gets ahead of the groundwork still required to assess the nature of Baillie's extraordinary accomplishments. Efforts to promote the importance of Baillie is somewhat behind the welcoming reception that already exists. Burroughs should not be faulted for the fact that the popularity of Baillie has superseded some aspects of her recovery in book form. And Burroughs deserves major credit for having prepared us to want more on Baillie from her book.

    Analysis of Baillie's "theory and dramaturgy" is one of four aims motivating Closet Stages. ("Dramaturgy" comprises analysis of the first three plays of Plays on the Passions.) The other aims provide a historical context for Baillie by featuring "women writers from the British Romantic era as theater theorists," constructing a "female-authored theater theory before 1850," and presenting "a picture of Romantic theater and drama from the perspective of women who performed on (and off) the London stage" (25, original emphasis). Its focus on women's contributions to early nineteenth-century theater supplements Judith Pascoe's Romantic Theatricality: Gender, Poetry, and Spectatorship (Cornell, 1997) and Ellen Donkin's Getting into the Act: Women Playwrights in London, 1776–1829 (Routledge, 1995) by presenting them primarily as theorists of theater performance. Burroughs argues that the theoretical pronouncements of these women have been ignored because both theater theory and romantic closet drama have been treated as provinces of men. Allowing theater women into the theoretical picture entails expanding the venues and forms that count as "theory," the advantages of which expansion are displayed in the second chapter, "Representing the Female Actor: Celebrity Narratives, Women's Theories of Acting, and Social Theaters," and the very helpful "Appendix: Selected List of Texts Containing Women's Theater Theory Published in Great Britain (1790–1840)." Drawing on celebrity memoirs, autobiographies, interviews, play prefaces, advertisements, letters, journals, diaries, and dedicatory remarks, Burroughs uncovers fascinating material by Anne Mathews, Mary Berry, Anna Jameson, Sarah Siddons, Dorothy Jordan, and Helen Maria Williams that should stimulate further work on these writers. Her situating women in the closet is even more productive for the recovery of nineteenth-century theater. It makes women's place in the home "experimental theater" (11).

    Burroughs' challenge to the alleged antitheatricality of closet drama aligns Closet Stages with Michael Simpson's Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley (Stanford, 1997). Simpson stresses the potentiality of theater that closet drama, even as a form of reading, always implies by way of illustrating how Byron's and Shelley's plays keep radical tendencies alive. Burroughs emphasizes the actuality of theater in female closet spaces by way of underscoring women's theatricalization of the private sphere. The projects investigated range from conventional to highly metaphorical understandings of theater, the benefits of which are perceived to be political as well as aesthetic. Endorsing the merger of social and theater stages advocated by performance theory, particularly its depiction of gender as act, Burroughs views the "small experimental theater" of the "female closet" as the space where "dramas and gendered identities were conceived and rehearsed, sometimes in preparation for public viewings, at other times for private or semiprivate readings and dramatizations" (11). The opportunities and difficulties of performing femininity, she contends, are negotiated through the kinds of theater to which such performances give rise. Plays by female playwrights of the period dramatize the constraints of femininity, even as they reinforce them, and depict the home as a theater of war. Private theatricals, in vogue from 1770 to 1810, provide women the opportunity to critique gender identity and the comforts of home, other benefits of which Gillian Russell has analyzed in The Theatres of War: Performance, Politics, and Society 1793–1815 (Clarendon Press, 1995). Theater theory by women underscores the anxiety of female playwrights and performers who struggle to maintain their respectability while taking the house by storm. In their own attempts to "conform to" and yet "experiment with" the "correct performance of feminine behavior" then, middle- and upper-class English women can be said to take actresses' lead (28).

    This recovery of the plays, theories, and Lives that came out of the female closet in the early nineteenth century should convince us of the illegitimacy of separating closet from stage. Maintaining the separation obscures our view of the number of women intimately concerned with theater practice in this period as well as the even larger numbers of them making theater in, and out of, their homes. The illegitimacy of this separation is all the more visible when considering the legitimate theater of Baillie, the topic of chapters three through five. Chapter three investigates Baillie's prefaces "in the context of other female playwrights who contemplate their gendered position in public theater," and chapters four and five portray Basil, De Monfort, and The Tryal as enacting theories of acting and of gender performance (73). Situating Baillie in this way highlights her distinction in failing to distinguish closet from stage, private from public, psychic from social, female from male. Baillie's plays follow "the great man into his secret closet" but envision their analysis of passion as occurring in metropolitan, rather than mental, theaters, spaces which Baillie even redesigns as part of the interiorizing of drama.

    The merging of private and public domains in the content of her plays confirms the applicability of performance theory to analysis of it. Public figures are portrayed in domestic settings which themselves house war, theater, elections, ghosts of history. Scripts are frequently metadramatic in their commentary on performance codes, and neither male nor female characters find the performance of gender all that satisfying. Characters are assessed in terms of their theatrical tendencies, where histrions like De Monfort, Rezenvelt, and Victoria are put in their place by the anti-theatrics of Jane de Monfort, Countess Albini, and Hargrave. Their place turns out to be the grave or the convent, but not while on stage—for Baillie also respects some differences between theater and life. Even the more contemporary connotations of the closet that Burroughs invokes are appropriate to the passion between Rezenvelt and De Monfort or Basil and Rosinberg. One could say that Baillie's sustained attention to how passion undermines identity performs the social and psychoanalytic work of the performances in and of her plays.

    But situating Baillie within a tradition of female theater theorists and in the terms of performance theory distorts her achievements too. Baillie is not alone in making theater out of the closet but, in my view, she is singular in her accomplishments as a theorist and playwright of closet-drama in this age. Asserting her singularity is meant less to maintain evaluative hierarchies than the distinctions that define what an artist has achieved. Not every thought is a theory, nor is every writer capable of producing one, for reasons that merit political and intellectual analysis. Nor is every performance of gender or theater worthy of review. We may still wish to distinguish storming the house through one's depiction of victimized femininity from storming around the house as a victimized female. Particularly valuable is how Baillie's plays anticipate the political ends of performance theory while remaining theater. This means that they explore gender and sexual identities as conventions that are tragic and comic and that cost some people more than others. Such insights, however, also spotlight the non-identity of early-nineteenth century and late-twentieth century closets. Queer performativity is hardly sanguine about the heterosexism of gender as a category of analysis, and it is even more suspicious of taking anyone at her word. In two regards, then, the framing chapters misconstrue their objects in my view. In attempting to record the "self-experience" of early-nineteenth century theater women, the second chapter wants a performative identity and an Authentic Life too (59). Introducing Baillie as part of a company of theater women paradoxically shows to what extent she is set apart. This may or may not be an intentional design of Closet Stages, but it deserves praise for facilitating the view. Closet Stages showcases Baillie and opens the door to further work on an exciting array of theatrical performances by early-nineteenth century women.

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    Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832

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    Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 23. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xii + 263 pp. $59.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-56357-7).

    Reviewed by
    David A. Kent
    Centennial College, Toronto

    Gary Dyer's British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832 is the twenty-third volume in the "Cambridge Studies in Romanticism," a series devoted to expanding the scope of inquiry into British Romanticism by considering matters of gender, politics, criticism, and culture. Only a few years ago, the phrase Romantic satire might have been considered an oxymoron instead of a description of a substantial body of literature. However, because this study of satiric writing in the Romantic period follows recent books by Steven Jones (Shelley's Satire) and Marcus Woods (Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790–1822), Dyer's work marks yet another step in giving adequate attention to the "astonishing" amount of satiric writing published between 1789 and 1832 (1).1

    Clearly written, painstakingly documented, and thoroughly grounded in the primary and secondary literature of its topic, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832 contains five chapters and a select bibliography listing over 700 satiric poems and narratives that appeared during the period. Chapter 1 surveys the genres and subjects of Romantic satiric expression and focuses on three poets whom critics of the day identified as important satirists: William Gifford (The Baviad, 1791, and The Maeviad, 1795); Thomas James Mathias (Pursuits of Literature, 1794–97); and John Wolcot ("Peter Pindar," who wrote more than sixty works of satirical verse between 1778 and 1817). Chapters 2 and 3 identify three kinds of satiric poetry published in the opening decades of the nineteenth century: "Neo-Juvenalian" (including Gifford and Mathias); "Neo-Horatian" (including John Cam Hobhouse and Henry Luttrell); and "Radical" (Thomas Moore, as well as Sir Charles and Lady Morgan, but also Shelley, Byron, and Leigh Hunt). Chapter 4 turns to prose and the satiric narratives of Thomas Love Peacock (the six that were published between 1815 and 1831) and Benjamin Disraeli (The Voyage of Captain Popanilla, 1828). The final chapter describes the disappearance of Romantic satire by concentrating on works by William Combe (The Tour of Dr. Syntax, in Search of the Picturesque, 1812), Jane Taylor (Essays in Rhyme, on Morals and Manners, 1816), and John Hamilton Reynolds and Thomas Hood (Odes and Addresses to Great People, 1825). Dyer presents his book as a pioneering survey of Romantic satire's literary terrain—a naming and description of the contemporary satirical traditions—and this claim has considerable validity to it. In identifying different strains of satiric writing, he provides invaluable charting and detailed descriptions of several co-existing types of satire. The two that dominated the 1790s and early 1800s were what he calls the Neo-Juvenalian and Neo-Horatian modes, the former marked by formal verse satire and heroic couplets, distinguished by its anger and harsh moralism, and practised by "men of royalist, Anglican, anti-reformist convictions" such as Gifford, Mathias, John Wilson Croker, Francis Hodgson, and George Canning (30). This first style flourished in the 1790s as patriots responded to the Jacobin threat from abroad and within, and Dyer creates a helpful profile of these like-minded men who were born into, or adopted by, the aristocratic elite and landed gentry and who were educated in classical literature at one of the ancient universities (49–50). In contrast, Dyer says the Neo-Horatian style of satire is marked by couplets, feminine or misplaced rhymes, and triple meters and hudibrastics, characterized by its comparatively mild, conciliatory tone, and practised by such writers as Luttrell, Moore, Reynolds, Hood, and Hobhouse.

    Chapter 3 is the central chapter in the book and in some respects the least focused because Dyer tries to delineate a third vein of Romantic satire, what he calls "Radical satire." The other two strains, he states, both tended "to defend existing institutions and conventions" so that writers with reformist ambitions abandoned those modes and adopted something different (57). But the techniques and methods of this other kind of satiric writing, Radical satire, are themselves so heterogeneous that this category remains elusive and elastic and therefore of necessarily more limited usefulness. Consider some of the epithets that Dyer uses to characterize Radical satire: "ironic or parodic" (67), "pluralistic and international," "mixes meters and genres," or "Polyphonic writings" (68); or, finally, "characteristically Menippean by virtue of its formal heterogeneity" (97). Radical satire embraces heterogeneity to avoid the satiric style associated with conservatism but also to blunt the "threat of persecution" (68). If Romantic satire is "hybrid" (4), why not adopt an indigenous term such as "medley" (as Steven Jones does in Shelley's Satire) on the assumption that the practitioners of this form know what they are about? 2

    However, although Dyer repeatedly links Radical satire with parody—e.g., "parody was the dominant technique of populist radicalism" (75); radical satire "relies on parody" (125); or "the parodic methods of Radical satires" (98)—the relationship between the two is never clearly delineated. Is parody a mode of satire, a subgenre, or a method satire sometimes assumes? What makes this lack of differentiation more serious is that the texts Dyer chooses to illustrate Radical satire—the Morgans' The Mohawks, Moore's The Fudge Family in Paris, Hunt's Ultra-Crepidarius, Shelley's Peter Bell the Third, and Byron's The Vision of Judgment—are themselves all clearly marked by parodic motive and features. Furthermore, Dyer generally appears to undervalue the ideological and affective power of Romantic parody, describing the parodies of Southey in The Anti-Jacobin as "amusing" (46), the parodies of Rejected Addresses as "innocuous" (56), and "Ode to Mr. Graham, the Aeronaut" by Reynolds and Hood as lacking "satiric impact" (160). Dyer is able to discover "behind Moore's apparent playfulness" in The Fudge Family the author's real "disgust and anger" (74). Yet the vicious scorn of Southey's class, his politics, and his aesthetics in The Anti-Jacobin parodies, the superb mimicry of Byron's style, Coleridge's incoherence, and Southey's epic pretensions in Rejected Addresses, and the exposure of Wordsworth's moralistic condescension (literally looking down on everyone) in the "Ode to Mr. Graham" all go unremarked. Dyer's ascription of the comic with the parodic misrepresents the fierce ideological battleground parody frequently embodied.

    Chapter 4 seeks to situate Peacock's prose narratives within the world of Romantic satiric writing, but Peacock's idiosyncratic achievement is also difficult to categorize and the chapter is curiously inconclusive. As Dyer admits, in Peacock's works the "generic boundaries are unclear" (100). Where typical Regency satire (such as Bath: a Satirical Novel, with Portraits, 1818) attacked by using personal details about individuals, Peacock's restraint and concern with public rather than private actions help his narratives to seem more comic than satiric. As the targets are more general, "the errors addressed become more prevalent" (113). Dyer's analysis of Peacock is often astute and helpful, but it is another matter to render judgments such as the following when the work in question does not fit snugly within one's preconceptions: Peacock "did not always recognize the difference in spirit between comedy and satire" (114); some of his writing is trivializing or "superficial" (115), or his "vision is, in the last analysis, contradictory" (119). The shrinking up of the satiric spirit as the 1820s drew to a close is represented by Benjamin Disraeli's The Voyage of Captain Popanilla (1828). In Disraeli's novel, satire has become "a literary exercise" and a "moribund literary mode" (127). The final chapter of Dyer's British Satire reinforces this conclusion by examining the "comic benignity" (146) of works by Combe, Taylor, and Reynolds and Hood. Punning, realism, the force of economic influence (the popularity of poetry declined), cultural imperatives implied by middle class ascendancy and religious earnestness all were factors in this shift to Victorian concerns.

    The select bibliography that concludes the book quantifies the argument for the significance of satiric writing in the period. It is described as a supplement to J. R. de J. Jackson's Annals of Romantic Verse, 1770–1835: A Preliminary Survey of the Volumes Published (New York: Garland, 1985) and could itself contribute to the widening investigation of Romantic satire which Dyer wishes to encourage. It is understandable that he was unable to identify many authors of the satires since so many were either anonymous or pseudonymous. Nor was he was able to include in the bibliography any of the satiric verse that was published in newspapers or magazines. But this latter fact underscores the need to continue the probe since those kinds of publications harbour a large mass of work needing exhumation. It is also unfortunate that, with perhaps a few exceptions (see 220), brief annotations were not possible in this bibliography. (At some point evaluative judgments will be needed to discriminate between the good and the bad writing amongst the bushels of recovered satiric material, though Dyer would obviously deem such an undertaking now as much too premature.) The bibliography demonstrates how Romantic satiric writings form clear continuities with eighteenth-century satire, and the recurring topics (fashionable life, the Regent, the theater, etc.) and writers (John Agg, C. F. Lawler, N. T. H. Bayly, etc.) point to preoccupations and authors needing further analysis. Nevertheless, examining more closely the entries on William Hone (in whom I have an interest), I became somewhat perplexed about the rationale for the selection. While some of the imitations of, or responses to, Hone's works such as Non Mi Ricordo are included (The Radical Ladder; or, Hone's Political Ladder and His Non Mi Ricordo Explained and Applied. . . .), the Hone original seems to be absent, as are his parodies on the Book of Common Prayer and one of his most effective satires, The Political Showman—at Home! Furthermore, Dyer includes several works that may have once been attributed to Hone but which he himself disowned (e.g., The Man in the Moon) or of which he is no longer thought to be the author (e.g., Plenipo and the Devil, The House Queen Caroline Built, or The Queen That Jack Found).3 Evidently, recovering the precise bibliographical facts around the many anonymous or pseudonymous works in this listing will itself be challenging research.

    Dyer's book is an important beginning to a needed reappraisal of Romantic satire. His mapping of the field establishes benchmarks from which future studies will profit. If "taxonomy" is too ambitious a term to describe the methodology of British Satire and the Politics of Style 1789–1832 (3, 21), this book does effectively outline highlights of the topography, and it shows convincingly that much additional work is needed if we are to appreciate and understand the importance of satiric writing within Romantic literature.

    Notes

    1 Steven Jones, Shelley's Satire: Violence, Exhortation, and Authority (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1994); Marcus Woods, Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790–1822 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994).

    2 See Jones, 93–94. One of the titles included by Dyer is Lucubrations of Scriblerus: A Satirical Medley (Birmingham: William Cooper, 1827).

    3 For Hone's disavowal of The Man in the Moon, see Facetiae and Miscellanies (1827), vii. The most thorough analysis of Hone's canon is Ann Bowden, "William Hone's Political Journalism, 1815–1821," Ph.D. diss., University of Texas, 1975.

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    Nancy Easterlin, Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion"

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    Nancy Easterlin, Wordsworth and the Question of Romantic Religion. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1996. 182 pp. $33.50 (Hdbk; ISBN 0 8387 5309 4).

    Reviewed by
    Beth Bradburn
    Boston College

    Nancy Easterlin's Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion" vividly manifests both the advantages and the pitfalls of an interdisciplinary approach to literature. Easterlin addresses the question of Romantic religion by thinking about religion, and by bringing to bear the cumulative insights of the field known as psychology of religion. She argues persuasively that the psychological study of religious experience may productively rediscribe some important tensions in Romanticism; for example, she points out that it is "the paradoxical discrepancy between religion defined, on the one hand, as affective experience—state of heightened consciousness or intuition of the divine, for example—and, on the other, as organized belief systems that describes the characteristic and manifestly problematic religiousness of romanticism" (29). The tension between individual and social that seems to pervade Romanticism is, in other words, also the paradox of religion.

    This recognition opens up a partial insight into the formal project of Romantic poetry. Easterlin contends that religious debates which distinguish spirituality, or subjective religious experience, from ritual and dogma are brought on by the faltering of orthodox beliefs. It is precisely religious orthodoxy, however, that promotes the faith that affirms the authenticity of subjective religious experience. Any effort to validate individual spirituality through poetry actually ends up undermining faith, because "the highest order of religious experience is by definition extraconceptual, and therefore extralinguistic" (49), and because the very project of writing poetry calls attention to the individual human consciousness and cognitive processes at work, thereby weakening the perceived reality of mystical states.

    This psychological paradox provides the key to Easterlin's reading of three of Wordsworth's major works. "Tintern Abbey" sets up and expresses the paradox. The Prelude and Ecclesiastical Sonnets both represent efforts to resolve it, The Prelude by "deemphasizing religious experience per se and instead elaborating a monistic conception of reality which is the characteristic result of mystical experience" (47), and Ecclesiastical Sonnets by moving away from the spiritual toward the orthodoxy of ritual and dogma. Easterlin attributes Wordsworth's poetic decline in part to the gradual failure of his conviction that poetry can provide the assurance offered by religious institutions.

    This approach works well in the chapter on "Tintern Abbey," which Easterlin insists is generated by a "contingent need to recover, reinterpret, and communicate the value of mystical experience" (64). She argues that several passages are best interpreted, in terms of both language and imagery, as attempts to render a particular type of religious experience; her insight demonstrates a most effective use of interdisciplinary study. Psychologists of religion have a typology of religious experience that literary critics lack; some aspects of "Tintern Abbey" are visible only from the vantage point of another discipline. "Psychology of religion," by the way, is a subfield of the contemporary discipline of cognitive psychology, not of psychoanalysis. Easterlin devotes a large part of her first chapter to distinguishing psychological models from psychoanalytic ones, and her eloquent critique of literary scholars' over reliance on Freudian theory invigorates her crossing of disciplines.

    Of course, one problem with an interdisciplinary approach to literary scholarship is that the imported discipline may be emphasized at the expense of literary critical or historical considerations. Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion" falls into this trap, resulting in a general sense of inadequate historical grounding. Though Easterlin's explication of the psychology of religion is important and interesting, I sometimes felt that I was learning more about William James than about William Wordsworth. Other than the major poetic texts under consideration, there is very little of Wordsworth's other writing, or even other Romantic-era material, quoted or alluded to. While I find plausible the assumption that a neuropsychologically grounded theory of religion has some claim to transhistorical application, Easterlin's speculations about the effects of an unstable religious orthodoxy suffer from the absence of any discussion of how that instability played out both in Wordsworth's life and in the larger historical and cultural context.

    Moreover, the entire project of interpreting Wordsworth's poetic trajectory in terms of a move toward religious orthodoxy depends on the unexamined premise that traditional poetic forms have a fairly simple relationship to traditional religious dogma and ritual. Easterlin appears to take it for granted that linguistic features directly represent philosophical concepts, saying, for instance, that "Wordsworth's habit of merging literal and figurative language" (98) is an elaboration of his philosophy of the inseparability of the real and the imaginary. Such assertions are symptomatic of a larger problem with the book; ultimately, Easterlin's application of psychology of religion does little more than rename philosophical and aesthetic tensions to which the Romantics themselves consciously attended. The potential for new insight is realized only in partial and sporadic ways.

    Clearly, however, the potential is there; I never lost faith in Easterlin's insistence that what cognitive psychologists now know about religious experience in general may help us understand Romantic religious experience in particular. The book is valuable and instructive for its intelligent effort to work outside psychoanalytic theory; but attempts to rethink the psychological models we use to understand Romanticism must integrate other recent critical insights, particularly those of New Historicism.

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