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Frans de Bruyn, The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke: The Political Uses of Literary Form

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Frans De Bruyn, The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke: The Political Uses of Literary Form (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). xii + 318pp. $72.00 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-19-812182-2).

Reviewed by
Tim Fulford
Nottingham Trent University

Frans De Bruyn makes the purpose of The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke clear at the outset. "This study," he writes, "seeks to redeem Burke as a literary figure for our time by reviving a historical sense of what literary discourse meant for him and his contemporaries" (viii). The late twentieth-century reader, it seems, must undergo nothing less than a conversion experience, becoming an honorary subject of George III, to understand Burke's importance today. The conversion in question proves less difficult than might be expected since what De Bruyn wants us to acquire is a pre-Romantic mindset in which the literary is not separated from the political, nor the fictional from the factual. He wants us, in other words, to put aside the influence of the Romantic Ideology and to value as literary a discourse that participates in the partisan issues of its day. After the strictures of Jerome J. McGann, most Romanticists are keen enough to do just so, and indeed, recent studies by Steven Blakemore (Burke and the Fall of Language [University Press of New England, 1988]), Christopher Reid, (Edmund Burke and the Practice of Political Writing [St. Martin's Press, 1985]), and Tom Furniss, (Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology [Cambridge University Press, 1993]) approach Burke in exactly the way that De Bruyn recommends.

If De Bruyn is not the only recent literary scholar to approach Burke from the perspective of a new historicism, he is one of the best. The particular strengths of The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke arise from the author's demonstration that eighteenth-century political language was informed, at the levels of genre as well as of style and of allusion, by literary models both native and classical. Many recent discussions of Burke have focused almost exclusively on his reaction to the French Revolution. Not De Bruyn. While he does devote much attention to Burke's extraordinary 1790s rhetoric, he shows that it was a development of a discourse that he had first sketched out in response to politics at home and in the colonies. Burke's opposition to war with the American colonies, his indictment of Warren Hastings for abusing his power in India, his reaction to the Gordon Riots, all receive detailed assessment. In each case, Burke is shown to have manipulated the epic style of Milton and Virgil and the satirical techniques of Pope and Swift.

The Burke who emerges from De Bruyn's portrait is one who should serve to remind all Romanticists of the persistence of earlier eighteenth-century models in the writing we have come to call Romantic. De Bruyn amply demonstrates that Pope, for instance, informs not just the language but the very form of the text that so enthralled Coleridge and Wordsworth—the Letters on a Regicide Peace. As in The Dunciad, literary criticism becomes the form through which political argument is made. Burke makes the bad writing of his opponents into evidence of their politically dangerous lack of judgment. The aristocrats who defended the French Revolution become, in his prose, Pope's dunces resurrected. Their failure to make intellectual distinctions, a failure revealed by their prose, "vividly enacts the obliteration of difference that Pope identifies as the ultimate threat to England's cultural distinctiveness—indeed, to the possibility of culture itself" (259). "At this point," De Bruyn concludes, "critical and political discourse have become almost indistinguishable" (255). Byron, of course, used The Dunciad in the same way in Don Juan, and although De Bruyn neither considers Byron nor the other Romantics, his arguments implicitly demonstrate just why they continued to find Burke so compelling.

Among the many virtues of this fine, clearly-written book is its variety. De Bruyn has new light to throw on Burke's Miltonic and biblical sublime. He shows that Burke had recourse to the apocalyptic tones of Jeremiah in conscious opposition to what he saw as the shallow and naïvely optimistic prophetic discourse of Dr Richard Price. Burke's transformation of his literary models is shown here, as elsewhere in the book, to occur in response to the local context of a particular occasion. What this implies—although De Bruyn does not theorize it explicitly—is a historicized model of literary influence in which, pacé Bloom, the great predecessor is not so much Oedipally confronted, as adapted to fit the matter in hand. And that matter, for Burke, was usually a partisan matter, examined in the heat of parliamentary debate.

The relationship between Burke's parliamentary speeches and his writings, between the different occasions and audiences prompting his discourse, is perhaps too briefly examined in De Bruyn's text. In the 1790s Burke had increasing recourse, De Bruyn shows, to the genre of the open letter. This was also the period in which he found it hard to command the attention of parliament. Perhaps his move to a form of ad hominem writing was an attempt to reconstitute in prose the charged personal confrontations that occurred across the floor of the House of Commons. The Letter to a Noble Lord is perhaps a case in point. De Bruyn, however, views the letter-genre in another context and, in a powerful analysis, shows that it is the product of a peculiarly late eighteenth-century tension, between the desire of the self-made literary man to demonstrate his independence, on the one hand, and the need to defer to aristocrats who controlled patronage, on the other. With the emergence of a mass reading public around the turn of the century, De Bruyn shows, the energy which had fed the public letter began to move into the novel form. Burke's Letter is, thus, the last of a genre.

Much of the excellence of The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke comes from the author's refusal to oversimplify. He is alert to Burke's own contradictions and complexities and never forces texts into a single generic framework. He patiently shows, for instance, how Burke's public letters also incorporate other elements, including Scriblerian satire, elegy, and theatrical scenes. Indeed, he devotes whole sections to dramatic tableaux in the Reflections on the Revolution in France and to masquerade in the Letters on a Regicide Peace. In these sections he successfully introduces a methodological element a little different from that used elsewhere in the book. He uses the research of social historians to place Burke's characterization of the French Revolution as a grotesque drama in the context of the rituals of street protests. Examining the London crowd's predilection for mock executions, processions, progresses and enthronements, and revealing the government's alarm about these demonstrations at the time of the Gordon Riots, he produces a nuanced and historicized explanation, both for Burke's choice of topos and for its effect on readers at the time.

De Bruyn, then, largely attains his aim of reviving a sense of what literary discourse meant for Burke and his contemporaries. He succeeds not just in presenting a more historicized Burke to literary critics, but also in offering a more subtly, and self-consciously, literary one to historians, who can no longer retain any excuse for considering Burke's ideas as if they were separable from his means of expression. Successful in his main purpose, De Bruyn also does much to illuminate eighteenth-century discourse more widely. The best chapter in the book is a discussion of the political uses of Georgic which unravels with great skill the causes of its gradual decline. If Romanticism starts with Burke and Burke's reaction to the French Revolution, De Bruyn shows us that we can comprehend neither without the thorough understanding of eighteenth-century contexts that this book will help us to achieve.

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Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century, edited by Adriana Craciun & Zofloya, or, The Moor, edited by Kim Ian Michasiw

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Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century Edited and introduced by Adriana Craciun (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1997). [xvii] + 303pp. $15.95 (Pap; ISBN: 1-55111-146-2).
Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya, or, The Moor Edited and introduced by Kim Ian Michasiw (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997). [xxiv] + 280pp. $11.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-283239-5).

Reviewed by
Michael Gamer
University of Pennsylvania

One hundred and ninety-one years after its first publication, Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya; or, The Moor finally has received not one new edition but two.1 The respective editors of the Broadview and Oxford editions, Adriana Craciun and Kim Ian Michasiw, take similar editorial approaches with Dacre's romance, basing their own texts on the first edition of 1806, keeping nearly all spelling and punctuation irregularities, and only correcting obvious inconsistencies and errors (such as the multiple spellings of the name of Zofloya's femme fatale Magalena Strozzi). Given the relatively simple editorial history of their text, such an approach is a blessing because it retains Zofloya's linguistic excesses and allows readers, therefore, to intuit the relation between Zofloya's language and its preoccupation with representing sexual, emotional, and physical violence.

Michasiw's introduction is accessible, capacious in its knowledge of eighteenth-century gothic fiction, and informed regarding recent developments in gothic and Romantic studies. Besides providing a good general overview of Dacre's life and literary career, it deftly unpacks the issues raised by Zofloya's handling of race and female desire and explains Dacre's long absence from literary studies with force and efficiency:

[Dacre] is precisely the sort of woman author unlikely to have appealed to Victorian critics—one tarred both by Romanticism and by reaction; one who wrote both 'sundry novels in the style of the first edition of The Monk' and political ballads for the popular press. Moreover, in neither her associations nor her novels was she likely to win friends among those twentieth-century scholars seeking to exhume the worthy works of forgotten women writers. Dacre is not quite early enough to be forgiven her lapses in emotional taste; her political commitments are not easily assimilated into later twentieth-century norms; she is conventionally associated with male Gothic; her novels are populated by sexually predatory, physically violent, mother-hating women of whom the narrations appear to approve. In sum, Dacre is precisely the sort of writer whom canons, both established and revisionist, are designed to exclude, an exclusion this edition hopes, in part, to rectify. (xiv)

Yet for both Michasiw and Craciun, Dacre's "lapses in emotional taste" are what make her such a fascinating study and such a "worthy" candidate for revaluation. Both stress the uniqueness of Zofloya's heroine, Victoria, in the fiction of these decades; while this may be a slight overstatement, there is no way to overstate the ways that Dacre—and especially Zofloya—force us to reformulate fundamental and received critical "truths" about gothic fiction's handling of gender. In a field traditionally divided into Male (or "Horror") gothic and Female (or "Terror") gothic, Dacre's novel demonstrates not only that women writers can out-Lewis Lewis, but also that these same writers might create, as Michasiw describes Zofloya, "a bold synthesis of the supposedly opposed Gothic forms of Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis . . . without hesitation" (viii). One need go no further than this point to understand the need and timeliness of these editions, since Zofloya challenges the longstanding notion that male and female gothic writers are either naturally or culturally attracted to different aesthetics and conventions. As both Craciun and Michasiw note, however, Dacre does not so much disprove the idea of a gendered gothic so much as historicize it and force us to imagine it as a dialectical process—wherein the "antithetical" gothics of Radcliffe and Lewis combine in Dacre's text into a new synthetic form.

Craciun's introduction, entitled "Charlotte Dacre and the 'vivisection of virtue,'" is longer than Michasiw's, and provides a similar breadth of detail and engrossing panorama of Dacre's life and the ideas that inform her writing. As its title suggests, however, this essay is as much an article as a general introduction, and as a critical essay constitutes a persuasive and important reading of Dacre's fiction. Craciun's main interests lie in Zofloya's similarity to the novels of Sade and in the multiple ways in which its heroine Victoria challenges established arguments about gothicism, Romanticism, and gender. She also spends considerable time in her commentary on Dacre's final novel, The Passions (1811)—compellingly enough that one hopes Broadview will soon authorize an edition of this novel as well. Associating Ann Mellor's concept of "feminine Romanticism" with its female gothic counterpart, Craciun argues that such "gender complementary models . . . to a large extent depend on an author's biography and their sex, and therefore in a sense re-produce a circular argument as to what constitutes a woman's text" (13). Had Zofloya been published anonymously or under a male pseudonym, she maintains, its readers "would have assumed the author to be male" (13); Dacre's decision to publicize her gender, then, explains at least in part why the novel was received in such vitriolic terms, since reviewers were "distressed by the dissonance between the sexual content of Dacre's novel and Dacre's sex" (13). In Craciun's account, Zofloya's value extends outside of its genre and historical period, since it challenges foundational assumptions concerning what constitutes a "feminist" or a "woman's" text. Its contemporary reception and subsequent neglect by literary historians, furthermore, embody the critical and canonical consequences of transgressing against such assumptions.

That Zofloya is now available in affordable form on two different presses—and in two engaging editions—bodes well for its continued presence both in print and in critical studies of Romanticism, gothicism, and the novel. Either edition, furthermore, will function admirably in the classroom. While hardly mutually exclusive, Michasiw's and Craciun's critical introductions differ enough from one another so that instructors teaching Zofloya in the undergraduate or graduate classroom would do well to place both in the hands of their students. The two essays between them address issues of authorship, gender, performance, race, genre, class, the body, canonicity, historicism, and the history of aesthetics. One suspects, furthermore, that what material differences do exist between the editions stem less from the decisions of their editors (both have done excellent work) than from those of their respective publishers. Michasiw's sparser edition follows a fairly standard Oxford format, providing a general introduction, note on the text, chronology of Dacre's life, and select bibliography; there also is a "Note on Names" that addresses Dacre's fondness for allusive naming. Given the quality of Michasiw's work, one reads his edition wondering whether it could have provided more supplementary materials than it does and wishing—as one usually does with an Oxford paperback—that it were printed on better paper. In contrast, Craciun and Broadview have put forward not only a book of better quality in the material sense, but also a more complete edition with regard to the materials they have included. In addition to the features of the Oxford edition, Craciun's provides a better reproduction of Dacre's "Rosa Matilda" portrait, relevant selections from Bienville's Nymphomania, or, A Dissertation Concerning the Furor Uterinus (1771), ample selections of Dacre's poetry, the full text of the chapbook version of Zofloya (The Daemon of Venice [1810]), a more exhaustive bibliography, and nearly all of the substantial contemporary reviews of Zofloya. The reviews are particularly suggestive, so much so that one wishes Craciun could have provided the entire corpus of Dacre's reception. What she does include provides the most compelling evidence in the edition of Zofloya's generic instability and ultimate transgressiveness, since the reviews themselves condemn Dacre's romance in the strongest possible language for the "furor" of its language and the explicitness of its explorations of sadism, sexuality, and power.

 

Notes

1. Summers' edition (with introduction) was published in London by the Fortune Press in 1928 in a hardback edition of only 600 copies. He devotes, oddly enough, only three pages of his twenty-eight-page introduction to Dacre; the other twenty-five pages focus upon the superiority of Ann Radcliffe to Matthew Lewis. Further, Summers neither claims to have edited Zofloya nor does he provide notes; the text appears to be simply a reprinting of the 1806 edition. Similarly, Zofloya was reprinted in facsimile form by Arno Press in 1974 with an introduction by Devendra Varma. It therefore seems safe to conclude that Michasiw's and Craciun's editions constitute the scholarly editions of Zofloya.

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The Examiner 1808–1822, Vols. 6–10 (1813–1817), introduced by Yasuo Deguchi

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The Examiner 1808–1822. Vols. 6–10 (1813–1817). Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi. London: Pickering & Chatto Publishers, 1997. 4,240pp. £550.00/$850.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-85196-426-6).

Reviewed by
Charles Mahoney
University of Connecticut

Keats saved his back issues to send to his brother George in America; in Florence, Shelley learned of the Peterloo massacre when his copy arrived; John Gibson Lockhart ridiculed it in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine as but the "Cockney Court-Gazette"; and Southey not only censured it in The Quarterly Review but also fumed to Lord Lonsdale that its editor ought to be transported to Botany Bay. Whether inclined to subscribe to or proscribe it, you could not ignore The Examiner in the 1810s. And now, with Pickering & Chatto's invaluble reprint of its first fifteen years, 1808–1822, it is once again possible to understand why, week after week, The Examiner was and is the indispensable index of the political and literary culture of Regency England. The volumes before us here, 1813–1817, constitute the second installment of Pickering & Chatto's three-year project: the first five volumes (1808–1812, culminating in the Hunts' trial and conviction on charges of libel), were published in 1996, and the last five (1818–1822, from the height of its literary influence through Leigh Hunt's resignation of the editorship), are scheduled to appear in December, 1998. Pickering & Chatto's impressively legible reprint (made from the Cambridge University Library set) has already begun to provide scholars of Romantic studies with a timely opportunity to recalibrate their understanding of "political Romanticism" in terms of the effects of the Regency, the Napoleonic Wars, and their catastrophic aftermath on English prospects for Reform. When complete, The Examiner, 1808–1822 will again be available to radicals and apostates alike as (according to The Edinburgh Review in 1823) "the ablest and most respectable of the publications that issue from the weekly press."

As the most liberal as well as literary of the radical weeklies from the Convention of Cintra to the death of George III, The Examiner's history is in innumerable ways also the history of the second generation of English Romantic writers, politicians, and artists: Brougham's political career was implicated in The Examiner long after he defended the Hunts against charges of seditious libel in 1811 and again in 1812; Haydon's painting was passionately championed by Hunt from the earliest days of the Regency; Hazlitt emerged as an irascibly prescient literary, dramatic, and political critic in his reviews here from 1814 forward; Keats published his first poetry in its pages in 1816; and Shelley published poetry, reviewed books, and composed editorials for it before leaving for Italy in 1818. And of course it is in The Examiner that we can find the most trenchant analyses of the political apostasies of the first generation: Hunt's critique of the office of the Poet Laureate and Southey's appointment to it in 1813; Hazlitt's reviews of The Excursion in 1814; Hunt's demystification of Southey and Wordsworth's writing on Waterloo in 1816; and, throughout the winter of 1816–17, Hazlitt's unremitting exposure and ridicule of the political shufflings of Coleridge and Southey attendant upon the publication of The Statesman's Manual and Wat Tyler, accompanied by Hunt's mock "burial" of "the late Mr. Southey."

The years under review here, 1813–1817, are crucial to an understanding of The Examiner's development from an independent weekly newspaper advocating Reform, principally through exposing the vices and corruptions of the Court, into an increasingly literary review, one intent upon advancing its cadre of house writers while cultivating its own agenda for English letters. (The Examiner's weekly sales fell dramatically during this period—from close to 10,000 during the height of interest in the Hunts' trial in 1812, to an average of 4,000 in 1817—but throughout, its objectives remained, as Hunt recalled in the Autobiography, "to assist in producing Reform in Parliament, liberality of opinion in general . . . , and a fusion of literary taste into all subjects whatsoever.") While it has long been commonplace to observe that, by the time of the Hunts' release from prison in 1815, The Examiner was no longer as feisty as it had been, the changes were not nearly so deleterious as Edmund Blunden (Hunt's biographer, and the most notable advocate of this line of criticism) has represented them to have been. According to this story, imprisonment numbed Leigh Hunt: he lost his editorial enthusiasm for (as well as influence over) political causes during these middle years and, consequently, precipitated the paper's slide from political independence to literary partisanship, from the high-minded espousal of Reform to a middlebrow indulgence in belles-lettres, until it eventually emerged as, according to Blunden, "a journal for poets and amateurs of literature" (Leigh Hunt: A Biography [London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1930], 96). This is neither accurate nor compelling. Yes, Leigh Hunt did make over his persona during his imprisonment—from upright patriotic editor into sybaritic Italianate poetaster—but the paper's broader scope and appeal did not diminish so much as enhance its political potency. It wasn't until 1817, after all, that Southey denounced "Mr. Examiner" in The Quarterly Review for his seditious, licentious "patriotism" (see "The Rise and Progress of Popular Disaffection," 1818); and Lockhart did not launch his 1817–18 Blackwood's attacks on the factitious "Cockney School" at a weekly poetry review for "amateurs," but at a dangerously influential venue for liberalism in politics and literary taste. Nevertheless, Hunt's increasing attention to "literary taste" and the "spirit of literature" has routinely been cited as an opportunity either to champion (Blunden) or denigrate (E. P. Thompson) the paper as more properly belles-lettristic than political, more middlebrow than radical. But when we consider that, as Hunt himself noted, "many intelligent persons of both sexes, who would, perhaps, never have attended to politics under other circumstances" read The Examiner, the emphasis on things literary suddenly appears decidedly political.

Louis Landré (still The Examiner's ablest reader) presents a more complicated and, not surprisingly, more compelling account, arguing that The Examiner did not suffer but in fact thrived due to Hunt's imprisonment, for, during these years, "Hunt applied himself to the paper with greater zeal, assured himself of brilliant collaborators, and advantageously identified himself with the paper to which he owed his incarceration" (Leigh Hunt: contribution à l'histoire du Romanticísme Anglais, 2 vols. [Paris: Société d'éditions, 1936], 1: 81). Indeed, the Hunts' imprisonment may be said to have resulted in an even more radical paper. From the start, Hunt had aspired to shape a paper that would not only stand apart from similar publications but that would also have the last word: "The Examiner had been quickly affirmed as a politically avant-garde journal, and eventually it was bound to occupy an analogous position in the literary world" (1: 92). Whether criticizing politics, the theater, or contemporary literature, The Examiner was committed throughout to articulating a provocative, vigilant independence of opinion on all matters—not an amateur but a decidedly avant-garde tenet.

A number of closely related events at this time conspired to produce a paper that was radical in its literary as well as its political opinions: the appointment of Southey as Poet Laureate in 1813; the addition of Hazlitt as a regular contributor the following year; the creation of regular "Literary Notices" early in 1816 (a consequence of Hazlitt's lengthy critique of The Excursion, the first substantial "book review" to run in The Examiner); and Hunt's friendships with Shelley and Keats following his notice of their work in his December, 1816, article "Young Poets." Though Hunt had been motivated from the start to refine the vulgar and corrupt style of political writing through proceeding according to "a diligent respect for the opinion of literary readers" (as he announced in the Preface to the bound volume for 1808), it was really only with his two-year imprisonment that he was able to bring to English literature (including his own poetry, as he revised The Feast of the Poets and completed The Story of Rimini) the same degree of attention he had previously given to contemporary English politics. It is from this period forward that the "Political Examiner" (the lead article of the week) is increasingly indistinguishable from the "Literary Notice" (Hazlitt's four-part series of 1816–17, "Illustrations of The Times Newspaper," for example, was run under both headings) as The Examiner grew increasingly liberal in both the range and tenor of its coverage. Indeed, it is precisely this collusion of the literary with the political that makes so much of the ostensibly "political" writing of the 1810s so unpredictably "literary," and nowhere more so than in the volatile pages of The Examiner.

In order to reconfigure our understanding of The Examiner's transformation between 1813 and 1817, let us return to and take our cues from the decisive moment of the 1812 trial. It is here, in the Hunts' criticisms of the presiding judge, Lord Ellenborough, that we can glimpse a political reasoning which will inform both Leigh Hunt's and Hazlitt's indictments of the Lake poets (as well as, more generally, the "office" of the poet) in the years to come. Merely a few days before their conclusive trial on charges of libel in December, 1812, the Hunts addressed an open letter to Lord Ellenborough in the "Political Examiner" of 6 December, in lieu of entering a direct protest on the day of the trial against Ellenborough's position on the Bench. Having accepted a position on the Regent's Privy Council, Hunt pointed out, Ellenborough had compromised the necessary independence a judge ought to be able to claim and was, therefore, unfit to preside over a case alleging a libel against the Regent. Hunt's reasoning on the matter—that a court has a "pernicious effect on any individual's independence," which "consideration alone should have persuaded your Lordship not to unite two offices in one person, each of which prevents the proper discharge of the other and the just reputation of both"—is characteristic of The Examiner's emphasis on sturdy individual "common sense" and, more particularly, "independence" of judgment. "Will your Lordship venture to assure us," Hunt queried, "that there has been no real change of late years in your character and opinions,—no change between Mr. Law and Lord Ellenborough,—no change from the untitled advocate, who vindicated the general cause of independence and resisted the overbearing temper of his superiors, to the titled Judge, who is for promulgating the most aristocratical and unconstitutional opinions . . . ?" In confronting Ellenborough thus, Hunt was himself bluntly "vindicating the general cause of independence," as he would do after his sentencing in refusing all offers of monetary assistance to alleviate the weight of the fines levied by the court. In the weeks following the sentencing on 5 February 1813 (the Hunts were fined £500, imprisoned separately for two years apiece, and ordered to provide another £500 upon the expiration of the sentence as surety for future good behavior), Hunt produced a series of editorials on their sentencing, culminating in a summary listing of their objections to the whole of the proceedings on 28 February (including the arbitrary method of accusation as well as the impropriety of both the packed jury and the judge).

In confronting Ellenborough with his ostensible loss of independence, Hunt challenged the judge in terms similar to those he would use less than a year later in objecting to Southey's acceptance of the laureatship. In each case, it is the luxurious attractions of the Court that pose the most dangerous obstacle for anyone who would retain his liberty of opinion. Dismissing the office as "an absurdity degrading both to the political and poetical character of the country" (29 August 1813), Hunt argued that it compromised the characteristic "English spirit of independence" through binding the poet who accepts it to "be a panegyrist whether he really admires the object of his panegyric or not" (15 August), thus reducing him to a literary sycophant who has bartered his verses for laurels. When the author of Joan of Arc and the Botany Bay Eclogues then accepted the position in September, Hunt denounced Southey for having abandoned his poetic and political independence for "the pleasant path of preferment." How can Southey vindicate himself, Hunt demanded, "from the charge of having forfeited his proper sense of what is exemplary and free, and of sliding into the man of the world?" (26 September 1813). For Hunt (as well as Hazlitt, covering the appointment for The Morning Chronicle), Southey could not, and his acceptance of the tainted laurels branded him an apostate at the same time as it precipitated an increasingly public interrogation of the relations between literary and political power that would reach its climax with the pirated publication of Wat Tyler in 1817. Hunt's reflections on the laureatship gain additional resonance when we recall not only that he was imprisoned at this time as the price for exercising The Examiner's own "proper sense of what is exemplary and free," but also that he was engaged in revising The Feast of the Poets (with its sharp, impatient pronouncements upon contemporary poets) as well as resuming work on The Story of Rimini. In taking it upon himself to defend the practice of poetry against the temptations (indeed, the charges) of servility, Hunt had begun to formulate the tenets of his own defense of the increasingly literary nature of The Examiner.

After its spirited denunciation of Southey's apostasy in 1813, The Examiner only briefly noted his first commission, the "Carmen Triumphale; or Ode for the New Year," on 16 January 1814, dismissing it in passing for its mercenary loyalties and commonplace prosody. It wasn't until Hazlitt's tripartite consideration of The Excursion (21, 28 August; 2 October 1814) that The Examiner began to devote any substantial energy to the criticism of contemporary literature. Hazlitt had begun writing for the paper in May, 1814 (contributing pieces on Shakespeare's posthumous fame, Hogarth's Marriage à la Mode, and Kean's Iago), and this review marks his first published evaluation of Wordsworth, not to mention (aside from brief remarks on Southey occasioned by his acceptance of the laureatship) his first criticism of contemporary poetry. By the end of the year, Hazlitt was sufficiently established with the paper that Hunt promised his readers that The Examiner would continue the "occasional articles on Literary and Philosophical Subjects" by one "W.H." (25 December 1814).

Hunt's remarks appear in what was billed as the "New Prospectus of The Examiner" (25 December 1814), simultaneously an appraisal of the paper's evolution from 1808 and a notification of its continuing makeover as the Hunts readied themselves for their release from prison in February, 1815. Both less idealizing and more evasive than its 1807 predecessor, this curious programme-statement does not reiterate (as habitual readers might expect) the paper's commitment to exposing corruption in Court and Parliament, but emphasizes instead that its "main intention is the preservation of that Public Spirit, popularly and properly so called, which priding itself on the independent exercise of a sturdy common sense . . . , tends to keep the community in proper condition." As Landré has remarked of this turning-point, Hunt wanted, without abandoning the principles that had sustained him until then, to give the paper both a more discriminating manner and a more literary character (1: 91). To that end, though Hunt reassured his readers that The Examiner would continue to maintain "an absolute freedom from all Newspaper corruption and trickery" in demonstrating that "Politics are as triable by the touchstone of common sense and virtue as everything else," those same readers would, nevertheless, "not meet in the Examiner with the more customary subjects of political writing." As becomes increasingly apparent from 1815 forward, the spirits of the community envisioned by Hunt will require ever greater distillates from fashionable and literary topics, such as Hunt's sonnets on Hampstead, the "Round Table" series to which both he and Hazlitt contributed, and of course the "Literary Notices." The Examiner was not abandoning political writing so much as renegotiating the definitions of what constituted its "customary subjects," and no one writer would prove more influential in shaping the paper's political profile in this regard than Hazlitt.

In the first number for 1815, the proposed "General Examiner" (announced in the prospectus as a series of articles on "subjects of Miscellaneous Interest, Literature, Manners, &c.") was renamed and initiated as "The Round Table," loosely conceived at that moment as a modern counterpart to the eighteenth-century periodical essay, though preferring a "plain, straight-forward behavior" to the disguises and assumed characters developed by Addison and Steele (1 January 1815). Hunt, the self-appointed "president" of the knights of this round table, announced the following week that their subjects would encompass "Manners, or the surface of society, Morals, metaphysically considered . . . , and Taste, or right feeling upon things both external and internal" (8 January 1815). "Taste" commanded Hunt's attention more explicitly than either morals or manners and entailed, first and foremost, the appreciation of poetry—whether regarding Chaucer, Milton, and Dryden (all topics of the first year's papers), Hunt's own (as he continued his mawkish series of sonnets on Hampstead), or a decidedly Wordsworthian poetics (further endorsed in the expanded notes to Feast of the Poets)—which in turn required that the arbiters of this table "wean the general taste, as far as we can, from the lingering influence of the French school back again to that of the English, or in other words, from the poetry of modes and fashions to that of fancy, and feeling, and all-surviving Nature" (8 January 1815). As in the earlier prospectus, Hunt was attempting in these first two numbers to distinguish The Examiner as a paper that would be recognized for its innovative cultural criticism as well as for its liberal politics. Crucial to this enterprise was Hazlitt, who in the first year alone contributed 13 papers (on topics as diverse as Milton's versification, John Buncle, and the love of power) to Hunt's nine, and continued to dominate this column through early 1817.

When the Hunts were released from prison on 3 February, The Examiner passed over the occasion with surprising alacrity. No sooner had Hunt begun facetiously to speculate as to what personal expenses of the Regent their £1000 surety may have helped to defray, than he brought himself up short: "But in truth, as fertile as the subject is, we are glad to get rid even of jesting upon it, now that the public end we had in view has been obtained" (5 February 1815). And after stating his pride that their imprisonment had been the means of accomplishing two things (preventing an unbecoming spirit of foppery from spreading out of the Court, and affording an example of unyieldingness to the rest of the press), "Mr. Examiner" was silent on all customary political matters until the end of the month, preferring instead to write a lengthy "Theatrical Examiner" on contemporary actors (5 February), defend the female character in a "Round Table" (19 February), and remark wearily that "we are really at a loss this week how to vary the old intelligence, or rather non-intelligence, to which the readers of newspapers have been accustomed of late" (12 February). With the exception of a fine series of editorials on "The Gloomy State of Things in France" (3 September–31 December 1815, analysing the altogether disheartening proceedings of the Congress of Vienna), Hunt was less and less of a factor in determining any recognizably political character for The Examiner. When Wordsworth visited him at home the same day as Hazlitt had denounced Wordsworth's decidedly un-Miltonic political shuffling in obeisance to infirm monarchs (in a review of a production of Comus that ran in The Examiner [11 June 1815]), Hunt did his best to distance himself from Hazlitt's criticisms, despite the fact that they appeared in a paper over which he at least putatively presided.

From 1814 through 1817, it is increasingly Hazlitt's writing, far more than Hunt's, that both preserves The Examiner's much vaunted political "independence" and shapes its radical literary criticism. Whereas "The Round Table" was recognized as Hunt's venue (despite the number of contributions from Hazlitt), the "Literary Notices" were decidedly Hazlitt's. From June, 1816, forward, it is here that we can read some of Hazlitt's most characteristic writing, the heady mix of unremitting bitterness regarding the poets of the first generation coupled with remarkable critical insight into the effects of their apostasies on their writing. Hazlitt reviewed Coleridge's "Christabel" in the first number of the "Literary Notices" (2 June 1816) before ruthlessly exposing the shortcomings of Southey's "The Lay of the Laureate" (7, 14 July). Remarking bluntly that "the poetry of the Lay is beneath criticism" ("It is the Namby-Pamby of the Tabernacle; a Methodist sermon turned into doggerel verse. It is a gossiping confession of Mr. Southey's political faith"), Hazlitt proceeds to denounce Southey as, surprisingly enough, a Jacobin. Hazlitt's comments here are worth citing at length, for they succinctly provide us with both the tenor and the terms of The Examiner's haughty critique of the Lake poets' apostasies over the course of the following winter. "If we had ever doubted the good old adage before, 'Once a Jacobin and always a Jacobin,'" Hazlitt explains, "since reading 'The Lay of the Laureate,' we are sure of it. A Jacobin is one who would have his single opinion govern the world, and overturn every thing in it. Such a one is Mr. Southey . . . , [whose] sentiments everywhere betray the old Jacobinical leaven, the same unimpaired desperate unprincipled spirit of partisanship, regardless of time, place, and circumstance, and of every thing but its own headstrong will." The Jacobinism that Hazlitt finds lurking in Southey's productions as laureate has nothing to do with the libertarian politics of radical gallic democracy, but is characterized instead by the righteous and unprincipled egotism that Hazlitt will later denounce as "Literary Jacobinism." What Hazlitt objects to in this writing is the apostate's insistence on "overturning" and proscribing every opinion but his own (as if it weren't enough for the apostate to have overturned and turned away from his own), as well as the profane egotism attendant upon such maneuvrings (in a similar vein, see Hunt's "Political Examiner" for 18 February 1816, "Heaven Made a Party to Earthly Disputes—Mr. Wordsworth's Sonnets on Waterloo"). Hazlitt would continue to force the apostates to "look their old opinions in the face" while making his paradoxical argument for their fundamental consistency of opinion in his reviews of Coleridge's Lay Sermon (8 September and 29 December 1816), the four-part "Illustrations of The Times Newspaper" (1, 15, 22 December 1816; 12 January 1817), and, conclusively, his lashings of both Coleridge and Southey à propos the Wat Tyler scandal (9, 30 March; 4, 11, 18 May 1817).

At the same time as The Examiner was chastising one generation of poets, it was promoting another. On 1 December 1816, the eighteenth number of the "Literary Notices" began with Hazlitt's first "Illustrations" only to conclude with Hunt's "Young Poets," in which, acknowledging The Edinburgh Review's recent dismissal of "the old school" of the Lake poets, he took it upon himself to "introduce" J. H. Reynolds, Shelley, and Keats as "a considerable addition of strength to the new school." Hunt had presented Keats's sonnet "Solitude" the preceeding spring (5 May; Keats's first published writing) and, after printing "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" in "Young Poets," proceeded to publish an increasing variety of poetry, including Keats's sonnets on the Elgin Marbles (9 March 1817), Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" (19 January 1817), and those sonnets of his own that emerged from the informal "sonnet contests" at his Hampstead home, "The Vale of Health." In introducing a "new school" of poetry, Hunt was of course presuming to announce his own role as arbiter of its tastes, and in a far more prominent capacity than he had been able to do two years earlier in the "New Prospectus" of 1814.

Along with the Preface to The Story of Rimini (published earlier in 1816 and conspicuously noticed in The Edinburgh Review the following year), Hunt's desultory critical statements regarding the school he sought to usher in can be found most immediately in his tripartite review of Keats's Poems (1 June; 6, 13 July 1817). In fact, there's little here that's "new": after a tepid and somewhat self-serving sketch of the ascendancy of the Romantic imagination over eighteenth-century wit, Hunt simply defines "real poetry" as "rich and enchanted . . . , fertile with all that English succulence could produce, bright with all that Italian sunshine could lend, and haunted with exquisite humanities" (1 June 1817), an observation that is far more relevant, of course, to The Story of Rimini than to the lyrics in Keats's first volume. When he finally condescends to notice Keats's poetry, he isolates its two principal faults as "a tendency to notice every thing too indiscriminately and without an eye to natural proportion and effect; and . . . a sense of the proper variety of versification without a due consideration of its principles" (6 July 1817). Again, what is noteworthy (indeed, embarrassing) about Hunt's criticism is its provincial relevance for his work and his work alone: critics as varied as John Wilson Croker (in the Quarterly Review), Lockhart (in Blackwood's), and the Edinburgh reviewer (either Francis Jeffrey or Hazlitt) were unanimous in faulting Hunt's Rimini for its indiscriminate sense of both tone and proportion, as well as for its vulgar and oftentimes ridiculous prosody. Despite Hunt's pretensions as both a poet and a critic in directing the "new" Examiner, he was coming up short. Shelley and Keats quickly moved on from Hampstead sonneteering to more ambitious poetic schemes, and Hazlitt had already eclipsed him as the dramatic and literary critic of the day.

It was precisely these literary ambitions that prompted Lockhart's series on the "Cockney School" in Blackwood's beginning in October, 1817 (see Hunt's challenge to "Z," as Lockhart signed himself, on 16 November 1817). Dismissing Hunt as "a man certainly of some talents, of extravagant pretensions both in wit, poetry, and politics, and withal of exquisitely bad taste, and extremely vulgar modes of thinking and manners in all respects," Lockhart contested Hunt's qualifications for founding a "school" of any sort before proceeding to expose and ridicule his literary-critical delusions. Equal parts vicious character assassination and astute criticism of Rimini, Lockhart's denuncations testify to Hunt's political prominence as well as to his literary dilettantism; while it is due to Hunt's public profile as editor of The Examiner that Lockhart is concerned about the "success with which his influence seems to be extending itself among a pretty numerous, though certainly a very paltry and pitiful, set of readers," this is all the more troublesome since his "shallow and impotent pretensions, tenets, and attempts" are now poised to influence not only political but also literary tastes.

How are we to understand the fact of Lockhart devoting so many pages to The Examiner (six articles plus an open letter to "Leigh Hunt, the King of the Cockneys") at a time when it had ostensibly been eclipsed by, among others, Cobbett's Political Register and Hone's Reformist's Register? Does Lockhart's unremitting attack testify to the continuing relevance or the increasing vulnerability of the Hunts' paper? Unlike, say, Southey or Gifford's denunciations in the Quarterly of The Examiner and its writers, Lockhart's critique focuses principally on the literary-critical pretensions of the "Cockney School." While this is merely a pretense, of course, for a thorough-going denunciation of Hunt's political and moral depravity, the fact remains that, in late 1817, The Examiner was being considered and positioned as a literary rather than a political newspaper: the Hunts' paper was no longer construed as a nuisance due to its relentless exposure of the Regent's personal shortcomings and the corruption of the Court but due to its irritating pretensions to literary prominence. From 1817 until Leigh Hunt's resignation of the editorship and departure for Italy in 1821, if The Examiner was still radical enough to threaten entrenched Tory power, it was no longer regarding matters of state so much as the state of taste.

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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca, edited by Stuart Curran

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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca Edited and introduced by Stuart Curran. Women Writers in English 1350-1850, General Eds. Susanne Woods and Elizabeth H. Hageman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). [xxvi] + 454pp. $45.00 (ISBN: 0-19-510881-7); $16.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-510882-5).

Reviewed by
Beth Dolan Kautz
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thanks to Stuart Curran's new edition of Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1997), students and scholars alike can put away their tattered photocopies of the first of Mary Shelley's "other" novels. Curran dazzles us with the meticulous and thorough editing that we have come to expect from him, for example in his edition of Charlotte Smith's poetry (1993), a sister volume in the Oxford series Women Writers in English 1350–1850(General Editors Susanne Woods and Elizabeth H. Hageman). As a longtime scholar of the Shelley circle, a leader in the recovery and study of Romantic women's writing, and Director of the Center for Italian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Curran is particularly well suited to edit this historical novel, set in fourteenth-century Italy. Available in either cloth or paperback, the Oxford edition is not only an excellent resource for scholarly study, but also an affordable and portable alternative for the classroom. Curran's presentation of the novel, from his introduction to his last footnote, brings both fourteenth- and nineteenth-century Italian culture to life and invites readers to consider Mary Shelley's novel in a political framework.

This new edition of Valperga joins Jonathan Wordsworth's facsimile edition of the novel (1995), Nora Crook's volume in Pickering & Chatto's The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley (1996), and has been followed by Tilottama Rajan's Broadview edition (1998). The detailed and carefully documented annotations and the historical map of Italy in Crook's Pickering & Chatto edition recommend it for scholarly study. Curran's edition is clearly designed for use by students, but several features will be helpful also to scholars; given the combination of elements, his edition would be an especially effective choice for the graduate classroom. Curran's edition, like Crook's, includes a valuable appendix containing a transcription of the Pierpont Morgan Manuscript Sheets of Valperga, seventeen sheets of a draft corrected by Mary Shelley. In addition, Curran consistently provides references to sources that an interested scholar might consult to analyze further the historical setting and political resonance of the novel. For example, he informs readers that remnants of the medieval statutes of the actual town of Valperga can be found in the Van Pelt Library Special Collections at the University of Pennsylvania (xxii, n.7).

These editions bring much needed scholarly attention to Mary Shelley's post-Frankenstein novels, as do the complete novels in the Pickering & Chatto edition, Lisa Vargo's Broadview Press edition of Lodore (1997) and recent editions of The Last Man—including Morton Paley's Oxford edition (1994) and Anne McWhir's Broadview edition (1996). Of the 545 articles or chapters on Mary Shelley's works listed in the MLA bibliography since 1963, 424 primarily or exclusively address the omnipresent Frankenstein. A mere six focus primarily on Valperga, and with the eminent exception of Betty Bennett's 1978 essay, "The Political Philosophy of Mary Shelley's Historical Novels," all were published in the 1990s.1  Curran's dedication of the edition to Bennett highlights their shared commitment to the study of the political Mary Shelley.

The first volume of the novel fulfills expectations raised by Mary Shelley's original title—The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca—in its portrayal of the childhood and education of Castruccio, a warrior and leader of the Tuscan Ghibellines, a political faction that supported autocratic rule and the Holy Roman Empire's imperialism. Godwin's suggestion to name the work Valperga shifted the focus from Castruccio to the Tuscan city Valperga and to the city's countess, Euthanasia, who is a Guelph, or supporter of local republican government. Friends since childhood, Castruccio and Euthanasia fall in love, but she ultimately decides not to marry him because their political loyalties and ideological commitments directly oppose one another. The second and third volumes of the novel portray their symbiotic existence; as Castruccio's tyranny intensifies, Euthanasia is increasingly occupied in comforting those whom he has hurt. Among the victims of his egoism and tyranny is the orphaned prophetess Beatrice, whom he deserts after a passionate affair. Though they are connected through their involvement with Castruccio, Beatrice's depth of passion and self-absorption contrasts with Euthanasia's compassion and wisdom. Euthanasia eventually befriends Beatrice, entreating Castruccio to use his influence to free Beatrice from imprisonment for heresy. The generous Euthanasia cares for Beatrice until she dies, noting that the two women "were bound together, by their love for one who loved only himself" (333). Meanwhile, the struggle between Guelph and Ghibelline has become centered on the rule of Florence, Euthanasia's birth city and a Guelph stronghold. When Castruccio threatens to take over Florence, Euthanasia enters into a conspiracy against him that ultimately leads to her death. Castruccio lives two years longer than Euthanasia, greatly increasing his political power before he finally catches a fever and dies.

In his introduction, Curran offers the reader footholds for interpretation, addressing the significance of Valperga in terms of the conventions of the historical novel, fourteenth-century Italian political history, and the ideological concerns of post-Napoleonic Europe. Curran introduces readers to the political Mary Shelley at every turn. He contrasts the legend that paints Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin as a dutiful daughter with the more radical portrait of Mary Shelley as the "author of Frankenstein." Percy Bysshe Shelley, Curran explains, thought the appellation "author of Frankenstein" so controversial that it would damage Valperga's commercial success. Many scholars have suggested that because Sir Timothy Shelley prohibited her from using the Shelley name, Mary Shelley had little choice but to sign the work with this controversial phrase. Curran reminds us that "Sir Timothy's prohibition was meant to erase a name, not to spur the construction of a persona that would come to replace it" (xiv), arguing that Mary Shelley actively embraced a more radical authorial persona. Even in his account of these biographical facts, Curran emphasizes Mary Shelley's political persona rather than her participation in familial intrigue.

Curran argues that, with Valperga, Mary Shelley challenged the conventions of the historical novel epitomized by the works of Sir Walter Scott. Curran compares Mary Shelley's creation of the polarized heroines Beatrice and Euthanasia with Scott's formulaic use of contrasting dark and light heroines in Ivanhoe (1820). While Scott's heroines are merely "the means by which to forward the designs of patriarchal culture" (xvi), Curran argues, Mary Shelley's heroines act at the center of the story and the hero Castruccio serves primarily as a means to an end. According to Curran, Mary Shelley inverts the conventional portrayal of heroines as instruments in the male characters' pursuit of power. Curran compares Mary Shelley's subversion of the "male paradigm of history" to Lady Morgan's in her Irish national tales (xix). This section of the introduction is sure to inspire heated debate about the relative agency of the male and female characters.

After briefly extolling Mary Shelley's unique command of the local Italian landscape and her factually accurate portrayal of medieval Italy, Curran states that Mary Shelley "goes out of her way to emphasize that what is at stake in Valperga is a conception of republican liberty at odds with the recent restoration of autocracy on the European continent" (xxi). Curran quotes a passage from one of Mary Shelley's principal sources for the novel, J. C. L. Simonde Sismondi's Histoire des républiques italiennes du moyen âge, to demonstrate the resonance between Mary Shelley's portrayal of the fourteenth-century political conflict between local, democratic power and imperial ambition, and the conflict between libertarian and authoritarian ideals in post-Napoleonic Europe.

Luckily for the reader, Curran continues to share his knowledge of Italian history and literature in the footnotes. He meticulously identifies Mary Shelley's sources, often citing the reference that Mary Shelley relied upon to compose her own footnotes. We learn, for example, that she derived her definition of morgincap, the gift an Italian groom gives his bride, from Muratori's Antichità Italiane (236, n.3). He directs these notes equally to students and scholars. For example, he follows his basic capsule biography of Dante with an explanation that situates Dante's work within the context of Mary Shelley's and Percy Bysshe Shelley's reading habits and views of literature (7, n.2), and describes Dante's exile in terms of the political struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines (7–8, n.3). Anticipating a wider discussion for his edition of Valperga, Curran draws on his knowledge of the Italian language to provide readers with guidelines for the pronunciation of names and places in the novel, thus eliminating potential confusion in classroom and professional discussions of the novel (xxiii, n.8). Curran's footnotes act as a companionable reading partner, not intrusive to the reading experience, but available to consult if one does not know, for example, that a Mondualdo was "a guardian empowered to represent a woman in such legal engagements as signing a contract or disposing of her dowry" (139, n.1). Curran's love of language reveals itself in several of his simple definitions; he tells readers that "wot" meant "know," and then describes the word as "a very late use of an archaic verb now encountered only in the locution 'to wit'" (211, n.1). Finally, Curran has made very few corrections to the original text—changing only obvious typographical errors—and these are identified clearly in the footnotes.

Other features of the edition include a selected bibliography and a concise chronology that lists the salient publications, travels, births and deaths of the Shelley circle. The chronology reminds readers that in the four years leading up to the publication of this novel Mary Shelley gave birth to her only surviving child, Percy Florence, and mourned the deaths of her daughter Clara, son William, and, of course, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. Like so much in this edition, the events of the chronology are judiciously chosen and clearly described. At every step, Curran quietly and thoroughly immerses readers in the complex historical, political, and biographical context of the novel.

Curran and the other recent editors of Mary Shelley's novels have labored to create accessible and accurate texts. Now it is up to us to help reanimate these creations in scholarship and in the classroom.2

 

Notes

1.  See Betty T. Bennett, "The Political Philosophy of Mary Shelley's Historical Novels: Valperga and Perkin Warbeck" in The Evidence of the Imagination: Studies of Interactions Between Life and Art in English Romantic Literature, edited by Reiman, et al. (New York: New York University Press, 1978): 354–71.

2.  My thanks to Jeanne Moskal for introducing me to Mary Shelley's "other" novels and for offering suggestions for this review.

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