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Stephen C. Behrendt, Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte

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Stephen C. Behrendt, Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte. London: Macmillan, 1997.  xii + 268pp. illus: 8 portrait plates. £50.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-69580-1).

Reviewed by
Simon Bainbridge
Keele University

"The great historical event of 1817," according to Harriet Martineau, was the death in childbirth of Princess Charlotte Augusta, the twenty-one year old heiress to the throne and the daughter of the Prince of Wales. Martineau described the reaction to what was seen as a tragic event as follows: "never was a whole nation plunged in such deep and universal grief. From the highest to the lowest, this death was felt as a calamity that demanded the intense sorrow of domestic misfortune" (1). In Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte, Stephen C. Behrendt provides an extensive survey and scholarly examination of the many and varied for&ms taken by the extraordinary outpourings of grief for Charlotte, investigating particularly the appropriation and "commoditization" of Charlotte's death by "writers, clergymen, politicians, artists, artisans and commentators" (2). For Behrendt, whose previous work in the period has often focused on the relation between history and myth, Charlotte's death is not only a "great historical event" in which a potential political disaster was transformed into a "normative, ultimately calming event by a variety of cultural forces" (2), it is also a subject which enables us to study mythmaking—"the ways in which historical figures and events come to be invested with qualities of myth, not just by an intellectual and aesthetic elite but also by the general public" (23). For Behrendt, mythmaking is a process central to both the Romantic period and our own times, and the outpouring of literary and extra-literary responses to the princess's death "reveals what prove to be not historically remote (and isolated) but rather perennially compelling intellectual, spiritual and cultural impulses, which drive the mythologizing of a popular subject in times of domestic instability and cultural or spiritual crisis" (26). Behrendt's claim for the contemporary relevance of his study was underlined by the death of Princess Diana and the subsequent mourning, appropriation and commodification of her in the same year as the publication of Royal Mourning and Regency Culture.

Behrendt examines an impressive range of the responses to the princess's life and death: educational writings addressed to the young princess, an allegorical Oriental tale (Gulzara: Princess of Persia: or, The Virgin Queen), poems by Barbauld, Byron, Southey, Hemans, and Landon as well as by less familiar writers, sermons, political pamphlets, memorial cards, china, ceramics, jewellery, textiles, music, engravings, commemorative prints, and sculptures. Through lengthy summaries, detailed analysis and generous extracts, Behrendt builds up a convincing verbal and visual iconography for Charlotte, tracing, for example, her association with flower and tree imagery (especially the rose and the oak) and her representation in terms of abstractions ("England's Hope"), key figures (Britannia) and iconographic traditions (the Madonna).

Behrendt's accumulation of key tropes from across this wide range of forms is meticulous and detailed. Perhaps understandably, given the huge amount of material he has clearly worked through, at times he seems to lose patience with his chosen approach, the critical judgement of the literary scholar occasionally sitting a little awkwardly alongside the tropological methodology of the cultural historian. For example, writing of the "poem after poem" which appeared in the months following Charlotte's death, Behrendt comments that these "poems were almost invariably formulaic and artificial, perhaps because the general insincerity of the sentiments they expressed was often matched only by the affectation reflected in their ornate and laboriously allusive inkhorn style" (89). Elsewhere Behrendt refers to the "frankly wretched writers (in all genres)" (32) who wrote on Charlotte's death and dismisses as "unremarkable" a poem to which he dedicates a page and a half of analysis (103). As literary judgments, Behrendt's dismissal of these texts may well be justified but they seem unnecessary in what he is keen to emphasise is a cultural rather than a literary project. It is not just that the "secondary" literature is important as raw material to be appropriated and manipulated by "more sophisticated writers" (31) (though some of the high points of the book are Behrendt's analysis of this process, especially the excellent final chapter on Percy Shelley's An Address to the People on the Death of the Princess, in which Shelley "turns" Princess Charlotte into Liberty). Rather the formulaic and conventional nature of these works is central to Behrendt's argument for the workings of myth. As Behrendt explains:

As poet after poet manipulated the collection of increasingly familiar materials the poems invariably took on more and more similarities. And the reiteration of these similarities—with or without significant variations—itself furthers the enactment of ritual and hence the formulation of myth. For by their continual reiteration, the details, descriptions, tropes, figures, allusions and iconographic indicators—the numerous signifiers, in short—come gradually to be perceived as universals that by their very omnipresence transcend the "mereness" of individual being located in the actual person of Charlotte. (94)

It is through his study of "poem after poem," text after text, that Behrendt establishes his argument for the ritualization of mourning.

If much of Royal Mourning and Regency Culture works to establish a common set of tropes and figures used to represent Charlotte, it also draws attention to the many different ways in which the princess was understood through the process of mythmaking; as Behrendt comments, Charlotte "could be read as person (and specifically as woman), as princess, as emblem of the nation, as symbol for the aspirations of the disenfranchised and as figurehead for an emerging cult of domesticity" (34). Charlotte was a figure of what Behrendt terms "symbolic utility" (158), a means of writing about other matters, whose life and death could be presented as a lesson to the nation, as a parable or as a moral exemplar. As Behrendt comments of one educational pamphlet, "Princess Charlotte becomes merely the occasion for discourse: her private person and her public signification are appropriated to the purposes of an author who writes with a very different audience in view" (61). For sermon writers, the life and death of the princess could be used for didactic purposes while historical works such as memoirs and biographies politicized the same events.

As Behrendt's bifurcated title suggests, then, he moves beyond the specific topic of "elegies and memorials of Princess Charlotte" to use these material for a more ambitious consideration of the much broader subject of Regency culture: "How an event like the princess's death is viewed by various segments of the public, moreover, tells us a great deal about how that public is constituted, about what are the sources and applications of its governing values, and about what are its responses to the changing relationship among the private and family-oriented individual, the politically-conscious public citizen and the members of the royal establishment, viewed both as symbolic figureheads for the government and as 'real people'" (23). In considering the constitution of the regency public, Behrendt links the mourning for the princess and the forms it took with the development of a domestic ideology of womanhood and with the emergence of the middle class. As a figure of woman, wife and mother, tragically dying in childbirth, Charlotte was someone with whom "womencould and did identify physically and psychologically" (29). Dedicating a chapter to "Women's Responses," Behrendt examines women's writing on the princess through the framework of Anne Mellor's concept of "Feminine Romanticism" with its celebration of the values of "sympathy, tolerance, generosity and a commitment to the preservation of familial values" (123). The version of Charlotte produced through this compact of the female subject, female poet, and female audience is at once elevating and levelling in its equation of the princess with the non-royal subject: "Not only are the circumstances of Charlotte's life and death as wife and mother rendered comparable to the 'average' Englishwoman's in this mythic construction, so too are the moral and cultural values ascribed to Charlotte in her time those which Mellor in our own time associated with feminine Romanticism" (123). For Behrendt, Charlotte becomes one of the key figures in the development of the Victorian concept of woman, celebrated by writers such as Hannah More, Leigh Hunt and Robert Huish (who collected together excerpts from sermons) for her domestic affections, inborn piety, fortitude, moral excellence and obedience to authority, and exemplifying the traits that characterize the "angel in the house." This process itself Behrendt sees as part of a larger shift in the constitution of the public, the emergence of a middle class community consolidated through mourning for Charlotte and through the commodification of her: "This was a community of mourning, to be sure, but it was also a community of human experience in which rank and distinction, like time and place, were rendered largely irrelevant by the fact that the artifacts—the 'relics', as it were—were eminently portable, easily affordable, and therefore 'consumable' in a way that lent them the status of secular 'icons' in the home, while nevertheless allowing them at the same time to be objects of trade and commerce: commodities, in short" (175).

As Behrendt's conclusions would suggest, his interesting readings of texts are placed within the richly established contexts of the Regency period and particularly of the years of economic crisis that followed the battle of Waterloo. The only contextual element that I felt was missing from Behrendt's study was a sense of how the mourning for Charlotte was related to other contemporary examples of public and private mourning; how does it compare, for example, with the national grief expressed in the previous decade for Nelson whose death prompted a similar if not greater outpouring of mourning, memorials, and commemorations? By maintaining such a close focus on Charlotte, Behrendt certainly alerts us to what became the conventions of mourning the princess but we lose some sense ofhow these conventions drew on or transformed those of a wartime and post-war culture in which grief and mourning were key elements. However, such a project is perhaps beyond the scope of any single volume and this work makes an important contribution to this field of study. As a "case study" (23), Royal Mourning and Regency Culture: Elegies and Memorials of Princess Charlotte is a very valuable work, both for its careful cataloguing and detailed analyses of the wide variety of responses to Charlotte's life and death and for its broader investigation into the workings of myth in society.

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Alan Bewell, Romanticism and Colonial Disease

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Alan Bewell, Romanticism and Colonial Disease. Medicine and Culture Series. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. xviii + 374pp. illus: 17 line drawings, 2 halftones. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8018-6225-6).

Reviewed by
Timothy Morton
University of Colorado at Boulder

"As a study of the geographical dimension of disease during the Romantic period, Romanticism and Colonial Disease examines the role played in the making and unmaking of national identities by ideas about the geographical distribution of diseases and what kind of people were susceptible to them" (17). This is a modestly stated plan. But Alan Bewell's project, while posed as the recovery of empirical information, has a grander view than this: it is a strong work of ecocriticism.

The Disordered Body by Suzanne E. Hatty and James Hatty has recently argued that the Plague, in its disrupting of the very categories of physiological knowledge, was a turning point in European medicine and society. One might describe this in Lacanian terms as the interruption of the symbolic by the real. Just as the Black Death was a tuche, a shocking event (Greek: "chance"), an inruption of the real into the conventional world of medieval Europe, so ecological catastrophes of all kinds have acted as a tuche, a disturbance of reality in a globalized world. The radiation of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island knows no boundaries of culture, polity, nation, or state. Global warming is a great leveler in the age of identity politics. The poisonous excrement of productive forces has returned to haunt the world of clean plastic surfaces. All kinds of global plagues, real and imagined, travel in the wakes of the bodies, commodities, stocks and currency that revolve with accelerating frenzy around the earth. The AIDS panic is a particularly potent and painful example of the ways in which society, culture, "nature" and "the body" boil around a gaping hole, a gap in normative ways of understanding reality. The reality of a global world is evident in the minute observation of the pressure placed upon the local in the auguries of innocence of that Romantic poet, Prince: "In France a skinny man died of a big disease with a little name" ("Sign o' the Times," 1).

There are three ways of avoiding the full horror of ecological catastrophe(s); and in general, these ecological "solutions" are surely all displacements of how to avoid responding to historical conditions more fully. (As Alan Bewell points out, the Black Death was called a "miasma" [Romanticism and Colonial Disease, xi], and the Oedipal implications of this Greek notion should be obvious. A psychoanalytic approach to the politics of ecology thus seems appropriate.) The first way of avoiding the disaster would be fetishistic denial: "I know that global warming is real, nevertheless I will act as if it were not"; "Although household plastics contain endocrine disrupting dioxins, I will continue to await conclusive experimental results." The second psychic defense is compulsion: seeming to control the horrific tuche of the real as it rends open normality (normative reality, that is) by repeated tiny acts of personal or small-scale redemption. Although corporations and the military are responsible for much of the polluting of the world, if one were to purchase the right number of apparently eco-friendly products, and recycle those products that one had purchased, perhaps one could stave off catastrophe, ward it off with the rosary of green consumerism (or some other highly constricted action). The third possible defense, the most compromising to the psyche, is a psychotic one: attributing some kind of transcendent meaning to ecological disaster, positing an other "behind" the other of the failing ecosystem. In the psychotic defense, the genuine reason why the earth is in trouble is that God, or some other other, wants it so; one might even include racist fantasies about overpopulation as belonging to this defense. And one would certainly include the kinds of fantasy of "pathogenic space" described by Bewell, evoked in the Romantic period to justify very real social policies.

The sanest way to respond to all of this would be to start by admitting to the horror of ecological catastrophe in all its meaningless contingency: "fessing up" to it. This is the strategy that Slavoj Zizek suggests in Looking Awry (34–39). Rather than avoiding fear, perhaps one might fully take account of the object of fear. Then disaster might become a liberating moment, a chance to rethink so-called normality around the hole made by the inruption of the real; a chance to address at deep levels history, politics, justice, culture, spirituality . . . what it is, feels like and means to be a conscious being. It would entail a thorough historicization of nature: not a denial of nature's existence, however. Ecological problems of all kinds force humans to reconsider the categories of the cognitive, the ethical and the aesthetic, categories that have come apart as modernity has emerged.

This forging of new bonds between the aesthetic, the cognitive (for example, medical discourse) and the ethical is the work that Alan Bewell starts to do in Romanticism and Colonial Disease. It is quite clear that the author of this very well-researched and clear study is not just doing it for "intellectual" reasons, narrowly defined (far be it from me to make this into an anti-intellectual statement). Bewell cares about what he is writing; and this care makes for a much more powerful analysis, in an age when fact and value have drifted apart even further than they had during the Romantic period. For this is a work of ecocriticism more than anything else, a fresh kind of ecocriticism, though it does not directly name itself as such. But where some ecocriticism seeks solace in the aesthetic for the ills of modernity, this book troublingly, and carefully, suggests that one must keep the aesthetic touching the political for it to make sense, just as Derrida remarks that deconstruction must touch the political to be doing its job.

Romanticism and Colonial Disease marshals an astonishing range of material, largely in the history of medicine. Accounts of tropical disease, journals, medical treatises, graphic satire and other visual art (there are abundant illustrations) and many other sources are carefully brought in to support the argument that the Romantic period witnessed a pivotal moment in the construction both of disease and of colonial and imperial territory. The introductory material is especially helpful. The Preface (xi–xv) introduces the subject from imperialism's later moment, around the publication of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds (1898); the strong view of continuity imparted by this is gratifying to a lover of long history (rather than New Historicist synchronicity). "Colonialism and Disease," the introduction (2–26), successfully shocks the reader into a sense of the constructedness of disease, opening with a Native American narrative about smallpox (2–3). The book's map (12) is of mortality rates of European troops both at home and abroad (from the work of Philip D. Curtin), setting a rigorous standard of evidence.

The first chapter examines the extent to which medical discourse in the Romantic period constructed "pathogenic spaces" out of the colonial and imperial territories. The opening is again proleptic, anticipating the later discussion of Jane Eyre (27–28). Bewell helpfully observes the extent to which tropical landscapes were hybrid rather than homogeneous, ending the chapter with a reading of Wordsworth that renders this clear in literary terms (46–65). The second chapter examines narratives of colonial military disease (66–130), culminating in a reading of Coleridge via Smollett and Stedman. The third chapter is a reading of the extent to which colonialism reproduced the local as the edible (131–60; see the discussion below). It concludes with an interpretation of opium eating, notably in De Quincey (154-60). Chapter four interprets Keats's representation of England in the "Ode to Autumn" as a means to evoke a counter-miasmatic space, a region of health (161–93). The fifth chapter is an analysis of representations of Africa, focusing in particular on the work of Joseph Ritchie, recuperating that poet for an understanding of Romantic figurings of "the most extreme environments of the globe" (194–204; the quotation is from 203). The following chapter claims Percy Shelley as a poet of climate, placing his linking of nature and culture in its revolutionary context (205–41). The Triumph of Life, not often read for its cultural allusiveness (despite its content), is interpreted alongside "Mont Blanc," a poem equally resistant to historical reading (apparently), as a meditation on the politics of environment (221–41). The seventh chapter exhaustively investigates the ways in which discourses around cholera and sanitation provoked hegemonic figurations of India as a pathogenic space (242–76). Chapter eight, a presentation on the literature of tropical invalids, is in part a reading of Jane Eyre (277–95), while the final chapter is, fittingly, a reading of Mary Shelley's The Last Man in the light of the arguments made throughout Bewell's study (296–314). Bewell emphasizes that "Percy and Mary Shelley stand out as writers who insist that Western societies cannot isolate themselves from the world they have helped create" (311).

One of the stronger moments of ecocriticism in the study is a point at which Bewell historicizes nature, against a New Criticism and a New Historicism that would make of nature in "The Ruined Cottage" a salve for politicized pain: "'nature' [is] itself historically inflected." Bewell shows how the poem opens up a "pathogenic space" at the "heart of Englishness" (51). There follows a sensitive reading of Wordsworth's re-tracing of his brother John's steps both in the grove and on the Abergavenny (63–65). This is just one example of the general historicizing of nature throughout Romanticism and Colonial Disease. The advantage of focusing on disease is that it rests uneasily between a cultural construct and a natural phenomenon. Bewell is thus able to defeat the nihilism of a constructivist approach, and the essentialism of a spilt religion of "nature," in a simple presentation of empirical evidence.

The final sentence of Bewell's book, ostensibly the conclusion to a fine reading of Mary Shelley's The Last Man, is also a moral and political directive: "The biological diversity—the 'foreignness'—that caused so much pain and suffering in the colonial world might also hold within it something that will preserve at least some of us somewhere from the coming plague that Shelley prophesies" (314). This is not simply a statement about biology. One could read in it the idea that we might be helped by the very otherness, rather than the sameness, at the heart of identity.

Of course, there is a double edge. The phrase is too hastily conceived; one wishes it had been thought out a little more. Bewell might be overinvesting in an idea, "the coming plague" (the title of a recent American bestseller by Laurie Garrett), that serves well the interests of those who would erect even tougher boundaries against "foreignness" than currently exist at every level of normalized social reality in the modern nation-state. (Throughout the book, there are opportunities to do more with suggestive phrases—"pathogenic space," "eating spot.") "Foreignness" might also be reduced to indigenous genomes, in which case Bewell is making a case for a new kind of colonialism, the kind pointed out by the ecofeminist Vandana Shiva: a colonizing of life-forms themselves (GM foods, the patenting of genes, the seeking of profits in rainforest medicines . . . ). But let us assume that Bewell's intent is benign. Let us also recall that traditionally ecological writing has drawn upon images of home and at-homeness, rather than foreignness. To consider carefully notions of otherness is to step quite a way beyond the dangerously identitarian pieties of Kultur, whose logic too often underpins ecological-political (and aesthetic) discourse. Bewell is hinting that "nature" is not "identity": a helpfully subversive hint. As he puts it in the conclusion to the chapter on Shelley, "Shelley's attempt to go beyond a local understanding . . . remains one of the most important social theories of disease articulated in the nineteenth century" (241). And it is admirable that Bewell is also attempting to go beyond a local understanding, indeed beyond localism.

The reasons for this are not narrowly academic. This is not a book for devotees of culture in its localist, that is its identitarian or communitarian senses—Romantics of a certain kind. (By "communitarian" I mean a community defined by violent exclusions and rules—zero tolerance, as it were, towards reality.) Romanticism and Colonial Disease is remorselessly global and general, taking a long view that includes the full eighteenth century, from Addison to Wordsworth, and never settling on the mystifying pietism of Gemeinschaft and other völkisch notions. This is going to upset those Romanticists who cleave to the particularism of their period, and to their period in particular (as opposed to the menacing sounding "long eighteenth century").

There are, however, intelligent reasons within the Romantic period itself, especially in ecological writing, to opt for this kind of global, long view, and to opt on the whole for French civilisation rather than German Kultur. To choose the Romantic period as the object of study is to name a point at which the globalizing forces of capital entered a decisive phase: the phase in which colonialism became fully fledged imperialism. The local was being remorselessly destroyed and reconfigured by the global: the long march towards Microsoft and Starbucks had begun. Simultaneously, the local was being revalued, ostensibly against the globalizing forces, as shown by David Simpson in The Academic Postmodern and the Rule of Literature: A Report on Half-Knowledge (University of Chicago Press, 1995).

Fascism is one (not necessary) outcome of this revaluation, as Geoffrey Hartman has recently argued in The Fateful Question of Culture (Columbia University Press, 1997), an outcome perilously ignored by Heideggerian ecocriticism. Despite the 1970s eco-directive to think global and act local, much ecocriticism has been decisively localist in its thinking. One of the strengths of Romanticism and Colonial Disease is that it shows just how attenuated locality could become under nascent imperial circumstances: reduced for instance to a "dietary anxiety" in which one knows, say, the Chinese by "eating Chinese" (a notion explored by Oliver Goldsmith, though not specifically discussed in this book); the French become frogs; what you eat becomes what you are (chapter 3, esp. 134). (In this light, as I have recently argued, vegetarianism could have a cosmopolitan edge as well as expressing nationalist anxiety.) The modern idea of national identity was born, dependent upon some meaningless little piece of enjoyment (exemplified by the reified fiction of a "national dish"). As news has recently been reduced to soundbites, one might say that nationality is here reduced literally to bite-sized pieces. The extreme discrepancy legible here between general and particular, between global and local, between citizens of the world and frogs, is itself a symptom of the capitalist sundering of fact and value. And it is the strongest reason why a religion of authentic indigenousness (Kultur) will not heal this sundering—indeed, it could perversely reinforce it.

There is an ideological frame that supports notions such as colonial disease. Such notions are figures for colonial and imperial capital, which is logical, as they were themselves enabled by it. This is quite clear for instance in Percy Shelley's image of commerce as a poison tree (Queen Mab section 5; Romanticism and Colonial Disease, 209). The ideological frame depends in its figuration upon what I have called the poetics of spice, which means that my recent work shares, happily, some of the concerns of Bewell's. At one point he calls it "Tropical Verse" (172–75), by which I understand an orientalist, "Asiatic," copious poetics that in Keats, for one, threatens the supposedly stable masculine self. (Indeed, this verse is truly tropical, in its insistence on the tropological dimension of language, a dimension some might find a little lacking in this study.) Ironically, this poetics enables a global view that could sprout into forms of an ecological aesthetic; it generated the kinds of "relational or differential model" that Bewell himself uses to describe global disease (19). This differential model is particularly useful in the discussion of Keats's ode "To Autumn": "the landscape . . . presents an English face, yet it achieves this quality differentially, by rewriting the fever-ridden features of the tropics" (181). I have recently argued that this differential figuration has a specifically literary history, as well as a contemporary political resonance.

Readers with a narrow view of the aesthetic might argue that in Bewell's book there is not a great deal of attention to the aesthetic dimension, as they define it. One would have to reply first that this is a book in the cultural history of medicine and it has so much to accomplish in this regard that a quantity of close reading would have made it twice as long. A cultural and literary historian of these matters (someone who is not content with mere forensic historicism) is often expected to be a sort of one-man band: to play the close-reading mouthorgan at the same time as beating the history drum; and I for one am glad that there is at least one other one-man band out there. Nevertheless, the extent to which ecological problems are aesthetic problems, and vice versa, is laid bare in Bewell's study. The Triumph of Life, for example, is read alongside imperial anxieties about the effect of tropical light upon the white body (231–32). The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is read as colored by Yellow Fever (97–108). This would be the second part of one's reply to the put-down, "It doesn't have enough close reading in it." No, precisely: what it has a lot of is medium reading, a wider view that takes in context. Which is quite Romantic: quite true to the relaxed contemplative gaze of a Wordsworth, a quiet, disturbing contemplation that might notice particulars within the atmosphere of a more general climate. (Sometimes this quietness is too quiet: Theodor Adorno asked much more than "whether after Auschwitz the literary representation of suffering was any longer possible" [67].)

The subject matter of Romanticism and Colonial Disease is wide ranging in its contexts, though not in its chosen authors. It must take a wide contextual view, precisely because, as with post-colonial writing, the marginal is used to critique the central: referring to the implication of De Quincey's contemporaries in the East and West Indies, Bewell quotes his remark that "'everybody has an Indian uncle'" (14). I wish, however, that the book had considered the women poets and novelists of the Romantic period, though there is a reading of Jane Eyre (285–95) and, as mentioned before, The Last Man, and remarks on Austen (15, 132). Surely Charlotte Smith could have been a key figure for the culinary anxieties of national identity? Her view of a spice ship in Beachy Head is an obvious example of her investment in these concerns. Anna Seward's Colebrook Dale might usefully have been read for its calibration of orientalism with domestic pastoralism; and this is also true of Letitia Landon's The History of a Child. In the spirit of Keith Thomas's Man and the Natural World, more authors would have given the argument more authority.

I also wish, for the sake of vanity and/or vegetarianism, that a little more had been put into the chapter on Percy Shelley. The reading of Medwin's Oswald and Edwin (236–38) neglects to point out that Oswald was a potent name in the Romantic period. John Oswald (d. 1793), whom Wordsworth may have actually met in Paris, fought in India and was indeed a convert to Hinduism; Medwin and Bewell call it "Brahmanism," which implies a specifically vegetarian caste. David Erdman has suggested in Commerce des Lumiéres that Oswald/Rivers in The Borderers was this Oswald.  John Oswald headed the pikemen who surrounded Louis XVI at his execution, and he wrote The Cry of Nature (1791), one of the most potent works on vegetarianism in the Romantic period (see my "The Pulses of the Body: Romantic Vegetarian Rhetoric and Its Cultural Contexts," in 1650–1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era, vol. 4 [AMS Press, 1998], 53–87 and chapter 1 of Shelley and the Revolution in Taste [Cambridge Univeristy Press, 1994; reprt. 1998]). Shelley would certainly have known about him, at least from his intensive reading of Joseph Ritson's An Essay on Abstinence from Animal Food (1802).

The arguments about the Tremadoc Embankment project (211–12) and "Ozymandias" (217–18) are very much in line with the argument of the sixth chapter of my book on Shelley. There is evidence in MS Shelley Adds. e.6 (Bodleian Library, Oxford) that Shelley took notes on Humphrey Davy (see 213) alongside practical calculations concerning potato production (one of his vegetarian and technotopian projects for reforming English agriculture). On the subject of potatoes—a subject that immediately calls to mind the working class struggle against them—it is surprising that in such a magisterial study as this there is hardly a word on Thomas Malthus.

The reading of Gillray's French Liberty, British Slavery (140) neglects to point out the vegetarian context for this image, or the more general contexts for Gillray in "The Roast Beef of Old England" and Burkean organicism. The analysis of Gillray's Temperance Enjoying a Frugal Meal, a brilliant satire both on George III and the Regency, does not notice the copy of a made-up book, "Doctor Cheyne on the Benefits of a Spare Diet," on the trunk in the bottom right corner. George Cheyne (1671–1743), doctor to the literati (including Samuel Richardson) earlier in the eighteenth century, was the most prominent English vegetarian apologist between Thomas Tryon (1634–1704) and Joseph Ritson (see "The Pulses of the Body" for a reading of this image). In a book that considers Addison, it is a shame that Cheyne is absent, not least for his transmission of proto-ecological Behmenism into the medical discourse of the eighteenth century.

From these symptoms, it is possible to diagnose that more work will need to be done in the field of capitalism and medicine. Despite these concerns, Romanticism and Colonial Disease is an eloquent, powerful and major contribution to a flourishing area of research, a recovery (in the archival rather than the therapeutic sense) of an entire realm of culture: for example the chapters on colonial military disease narratives (66–130) and John Ritchie's view of Africa (194–204). The eloquence of its elegant middle style alone should attract readers. This book will need to be on hand when anyone does work in its fields of study, and I hope that it is published in paperback to satisfy the enormous (in my experience) graduate student demand for works like this on their bookshelves.

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Karl S. Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature

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Karl S. Guthke, The Gender of Death: A Cultural History in Art and Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xii + 297pp. illus: 30 halftones. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-59195-3). $22.95 (Pap; ISBN 0-521-64460-7).

Reviewed by
Christopher Braider
University of Colorado at Boulder

Karl Guthke's The Gender of Death surveys portrayals of death in European art and literature since the Middle Ages. As the title indicates, the organizing theme is gender. In both literary and visual images of what Guthke styles the "unimaginable"—a misleading term in that, unknowable as death may be, it is hardly unimaginable—a means of choice has been personification, giving death a human form. One consequence of this prosopopeic humanation is to assign death a gender reproducing the gendered state of humanity itself. So are there definite rules, codes, or regularities governing which gender death takes? More specifically, to cite the theoretical question that opens the book, "is Death a woman?" And if death is not always a woman—and Guthke's survey amply documents that it is not—what determines which gender is chosen in any given instance? Is it, for example, a function of grammatical gender—the fact that death is a "feminine" noun in some languages and "masculine" in others? And once the mass of historical evidence Guthke marshals has compelled us to acknowledge that there is in fact no fixed correlation between grammatical gender and the gender of death, what other cultural influences might explain the relative emphases observed as we move from one culture or period to the next?

The answer to this last question yields Guthke's "cultural history." As a history, the book naturally (and rightly) emphasizes the diversity characterizing the successive epochs of Western literature and art. What is more, the author is admirably sensitive to the diversity observed within each epoch itself.

In chapter 2, on the Middle Ages, Guthke notes that a tendency to assert death's irresistible power over human life (King Death) privileges masculine over feminine incarnations in that medieval culture projects power as a broadly male prerogative. Nevertheless, King Death belongs to a wider family embracing the fourth Horseman of the Apocalypse, God's "myghty messengere" (Everyman) calling humanity to moral account, and the courtly personae of hunters, falconers, and knights. But death is also the Grim Reaper, an image whose class connotation is linked to "the degradation of Death, familiar from Dante and even Chaucer, as ‘vilain,' as failing to live up to the knightly code of courtly highmindedness" (50). And as in the late-medieval genre of the Triumph of Death (68–81), death may emerge as a noble Lady or Queen (Petrarch's "Donna La Morte") riding her classical chariot over mangled mortal remains: a female embodiment associated, during the fifteenth-century revival of classical learning, with Harpies, the Furies, and the Fates, and especially with a reimagined Atropos already invoked in the thirteenth-century Roman de la rose ("atropos ce est la mort") or Pierre de Michault's La Dance aux aveugles (77). To the extent that gender operates as an identifying principle, this too reflects cultural differences keyed to theological debates as to the identity of the author of original sin, and thus of the mortality humanity's primal Fall brought in its wake: a culprit denounced now as Adam, in which case death assumes a masculine persona, and now as Eve, in which case death is feminine (58–68).

In chapter 3, on the Renaissance and Baroque, the variety of personifications is if anything greater still. In the danses macabres with which the period abounds, death is assigned a rich multiplicity of guises, poses, and social conditions: as a fiddler, hunter, warrior, drummer, herald, or fool; on horseback, as Revelation's fourth horseman, but also as a knight or King Death; as a reaper, executioner, nobleman, or courtier; as a pilot, gambler, tobacconist, trencherman, groom, chamberlain, actor, wrestler, or butcher (85–92). While masculine embodiments outnumber feminine, it is again difficult to see gender itself as a determining factor. Guthke notes (and perhaps overemphasizes) an important shift related to the theology of sin whereby the Devil (rather than Adam or Eve) is held chiefly responsible for original sin and its mortal fruit. Accordingly, death is increasingly imaged as the Devil incarnate (123–27). But the Devil is of course notoriously protean, adapting himself to whatever role serves his purpose. Whence in particular the shape-shifting observed in the chapter's main test case, the "death and the maiden" motif. Stressing the Christian linkage of death with sin, and sin with sex, the motif portrays death as a seducer undoing a young woman in the prime of carnal life. But the image readily switches poles, producing male victims betrayed by a female luxuria variously represented as a venereal goddess, a mistress, a bride, or a bawd (92–114).

Chapter 4, entitled "The Romantic Age: ‘How Wonderful Is Death"," is of most interest to readers of this website, featuring valuable readings of Herder, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, and Novalis among the Germans, and of Baudelaire from the French, with occasional glances at Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats for England. Unfortunately, as the notable absence of Wordsworth suggests, this is also where Guthke's coverage begins to grow thin. Given his exemplary insistence on diversity, it is surprising that, as he progresses to the Romantic era and the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries, his examples lose variety. Chapter 4 largely reduces the Enlightenment to its late, sentimental, "pre-Romantic" phase. The author thus fails to comment on the nonetheless capitally interesting fact that the triumph of "reason" and "experience" associated not only with Enlightenment literature, philosophy, and art, but also with deistic "natural religion" actively discourages personifications of death. But Guthke's concomitant focus on the late-Enlightenment and Romantic sentimentalization of death as "Freund Hein" (147–55) or as bittersweet Thanatos in the guise of the "youth with the downturned torch" (134–44) leads him to underestimate the late eighteenth century and Romantic Gothic, one of whose great contributions to the representation of incarnate death is the Vampire—a figure the book completely overlooks.

Similarly, in chapter 5, Guthke's thematic stress falls almost exclusively on Decadence and an undefined "postmodernity," both of which favor portrayals of death as a prostitute, coquette, or Lulu-like femme fatale—though here again the Vampire is surely relevant, and some notice of representations of the AIDS epidemic (e.g., Tony Kushner's Angels in America) would have been welcome. This stress drives out much else of significance. Though Freud is adduced at one stage (albeit, curiously, as a theoretical authority more than as a period exemplar), Guthke cites the minor essay on "The Theme of the Three Caskets" (192) rather than Beyond the Pleasure Principle and the doctrine of the "death drive." But we further note that Guthke discusses no major surrealist other than Dalí, and that the existentialist contribution (most notably in Heidegger, for whom death constitutes a basic structure of consciousness itself) is entirely omitted. The chapter also neglects figures like Mallarmé, Blanchot, and (apart from a brief cameo appearance) Celan, all of whom give death a signal textual embodiment as the ground of art and language as such.

Still, by chronicling the immense historical range of personified expressions of death, the book performs a valuable service. In particular, it provides an antidote for the overdetermining influences exerted by the ideological commitments and prepossessions critics bring to topics like this one. But this also highlights the book's main weakness. If Guthke has chosen gender as his overarching theme, an underlying reason seems to be irritation with certain postulates in contemporary theory, and especially the feminism of, say, Elisabeth Bronfen's Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic (New York: Routledge, 1992) or the "sociology" derived from Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment (briefly debated on 190). When one adds that such theories are chiefly relevant to those cultural developments (the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Decadence, postmodernity) on which Guthke's account is thinnest, the wide-ranging historical survey looks like a red herring. Guthke's true subject is not in fact the "gender of death" in general, a question he successfully shows to be far less compelling than one might expect. The real issue is the gender of death since Kant, and grappling with that question demands both a quite different and a far more elaborate theoretical framework than the author's otherwise useful "cultural history" provides.

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An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British Culture 1776–1832. Ed. Iain McCalman

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An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age: British Culture 1776–1832. General Editor, Iain McCalman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.  xiii + 780pp. illus: 110 halftones. $150/£85 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-812297-7).

Reviewed by
Alex Benchimol
University of Glasgow

It is the subtitle to An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age that signals its intended function as an introduction to the cultural history of the period from the American Declaration of Independence to the Great Reform Act. In the breadth of its investigations into all manner of cultural practice in the Romantic age, this new volume serves as a fitting culmination to the recent trend towards multidisciplinarity in Romantic period studies. Through general editor Iain McCalman's judicious assemblage of over forty major essays that bring together literary,cultural, social, economic, and art historians under one cover, this critical companion avoids offering a reductive definition of Romantic cultural practice, and thus the volume might be considered the first post-Romanticist scholarly companion for the Romantic age;that is, while taking up the material of the period we have called "romantic,"the volume moves beyond the Romantic ideology mapped by Jerome McGann and embraces the new inter- and multidisciplinary approaches to the field, beyond the standard Romanticist focus on textual issues in canonical poetry. An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Agecaptures the conflicted intellectual spirit of the field, as recent work has unsettled the traditional sense of "Romanticism" as a privileged area of study focused on the canonical work of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, and Blake. By institutionalizing the pluralist trend in Romantic period studies, this volume marks a key moment in the struggle to redefine our understanding of the culture of the Romantic age.

Iain McCalman's introduction, "A Romantic Age Companion," reviews the historical antecedents of the genre of the cultural history sourcebook and in the process provides a de-facto defense of this collection's intensely pluralistic approach to the period. The collective re-interpretation of the Romantic age represented by the companion, McCalman relates, even led to the consideration of abandoning the term "Romantic" altogether as a suitable description of this crucially transformative historical period: "Was'Romantic' in fact the most suitable label with which to frame the broad-based cultural history project that we had in mind?" (1). Building on Jerome McGann's interrogation of Romanticism's stifling ideological circularity, McCalman argues that a new cultural history shorn of the field's routine deference to the traditional aesthetic visions of Wordsworth, Coleridge, et al., can actually function as a vigorous re-contextualization of these key intellectual figures and their perennially studied works: "The rediscovery of neglected historical figures and events does not mean, even, that we must abandon the Romantic canon. Rather, historical recovery enables us to re-contextualize and enlarge this canon by shifting our angles of vision. Writers like Wordsworth and Coleridge can be freshly illuminated within the context of the fiery debates, crushing commercial pressures, and chance events of a historical period that was felt to be seething with conflict" (2). Within this enlarged historical landscape McCalman sets the tone for some of the major essay contributions that follow.

In placing essays on heretofore marginal topics like poverty and consumerism alongside major revisionist statements on the period’s more traditionally studied activities like poetry and prose, McCalman's aim of re-conceptualizing the period is convincingly achieved. He reviews rival"universal" and encyclopedic cultural history projects from the period,providing a neat contemporary Romantic illustration of the contested nature of the genre. In Coleridge and Southey’s project "to retain or recover the unity of knowledge inthe face of unprecedented tendencies towards diversity and fragmentation" the Romantic age found its most urgent intellectual and moral response to the leveling cultural tendencies of an encroaching industrialism (5). By contrast, the efforts of the"Presbyterian bookmakers," inspired by the intellectual modernity of the Scottish Enlightenment, sought to provide a more practical British equivalent to the French Encyclopédie. Placed between these extremes of Romantic period encyclopedism was the ambiguous "Companion." Some of these Romantic companions were no more than updated versions of the early modern "commonplace book," providing advice, religious instruction, and entertainment to their scantily educated popular readership, while others functioned as literary accompaniments to specialist scientific study. This recounting of the contested history of the Romantic companion serves as a perfect introduction to An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age'sown multifunctional and multidisciplinary identity.

The Companion is organized into two main parts. The first contains four thematic groupings of 5,000 word essays, while the second consists of encyclopedia style entries profiling major and minor cultural figures, political and social institutions and concepts, and the wide variety of cultural material consumed by the British public during the Romantic period. The neophyte reader can thus turn to the encyclopedia entries in Part Two to learn about the various figures and events discussed in the essays of Part One. The titles of the groupings in Part One, reflecting the trend towards broad cultural interconnections, help to ground the intellectual restlessness of the essays: "Transforming Polity and Nation,""Reordering Social and Private Worlds," "Culture, Consumption, and the Arts," and "Emerging Knowledges." It is impossible to summarize here the forty-plus essays gathered under these headings, but one can get a flavor of the collection from considering some highlights. Mark Philp's "Revolution" and H. T.Dickinson's "Democracy" treat overlapping themes within the "Transforming Polity and Nation" section. In both essays, there is a focus on the indigenous British institutions of political radicalism during the Age of Revolution. The political activities of radical intellectual leaders like Thomas Hardy of the London Corresponding Society and William Cobbett of the Political Register are placed within the larger narrative of British democratic development. Barbara Caine's essay, "Women," is a fascinating discussion of the intellectual, moral and social complexities contained within Wollstonecraftian feminist thought, while David Philips's essay, "Policing," puts forward the convincing argument that it was the revolutionary panic during the 1790s that was primarily responsible for the rise of the modern institutions of social discipline inherited (and refined) by the Victorians. One of the longest contributions in the volume,Sarah Lloyd's essay, "Poverty," is also one of the finest. In it Lloyd chronicles the development of modern discourse on the poor, a discourse fraught with ideological meanings borrowed from some of the central debates of the time. She argues:"It was the conglomeration of religious, political, economic, and social meanings that made exact definition of the poor so difficult and the source of endless discussion" (116). Anne Janowitz's essay on "Land" is a similarly complex piece in which she meditates on the conflicting meanings of agricultural improvement during the period.

However, it is the third group of essays, "Culture,Consumption, and the Arts," that will probably command the most attention from advanced students and scholars in the field. In its deliberate linking of high art with common consumption, elite with popular culture, and aesthetics with material practice, this section perhaps comes closest to illustrating the enlarged academic worldview of An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age. The social historian Roy Porter opens the section with a lively narrative of England's consumer capitalist modernity during the eighteenth century, which in the process reviews theories of modern individualism and capitalist individuation from Locke and Weber to C. B. MacPherson. Iain McCalman and Maureen Perkins's "Popular Culture" engages recent debates about the interpretation of popular culture and offers a series of insightful case studies from the period, turning to the peasant poet John Clare, the popular Regency crime and sports journalist Pierce Egan, and the prophetess Joanna Southcott. Jerome McGann's contribution, "Poetry," continues with that prominent critic's materialization of the canonical Romantic tradition, arguing with characteristic lucidity about the social implications of the revolution in poetic style initiated in the 1790s. The penultimate essay in the section by Jon Klancher is a useful overview of the complex cultural geography that defined the bourgeois public sphere in Britain during the Romantic period.

The volume's diversity is also exemplified in the essays grouped together under the rubric of "Emerging Knowledges." Martin Fitzpatrick's contribution on the Enlightenment is noticeable for its subtle negotiation of the distinctive Irish, Welsh, English and Scottish components that collectively defined the British intellectual contribution to Enlightenment Europe. Donald Winch, one of the leading intellectual historians of the period, contributes an essay on political economy that explores the neglected tensions within neo-classical economic thought. James Chandler's essay, "History," functions as both a useful survey of Romantic historicism in Britain, as well as a provocative exploration of the way in which the historically self-conscious genre of speculation on contemporary cultural experience known as the "spirit of the age" was developed through new forms of intellectual intervention in the bourgeois public sphere. Jon Mee's contribution re-examines the central importance of language during the period, both in its attempts at bourgeois institutionalization and standardization, and as a complex barometer of class conflict and potential future political emancipation. The final piece in Part One, Peter Otto's"Literary Theory," is a lucid explication of the manner in which Kantian Idealism was assimilated into British Romantic aesthetics, using De Quincey's reflections on German literature as a departure point for exploring the political limits of Romantic poetic subjectivity, particularly the relationship between canonical Romantic poetry's aesthetic position and its wider "retreat from the disorder of politics andhistory" (381).

In the concise profiles of both major and minor historical events and in the biographies of significant cultural figures in the Romantic period, the short entries of Part Two complement the wide-ranging essays from Part One. Indeed, although somewhat shorter than the standard entry found in the Dictionary of National Biography,the best of these biographical entries will surely serve as models for the major revisions now underway for the New Dictionary of National Biography. One of the benefits of the general brevity displayed in the entries is the impressive breadth of coverage contained in Part Two, from Cobbett and children's literature, to the 'silver fork' novel and the Scottish Enlightenment. The fact that leading scholars have also contributed these shorter entries means that some manage to transcend their reference status to function as solid summaries of the cutting-edge research now being undertaken in Romantic period studies. A good example is Kevin Gilmartin's entry on William Cobbett,which manages gracefully in a short space to convey the cultural significance now being attached to this radical intellectual by recent scholarship in the field, not least in Gilmartin's own important study, Print Politics (Cambridge University Press, 1996).There are many other examples of entries functioning as "tasters" for the respective author's full-length contributions to the new scholarship on the Romantic period, a reflection of the unusually high quality of contributors assembled for these encyclopedia size entries.

I am confident that An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Agewill quickly establish itself as the premier reference source of its kind in the field.Credit is due to Professor McCalman, whose guidance as general editor works both to preserve a coherent "Romantic" character to this cultural history project and to interrogate that label's increasingly complex meaning. Additionally, the strategic use of over 100 illustrations throughout this generally handsome volume makes it a pleasure to simply browse through. My only reservation would be in its price, which at $150/£85 makes it a prohibitive purchase for advanced students and young scholars—just the groups that stand to benefit the most from its overview of recent innovative scholarship in the field. However, I suppose that limiting the market to mainly institutional purchases is a small price to pay for the unprecedented wealth of scholarly expertise on the Romantic period that it makes available.

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Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: Writings in the British Romantic Period. Eds. Peter Kitson and Debbie Lee

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Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation: Writings in the British Romantic Period. 8 volumes. General Editors, Peter Kitson and Debbie Lee.  London: Pickering & Chatto Publishers, 1999.  3,200pp (chiefly facsimile). £595.00/$950.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-851-96513-0).

Reviewed by
Charlotte Sussman
University of Colorado at Boulder

Few political movements can have spent so much energy worrying about the relationship between literature and other kinds of materials than the British antislavery movement, or invested so much faith in their forceful interaction. In the course of "Slavery. A Poem" (1788), for example, Hannah More undertakes an investigation of the power of poetry alongside her indictment of British slavery. She calls upon not only "Liberty" and "Freedom," for inspiration, but also upon the author of the dramatic version of Oroonoko, Aphra Behn's narrative of slave rebellion: "O, plaintive Southerne! whose impassion'd strain / So oft had wak'd my languid Muse in vain! / Now, when congenial themes her cares engage, / She burns to emulate thy glowing page[.]" More thus implies that her poem's political efficacy will spring from its ability to carry the emotional impact of a play. A few lines later, however, she rejects the affect of "bright invention": "For no fictitious ills these numbers flow, / But living anguish, and substantial woe; / No individual griefs my bosom melt, / For million feel what Oroonoko felt." Even here, though, it seems as if the millions of actual slaves merely mimic the feelings of the fictional hero. The poem suggests that an understanding of "real" suffering depends on the powers of representation, even as its narrator insists on the primacy of experience: "Rhetoric or verse may point the feeling line, / They do not whet sensation but define." In this way, More, along with many in the antislavery movement, implicitly celebrates print culture, and the inherent value of the written record. Of abolition, she says "What page of human annals can record / A deed so bright as human rights restor'd? / O may that god-like deed, that shining page, / Redeem OUR fame, and consecrate OUR age!"

It is just this kind of written record that we now have in Slavery, Abolition and Emancipation. "Slavery. A Poem" reminds us that, when More wrote, the distinction between "literature" and other kinds of printed material was not nearly as sharply drawn as it is today. These volumes will allow twentieth-century readers to re-think that continuum of material for themselves. The collection is neatly divided into three volumes covering literature (verse, drama, fiction), four covering extra-literary material (theories of race, the history of medicine, the abolition debate, and the emancipation debate) and one devoted to the works of Black writers. Each volume begins with a contextualizing introduction, and then includes a number of documents in facsimile. Ranging from pieces that are now canonical, such as Blake's "Little Black Boy," to those that were widely-read in their own time, such as William Fox's pamphlet "on the Utility of Refraining from the Use of West India Sugar and Rum" and Thomas Clarkson's "Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species," the collection also includes texts initially intended for more specialized audiences, like "Practical Rules for the Management and Medical Treatment of Negro Slaves." At least one narrative crosses discursive boundaries; the story of "Obi" or "Three-Fingered Jack" appears both as a novel, and as a play (the story is originally drawn from "life," and recorded in Benjamin Mosely's Treatise on Sugar). The reader is free to make what connections he or she will between these discourses, or to conclude, as several of the volume editors remind us, that capitalist economics and the armed rebellion of slaves themselves may have had more of an impact on the history of slavery than any piece of print. While this collection doesn't strive to put forward any one answer to the vexed question of why slavery was abolished in the British colonies when it was, it will introduce readers to enough of the key texts from the period to make the problem come alive in all its complexity.

Fictional images of British slavery from this era survive primarily in "low-culture" forms—poems published in periodicals, theatrical pantomimes, sentimental tales. The editors of the literary volumes—Srinivas Aravamudan, Jeffrey Cox, and Alan Richardson—do an excellent job of explaining the cultural contexts of those genres, and the possibilities and limits they may have imposed on representations of slave culture. Cox, for example, considers the flexibility allowed by even the most popular and schematic of forms when discussing Isaac Bickerstaff's comic-opera afterpiece, The Padlock.

While The Padlock's popularity in slave-holding colonies suggests that the comic portrayal of the enslaved Mungo reassured British West Indians about their treatment of African slaves, The Padlock could also be played against slavery, with Mungo—the first blackface comic figure on the London stage to use something approaching an accurate dialect—as a voice of resistance. (5: xv)

On occasion, Mungo concluded the epilogue by stating "For, though no Briton, Mungo is—a man," "a way of reading Mungo that enabled the great black actor Ira Aldridge to make Mungo . . . one of his triumphant roles" (5: xv). Thus, representations of slavery could have political effects well beyond their explicit intentions. Aravamudan uncovers a similar kind of paradoxical multivalency in fictional representations of slavery:

With respect to political fiction, we are faced with an ideological Hobson's choice, in that the reformist (but "pro-slavery") interventions of the period . . . are more refreshingly loco-specific even though ideologically objectionable from a post-slavery perspective, whereas the anti-slavery fictions that include portraits of slaves and freedmen in metropolitan contexts are frequently subjected to sentimentalist distortions. (6: xviii)

Oddly, then, one has to turn pro-slavery accounts to understand the material realities of plantation life—a move one has to replicate when reading the non-literary material. Despite the value antislavery activists like More seem to put on the collection of empirical facts about slavery, few abolitionists (aside from Clarkson) went beyond sentimental tableaux in their representation of that world.

I wonder, however, about the general editors', particularly Kitson's, desire to assimilate this material so forcefully into the pre-existing category of "The British Romantic Period" (see 1: xviii; 2: ix). While it's certainly clear that a greater understanding of the history of British slavery will benefit the study of canonical British Romanticism, it's less clear what an understanding of Romanticism can do for the study of the history of British slavery. True, many of the major events in that history took place during what we understand as the Romantic period: the abolition of the trade in 1807, the emancipation of the slaves in the Caribbean in 1833. But other events did not: the chartering of the Royal African Company in 1660; the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, granting England the monopoly rights to the slave trade, in 1713; and the intense involvement of British abolitionists in the American struggle against slavery during the nineteenth century. An understanding of the long histories of capitalism, science, and religion is as vital to understanding British slavery as the "Romantic period" issues of the revolution and the rights of man. I bring this up because such a circumscribed vision of the period 1780–1830 arguably continues the Balkanization of literary studies into "periods." It is gratifying to see Wylie Sypher's ground-breaking work, Guinea's Captive Kings (published in 1942 and long out of print) acknowledged by almost every editor. Yet, while work on representations of slavery from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by Laura Brown, Markman Ellis, Margaret Ferguson and Kim Hall is cited in one or the other introductions to individual volumes, work by scholars such as Felicity Nussbaum, Carol Barash and Elizabeth Bohls is never mentioned. Only Brown, among these influential critics, is cited by Kitson in the general introduction. More important than my quibbling over citations, however, is the way the tightness of focus here tends to reify the "specialness" of the same old Romantic Period, while at the same time providing a plethora of material that should lead us to reconsider not only the characteristics of that era, but the whole issue of periodization. Indeed, most of the individual volumes contain texts from far outside that chronological rubric; it seems important that this historical breadth be acknowledged in discussion of the organizing framework.

I should confess, finally, that this collection makes me feel like one of those proverbial schoolchildren who had to walk through snow to the unheated one-room schoolhouse. Not so long ago, when I started researching the more ephemeral material surrounding the antislavery movement—pamphlets, uncanonized poems and novels, memoirs—much of what I found, if it existed at all outside the British Library, was stored in unsorted boxes, in small, often incompletely cataloged collections (no computer databases). It was nothing you would come across unless you were doing a highly specialized research project. Now, thanks to Pickering & Chatto, and the editors of these volumes, much of that material will be easily accessible to a broad audience (in libraries, anyway, these volumes being too expensive for individual buyers). Surely, a new era of scholarship will now begin—what once was specialized knowledge may now become required reading. Indeed, the volumes seem almost to fulfill Hannah More's vision, carrying out the aims of the abolitionists themselves to disseminate the knowledge of British slavery as widely as possible.

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Kim Wheatley, Shelley and His Readers: Beyond Paranoid Politics

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Kim Wheatley, Shelley and His Readers: Beyond Paranoid Politics. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999.  xi + 278pp. $34.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8262-1221-2).

Reviewed by
G. Kim Blank
University of Victoria, British Columbia

Quite early in his writing career, Percy Bysshe Shelley came to accept, with varying amounts of resignation, resentment, and disappointment, that he was more or less writing for posterity—not that this ever stopped him from wanting to reform his own world, or from confronting hypocrisy, injustice, and tyranny. Once an idealist, always an idealist—well, it helps considerably if you die young. Shelley knew this very well, fatalistically prefacing his first mature poem, Alastor (1816), with a few lines from Wordsworth's Excursion (1814):

                    The good die first,
And those whose hearts are as dry as summer dust,
Burn to the socket.

Shelley ironically turns Wordsworth's own words against his older and now disappointing contemporary, who, as Shelley laments in his sonnet to Wordsworth, was as good as dead anyway; as for those dry-hearted survivors, Shelley may well have had in mind his contemporary reviewers. Kim Wheatley's Shelley and His Readers examines the relationship between Shelley and his contemporary reviewers, sensibly noting that in his early writing Shelley's radicalism is openly oppositional, resulting in equally oppositional reviews, while later poems, like Adonais and Prometheus Unbound, remain radical but sometimes manage to subvert or divert the reviewers' reactionary responses with their highly aestheticized form. The result, then, of poetry like Shelley's might be to encourage readers to separate the political from the aesthetic.

Wheatley thoroughly sets the stage for her study by first of all laying out her critical terms of reference, followed by a description of the scene of reviewing in which Shelley's work was to be judged. In the case of the former, Wheatley draws her terms from Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter, who characterizes rhetoric of the "paranoid style" as "heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy" (1). The paranoid writer believes that individuals—enemy conspirators, no less—can, through their words, control and manipulate the masses, leading to the complete breakdown of morals and society. Wheatley recognizes and examines this political paranoia found in both the Tory and Whig reviewers of early nineteenth-century Britain. Most importantly, she points to Shelley's participation in the paranoia by writing with reviewers, more than readers, in mind. His absolutism is as extreme as that of those he condemns. As Wheatley puts it, "the story this book tells is one of sometimes unwitting collaboration between the poet, his reviewers, and eventually the Shelley circle" (9).

One interesting feature introduced early in Shelley and His Readers is Robert Southey's role in this paranoid scene. Wheatley notes that he was not just "one of the most prolific contributors to the most influential Tory periodical [the Quarterly Review]" but saw himself as "a self-appointed spokesman for the age" (19). Southey imagines the lower classes ignorantly consuming the seditious message of populist publisher-reformers like Leigh Hunt and William Cobbett. In 1812, Southey writes in the Quarterly Review:

These are the topics which are received in the pot-house, and discussed over the loom and the lathe: men already profligate and unprincipled, needy because they are dissolute, and discontented because they are needy, swallow these things when they are getting drunk, and chew the cud upon them when sober.

Here and elsewhere Southey points to conspiracy, crisis, and contagion. He is, as Wheatley suggests, blindly fearful of the prospect of revolution, and his rhetoric clearly polarizes his culture; the lower, cud-chewing classes are gullible and susceptible to contamination. Southey also believes that the printed word is where this dis-ease begins and spreads, and where ultimately the battle will be won or lost; those Satanic voices must not win the day, or all hell (or at least something like communism) might break out. Sounding a little like one faction of today's media critics, Southey goes on to write that newspapers reporting on the details of nasty crimes can only serve to increase criminal activity.

The Quarterly went after Shelley three times between 1818 and 1821. Shelley's primary fault—and, perhaps, reason for his original notoriety—is his association with Hunt, who had spent a couple of years in jail for "seditious libel" against the Prince Regent. Shelley's life and personality (university expulsion, atheist, adulterer) are thus evidence of what you might become by hanging out with or reading such stirrers of discontent and immorality. Actually, Shelley didn't fully mind being associated with Satanic labeling: any publicity is good publicity, and besides, figures like Milton's Satan had something interesting to say. But not all the reviews of Shelley's work were negative. Four articles in Blackwood's Magazine published anonymously by John Gibson Lockhart note Shelley's originality and genius, while at the same time regretting his politics and philosophy. Surprisingly, Lockhart does not attack Shelley's history or lifestyle, though elsewhere he seems to have little trouble going after Hunt on personal grounds. Wheatley suggests that perhaps Lockhart does not pursue Shelley personally because of the poet's class and its relation to "aesthetic merit" (55). Shelley may be a scoundrel, but he is also a gentleman.

The bulk of the study centers on three works. The first is Queen Mab, which is seen as a "quintessential Satanic text" (59). An examination of the rhetoric of contemporary reviews over the many years of the poem's complicated publishing history, from 1815 to 1821, makes Wheatley's point that reviewers believed such texts could bring about negative social change, and that immoral ideas would spread throughout the land, not unlike the plague. Armed with this view—and it is suggested that Shelley too believed "conspiratorial and contagious models of textual efficacy" were bound together—some reviewers damned the poem as they would damn the author (67). The poem's views on marriage were even used as evidence to block Shelley's case for custody of his children after the suicide of his first wife, Harriet; what a text says necessarily reflects the values of the author: evil text = bad father. Others beyond the courtroom were more enthusiastic about the poem, noting its beauty and the author's capable use of the allegorical dream vision. The effect of this response makes the poem less threatening, since the style and poetical devices (especially personification) were not just recognizable but agreeable. A couple of reviewers even compared Queen Mab to Southey's Thalaba the Destroyer (1801), giving the approving kiss of conformity.

The most paranoid responses to Queen Mab came in 1821 with a pirated edition of the poem. One review in particular suggests that Queen Mab is especially dangerous because its polluting evil is dressed in poetic splendor; the poem is evidence of perverted and demonic genius. This review even goes so far as to present details of Shelley's looks (his "external appearance" hides the "explicit demon"), his evil associations, and debauched history, demonstrating how, as Wheatley puts it, "the Satanic persona of Shelley takes on a life of his—or its—own" (99).

Wheatley's second case study is Prometheus Unbound. Here Shelley sets himself up for trouble by admitting, in his Preface, that he has a "passion for reforming the world." It makes little difference to a reviewer from the Quarterly that Shelley in the same paragraph qualifies the statement, or at least makes it less clear. As far as the reviewer is concerned, the cat is out of the bag: "He professes to write in order to reform the world. The essence of the proposed reformation is the destruction of religion and government. Such a reformation is not to our taste." Mind you, part of the trouble is figuring how the poem might encourage such destruction.

Prometheus Unbound doesn't exactly motivate its readers (Shelley said he intended it for "5 or 6 persons") to take up arms and storm Westminster. If there is a revolution in the poem, it might be, as Wheatley clearly and cleverly explains, in the more subtle way it pushes some readers—that is, a few of the potentially hostile reviewers—beyond paranoid politics to the position where literary beauty and aesthetic appreciation go beyond politics. Writes Wheatley: "Whereas the impulse to separate art and politics is not new, the impulse to make beauty and the apolitical mutually defining would seem to take part in a cultural change that is retrospectively identified with Romanticism" (143). This is a considerable observation, since it is gleaned from a poem about the struggle between oppressor and oppressed, a poem in which violence seems to be used as the means to put down authority: Jupiter doesn't exactly volunteer to take a fall. Demogorgon had to out-muscle him.

Adonais, the third poem Wheatley considers in detail, is shown to contribute significantly to Shelley's image alteration. To put it another way, a funny thing happened to Shelley's reputation immediately following his death: the subversive devil is transformed into a depoliticized angel. A growing Shelley circle—including the likes of Hunt, Horace Smith, William Hazlitt, Edward John Trelawney, Thomas Medwin, and, of course, Mary Shelley herself—works hard to associate their poet with the fiction of Shelley's famously indulgent and idealized self-portrayal in Adonais. Wheatley puts the complexity of this much better: "The chance juxtaposition of Shelley's death and his elegy for Keats leads Shelley's friends, in themselves constituting a procession of mourners commemorating a dead poet, to realize a version of the elegy's own complex revision of Shelley's idealized identification with the beautiful" (195). One gets the feeling that there is room to say more about the relationship between our own idea of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Shelley's construction of his own image, and the original construction of Shelley's reputation by his contemporary reviewers and those who actually knew him. Wheatley's study does very well to open this beyond the limiting pallor of deconstruction or historicism.

Shelley and His Readers is a good book. It makes appropriate use of biographical material, stays away from jargon, is sensibly ordered (with abundant pointers, restatements, and conclusions), and is well researched. Along with Stephen C. Behrendt's excellent Shelley and His Audiences (1989) and Karen A. Weisman's challenging Imageless Truth's: Shelley's Poetic Fictions (1994), we now have a growing number of studies suggesting how Shelley's language is determined by a complex engagement with his idea of reader and audience. In the end, though, Shelley no doubt would have preferred the unconditional positive regard of an immediate and large general readership to the feared verdict of an unknown posterity. A year before he drowns, Shelley writes, "The decision of the cause whether or no I am a poet is removed from the present time to the hour when our posterity shall assemble: but the court is a very severe one, & I fear that the verdict will be guilty death."

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