Romantic Circles Reviews

Colin Jager, The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era

Colin Jager, The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). xiv + 274 pp (Hdbk., $59.95; ISBN 978-0-8122-3979-9).

Reviewed by
Tristanne Connolly
St. Jerome's University in the University of Waterloo

The prospect of reading Nature as the Book of God in and around the Romantic period immediately calls up both the precise, “rational religion” of the eighteenth century (how much can be known of the true God without Revelation?) and the vague, evocative pantheism that has traditionally defined high Romanticism. Colin Jager navigates a way between the two, and the topic of design, seemingly only one small detail in the larger relations of theology, philosophy and literature, reveals itself as influentially everywhere, much like the hand of God. Design becomes a deft little needle to embroider the broad fabric to which Jager sets himself, a repatterning of the relation between Romanticism and modern secularism. The project points suggestively toward multiple significances of the concept of design, and ways to rethink Nature and Reason in early and late Romanticism, and in modernity. More explicitly, the book considers how to read religion in Romantic literature where it might seem most elusive, critiques Romantic criticism through its own investments in a certain narrative of modernity, and extrapolates that critique into a revisionary theory of secularization that accounts for the persistence of divine design and human faith.


Robert Miles, Romantic Misfits

Robert Miles, Romantic Misfits (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 256pp (Hdbk., $75.00; ISBN: 9781403989932).

Reviewed by
Celestine Woo
SUNY Empire State College

Robert Miles’s Romantic Misfits is an erudite, far-ranging reconsideration of Romanticism that cleverly fuses both old and new conceptualizations of the period. Miles recuperates a more conservative (in more than one sense) reading of Romanticism, returning to older sites of scholarly interest in order to defamiliarize them with recent work on theatre, science, and hitherto unrecognized writers and genres. Miles writes for an advanced audience familiar with major theorists, scholars, and arguments within Romantic studies. Even graduate students may find portions of Romantic Misfits difficult to parse without aid, especially the discussion of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and its political context (which arrives with minimal explanation), or the ongoing presumption that the reader has internalized the thought of Jürgen Habermas as fully as Miles. This is not to say, however, that Romantic Misfits is an abstruse, arcane book—at its best, the prose is lucid, even lyrical.


Michael Wiley, Romantic Migrations: Local, National, and Transnational Dispositions

Michael Wiley, Romantic Migrations: Local, National, and Transnational Dispositions (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). Xvi + 209 pp. (Hdbk; ISBN: 978-0-230-60468-1).

Reviewed by
Evan Gottlieb
Oregon State University

Romantic Migrations represents a welcome addition to what I suspect may be a nascent trend in literary studies of the long eighteenth century: the development of (for lack of a better term) post-postcolonial critical approaches. Few would deny that postcolonialism has yielded tangible results, even modern critical classics: Saree Makdisi’s Romantic Imperialism, Suvir Kaul’s Poems of Nation, Anthems of Empire, and Srinivas Aravamudan’s Tropicopolitans, for example, seem likely to remain important touchstones for many years. But with the work of Said, Spivak, and Bhabha (to name three of postcolonialism’s most visible practitioners in the 1980s and 1990s) having been thoroughly digested by literary studies for quite some time now, it seems only natural that scholars might begin to wonder what might lie on the far side of a postcolonial approach to Romanticism.


Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity

Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007). viii + 297pp. ISBN 978-0-521-86638-5 (Hdbk.), $100.00.

Reviewed by
Mark L. Barr
Saint Mary's University

Brian Goldberg's The Lake Poets and Professional Identity is a careful and subtle exploration of the cultural tropes and social forces that William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey invoked and struggled against in attempting to forge their distinct notions of authorial identity. Goldberg's central thesis is that the Lake School poets, caught between the unsustainable binary conception of the author either as reclusive (and unpaid) genius or as remunerated hack, sought in legal, medical, and clerical professionalism a more palatable model to help reconfigure the authorial relationship to both work and audience. In this intensive and necessarily episodic study, Goldberg manages a fine balance between both obscure and well-read texts and between the Lake Poets and their eighteenth-century forebears to trace the often uncomfortable fit between the notion of "professional gentleman" and an emerging vocational identity arising alongside the economic model gradually replacing the patronage system.


Robert Mitchell, Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity

Robert Mitchell, Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity. New York: Routledge, 2007. 280pp. $148.00 (Hdbk; ISBN 978-0-415-77142-9).

Reviewed by
Tobias Menely
Willamette University

Since when has public debate—about the state’s responsibility for the indigent, about foreign wars and homeland security, about the regulation of international commerce—been so thoroughly informed by issues of financial speculation and public debt? Since the eighteenth century, argues Robert Mitchell, when the parasitic greed of speculators and the dangerous expansion of national debt were the subject of plays and poems, pamphlets and speeches. Mitchell describes his ambitious, fascinating, and timely book Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era as an example of a “new economic literary criticism” (206). Literary critics, he maintains, have as much to teach us as economists do about finance capitalism, a phenomenon (as we have recently learned) that reflects the exigencies of social psychology and imaginative speculation no less than the materialities of production and consumption. Mitchell links the development of a theoretical language of sympathetic identification with the crises in state finance that periodically rocked Britain in the century and a half after the establishment of the Bank of England. Elaborating on Thomas Haskell’s seminal work, “Capitalism and the Origins of Humanitarian Sensibility,” Mitchell shows that financial speculation, social sympathy, and humanitarian reform politics share a cognitive style defined by its “open sense of the future” (vii).


Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats's Boyish Imagination

Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats’s Boyish Imagination. Routledge, 2004. Xiv + 158pp. $145.00 (Hdbk; 0-415-28882-7)

Reviewed by
Jonathan Mulrooney
College of the Holy Cross

A concern with “maturity”—psychological, social, poetic—has informed critical discussions of Keats more than those of any other English poet. For much of the twentieth century, the concern was framed biographically: how is it that one so young could have developed so quickly? In 1988, Marjorie Levinson’s shattering Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style turned that question upon itself, claiming that profound cultural dispossession rather than transcendent formal mastery constituted the most radical element of Keats’s poetry. Measuring as it does the psychological (if not the psychoanalytic) valences of the poet’s verses, Levinson’s study continues to serve as a salutary counter to the historicisms that have illuminated Keats studies over the last three decades. As the social and material conditions within which the poems were produced and circulated have been recovered, we have recognized a serious political dimension to Keats’s aesthetic project. Yet Keats’s Life of Allegory reminds us that the formal standards by which we came to value Keats’s lyric form—and the lyric persona they enact—have not, even by virtue of Levinson’s inversion of them, been discarded. In short, Keats’s formal achievement endures in a way that historicism cannot entirely explain. We might reframe my opening question: how is it that an historically informed criticism might attend to matters such as stylistic and psychological “development” without embracing once again an exhausted Romantic ideology?


Dale Townshend, The Orders of Gothic: Foucault, Lacan, and the Subject of Gothic Writing 1764-1820

Dale Townshend, The Orders of Gothic: Foucault, Lacan, and the Subject of Gothic Writing 1764-1820. New York: AMS Press, 2007. ix+365pp. $87.50. (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0404648541; ISBN-13: 978-0404648541).

Reviewed by
David Sigler
University of Idaho

Some ten years ago, Diane Long Hoeveler suggested in Gothic Feminism that a wave of Foucauldian studies, attuned to the broad discursive and institutional transformations underway at the end of the eighteenth century, might be poised to supplement a tradition of psychoanalytic studies of the Gothic (53). Dale Townshend’s monograph, The Orders of Gothic, courageously takes up this challenge, and, like Hoeveler’s study, it refuses to discard psychoanalytic insights just because Foucauldian ones prove illuminating. The Orders of Gothic offers a compelling combination of Lacanian and Foucauldian approaches, while grappling with an enormous range of Gothic writing to deliver fascinating reinterpretations of signal texts. The study is clearly written and accessible—even, I suspect, for readers mildly allergic to the specialized vocabularies of Lacan and Foucault—and for the most part it maintains the integrity of its diverse theoretical investments. It marks a significant and welcome contribution to the current critical conversation on the Gothic.


Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce

Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 232 pages. $80.00 (ISBN10: 1-4039-6925-6)

Reviewed by
David M. Baulch
University of West Florida

A book entitled Erotic Mary Robinson or Erotic Byron would not be all that surprising. By contrast, Anya Taylor’s Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce is immediately unsettling—and interesting—precisely because tradition has constructed Samuel Taylor Coleridge as one of the least erotic beings imaginable. Canonizing Coleridge alongside “Dry Bob” Southey, Byron’s Don Juan set the terms for reception, contrasting the success of Coleridge’s metaphysical interests with the failure of young Juan’s attempts to sublimate erotic attachments through abstruse contemplations. Slightly less than two centuries of subsequent critical treatment have done little to challenge the orthodoxy of Byron’s irreverence. While Anthony John Harding’s Coleridge and the Idea of Love: Aspects of Relationship in Coleridge’s Thought and Writing (1974) accords a centrality to love in its broadest possible sense as a moral/relational metaphysic, and Raimonda Modiano’s Coleridge and the Concept of Nature (1985) recognizes love as an important element in Coleridge’s complex and shifting engagements with aesthetic theory, Anya Taylor’s remarkable book asserts that Coleridge, throughout his life, was positively sexy and charmingly flirtatious. In short, Erotic Coleridge argues that the vicissitudes of Coleridge’s life, the complexities of his thought, and the protean character of his literary achievement need to be seen alongside his consistent interest in women.


Stanley Plumly, Posthumous Keats

Stanley Plumly, Posthumous Keats. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008. Hdbk, $27.95 (ISBN-10: 0393065731); Ppbk, 2009, $17.95 (ISBN-10: 0393337723).

Reviewed by
Susan J. Wolfson
Princeton University

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” That may be, as Keats’s ironizing odist insists, all we know on earth, and all we need to know, but the tautology is as enigmatic as it is alluring. And so the dust jacket of Stanley Plumly’s extraordinary biography reads, in small print at the top, a personal biography, then, more largely declared, Posthumous Keats. But the title page within inverts the order: Posthumous Keats, a personal biography. Which came first, the personalizing of a biography that, by generic agreement, is supposed to be about the other person, the biographized? Or Posthumous Keats, an epithet that feels like a personal biography, even though the poet-biographer outlives poet-Keats, who dies not even a third of the way into his twenty-sixth year, by decades--more than twice and half Keats’s mortal span?


William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Authorship, Commerce and the Public, eds. Clery, Franklin, Garside. Press, Politics and the Public Sphere, eds. Barker and Burrows. Women's Writing, eds. Justice and Tinker.

William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge University Press, 2004. xxix + 765pp., 765 pp., £90, $150.00 (Pbk.,; 2007; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-81006-7). (paperback edition), 796 pp., $43.99.
Authorship, Commerce and the Public: Scenes of Writing, 1750-1850. Eds. E. J. Clery, Caroline Franklin, and Peter Garside. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. xi + 242pp. $95.00. (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 9-780-333-96455-2).
Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820. Eds. Hannah Barker and Simon Burrows. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. ix + 263pp. $99.00 (Pbk., 2007: ISBN-13: 9-780-521-03714-3).
Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800. Eds. George L. Justice and Nathan Tinker. Cambridge University Press, 2002. x + 245pp. $90.00 (ISBN-13: 9780521808569).

Reviewed by
Michelle Levy
Simon Fraser University

In the last decade, historians of the book have held forth the possibility that material culture might provide us with a compelling account of the historical uniqueness and special tenor of Romantic-era literary culture. By examining the dramatic rise in print publication that began in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, the Romantic period may be more easily distinguished both from what came before (the more stable rate of print production that prevailed through most of the eighteenth century) and what came after (the even larger rise in print production and emergence of a truly mass reading public in the Victorian era, enabled by new forms of mechanical reproduction—iron presses powered by steam, industrial paper-making, stereotyping, and lithography). The four books under review demonstrate the potentially transformative effect of a rigorous empiricism on literary studies, as it seeks to supplement and even supersede the more anecdotal and impressionistic material histories that preceded them.