Romantic Circles Reviews

Nancy Yousef, Romantic Intimacy. Review by Aaron Ottinger.

Nancy Yousef, Romantic Intimacy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013). 192 pp. (Hdbk. or digital, $55.00; cloth ISBN: 9780804786096, digital ISBN: 9780804788274).

Aaron Ottinger
University of Washington

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted Marina Abramović’s performance, The Artist is Present. For seventy-five days, Abramović sat in a chair while a succeeding rotation of museumgoers sat parallel to the artist and gazed into her face. Some patrons stared at Abramović for hours at a time; meanwhile, no words were exchanged. How can we characterize this strange encounter between artist and audience?

Romanticism and Enlightenment by Rowan Rose Boyson

Rowan Rose Boyson collects and discusses seven wide-ranging approaches to the subject of Romanticism and Enlightenment:

  1. Marshall Brown, ‘Romanticism and Enlightenment’ in The Cambridge Companion to British Romanticism, ed. by Stuart Curran, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)
  2. Simon Swift, Romanticism, Literature and Philosophy: Expressive Rationality in Rousseau, Kant, Wollstonecraft and Contemporary Theory (Continuum, 2009)
  3. Frances Ferguson, Pornography: The Theory, or what Utilitarianism did to Action (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004)
  4. Nancy Yousef, Isolated Cases: Anxieties of Autonomy in Enlightenment Philosophy and Romantic Literature (Cornell University, 2004)
  5. The Sublime: A Reader in British Eighteenth-Century Aesthetic Theory, ed. by Andrew Ashfield and Peter de Bolla (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996)
  6. Elizabeth Eger, Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)
  7. Jacques Rancière’s Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art, trans. by Zakir Paul (London: Verso, 2013)

The Annotated Frankenstein, eds. Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, The Annotated Frankenstein, eds. Susan J. Wolfson and Ronald Levao (Harvard: Belknap Press, 2012). 400 pp. (Hdbk., $29.95; ISBN 978-0-674-05552-0).

Reviewed by
Nora Crook
Anglia Ruskin University at Cambridge

The Annotated Frankenstein? Most new editions of Frankenstein are annotated now. One thinks of those that have been published or updated in recent years—landmarks such as Charles Robinson’s The Original Frankenstein (2008), Stuart Curran’s wonderfully compendious Romantic Circles hypertext (2009), fine teaching editions (all using the 1818 text) such as Macdonald and Scherf’s Broadview (3rd ed., 2012), Paul Hunter’s Norton (2nd ed., 2012), Judith Wilt’s New Riverside (2003), and not least the Longman (2nd ed. 2007), edited by Wolfson, reviewed in Romantic Circles in 2004.

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism and Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). 430 pp. (Hdbk., $ 97.95; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8047-6105-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8047-6105-5). Wolfson, Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). 381 pp. (Hdbk., $ 70; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8018-9474-3; ISBN-13: 978-0-8018-9474-9).

Reviewed by
Diego Saglia
University of Parma, Italy

Although published six years apart, these two volumes belong in the same multifaceted critical mosaic. Both studies address the distinctive concerns which have been central to Susan Wolfson’s critical practice since the 1980s—her preoccupation with gender, her focus on literary form, and her indefatigable search for an increasingly detailed, as well as historically attuned, approach to the stylistic materiality of literary works. As with her previous works, these books require us to read intensively into texts, and we cannot escape this demand as we gradually explore their largely shared literary terrain: Hemans and Byron, mostly, but also Wollstonecraft, the Wordsworths and Keats. Wollstonecraft, in particular, plays a major role in Wolfson’s presentation of her argument in the earlier Borderlines, and its discussion of the continuities and discontinuities within Romantic-period gender debates between the 1790s and the 1830s.

Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire

Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2009). 266pp. (Hdbk., $55.00; ISBN-13: 978 0 87413 066 9.)

Reviewed by
Colin Carman
Colorado Mountain College

Desire, by definition, is mediated, imitative, and mimetic. At the core of identity and indeed of being itself lie the dual demands to be recognized and to be imitated. These are just some of the premises of Eric Gans and René Girard, and the insightful literary study these two thinkers have inspired, Lord Byron and the History of Desire. Byron is a provocative choice: while the “Byronic hero” is usually typified by defiant autonomy, even solipsistic self-adulation, Ian Dennis reveals just how important the roles of mediation, interplay, and the desires of—and for—others are in Byron’s oeuvre.

Christopher Rowland, Blake and the Bible

Christopher Rowland, Blake and the Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). ISBN: 9780300112603. $50.00.

Reviewed by
G.A. Rosso
Southern Connecticut State University

On the final day of Christopher Rowland's lectures on Blake and the Bible at Yale Divinity School in 2008, the renowned apocalypse scholar John J. Collins began the question-and-answer period by intoning, “Yes, well, but did Blake get Jesus right?" Rowland, the Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at Oxford, replied "Yes and no." Blake got the "non-conformist" Jesus right but he was not particularly interested in the "historical Jesus". Although the book developed from these lectures shows that Blake sometimes does get the "Jesus of history" right, Rowland’s primary focus throughout is on "Jesus the archetypal antinomian." In one of the book’s most profound and original insights, Rowland suggests that the figure of the antinomian Jesus provides a key underlying pattern of thought connecting early and late Blake. In the course of tracing this pattern, Rowland accomplishes his goal of raising Blake’s exegetical profile, arguing persuasively for his place at the center of modern hermeneutical history as "one of the foremost biblical interpreters" (xii).

Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith, Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape

Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith, Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011). ISBN: 9780521768658. $90.00.

Reviewed by
Patricia Peek
Fordham University

This volume, a recent addition to the Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture series, should be of great interest to both Romantic and Victorian scholars. Spanning nearly one hundred years of literature about gardens and horticulture, Page and Smith discuss how women engaged in discussions of topics not limited by their domestic sphere. The motivating agenda for this work is an exploration of how in “a period marked by major political, technological, and cultural changes, the domesticated landscape was central to women’s complex negotiation of private and public life” (1). The act of gardening, botanical study and writing, and sketching the landscape both within and beyond the garden gate created opportunities for women in the nineteenth century to stretch beyond the boundaries set for them by society, in an attempt to participate in the larger socio-political arena. The essays found in the volume demonstrate how these acts “served as a ground for both social and intellectual experimentation” (11). Both Romantic and Victorian scholars will feel at home in the tangencies found in this genre and with the socio-political currents of each period, as Page and Smith see in their "domesticated landscape" the familiar (but always fresh) prospects of gender, female education, the tensions of class and labor, as well as the more abstract concept of sympathy.

Kevis Goodman, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History

Kevis Goodman, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). 244 pp (Cloth; ISBN: 0521831687; £45.00).

Reviewed by
Seamus Perry
Balliol College, Oxford

Readers have often noticed that something odd keeps happening in Thomson’s The Seasons. A poem supposedly devoted to the Newtonian excellences of order and proportion keeps surprising itself with the counter-experience of disorderliness and unruly profusion. These glimpses of covert chaos prove no less absorbing for their being so obviously troublesome to the poem’s tidy-minded Deist agenda:

Nor undelighted by the boundless Spring
Are the broad monsters of the foaming deep:
From the deep ooze and gelid cavern roused,
They flounce and tumble in unwieldy joy.
Dire were the strain and dissonant to sing
The cruel raputures of the savage kind …