Romantic Circles Reviews

Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation

Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). x + 224pp. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-231-10816-8). $16.50 (Pap; ISBN: 0-231-10817-6).

Reviewed by
Dennis Berthold
Texas A&M University

In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1992), Toni Morrison calls for greater attention to the place of race and slavery in classic American literature: "The contemplation of this black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination" (5). Teresa Goddu's book answers that call by grounding nineteenth-century American gothicism in the history and politics of American racialism. In America, Goddu argues, the gothic stands as an elaborate code for slavery, race, and oppression, including the oppression by the new capitalist marketplace and its consequence, rampant literary commercialism. Goddu's fundamental aim is to historicize the gothic, to situate it within a particular social and political milieu and show how "American gothic literature criticizes America's national myth of new-world innocence by voicing the cultural contradictions that undermine the nation's claim to purity and equality" (10). By rendering Julia Kristeva's notion of the "abject" (or "horror of being") into concrete, historical narratives, American gothic tales expose the American nightmare even as they mask it with the modes of popular fiction and fantasy. Goddu moves the gothic from the margins to the center of American literary history, and to the already considerable literature studying the gothic's psychological role adds an argument for its social function.

Jonathan David Gross, ed., Byron's "Corbeau Blanc": The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne

Jonathan David Gross, ed., Byron's "Corbeau Blanc": The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997.  xiii + 488pp. illus. $24.95 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-89263-351-4).

Reviewed by
William D. Brewer
Appalachian State University

Lord Byron met Lady Melbourne (1751–1818) when she was sixty and he was twenty-four, and he came to regard her as his only "confidential correspondent on earth," "the best friend [he] ever had in [his] life, and the cleverest of women." He found her conversation delightful and declared that her letters were "the most amusing—the most developing—and tactiques [sic] in the world" (Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Marchand, 3:141–42, 3:209, 3:153). Jonathan Gross's edition of Lady Melbourne's correspondence makes her numerous letters to Byron, the Duchess of Devonshire, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), Caroline Lamb, her niece Annabella Milbanke (Lady Byron), and others widely available for the first time. He supplements the letters with an informative introductory biography, extensive headnotes and endnotes, a helpful "Glossary of Personalities," and sixty-five illustrations. The illustrations alone make this a valuable book: they include portraits of Lady Melbourne, her family members, and associates; photographs and drawings of her various houses; and political cartoons. Gross also provides the reader with a "Scale of Bon Ton" printed by the Morning Post which ranks Lady Melbourne and other upper-class women on a scale of 0–19 in the following categories: beauty, figure, elegance, wit, sense, grace, expression, sensibility, and principles. (Oddly, Lady Melbourne only scores a three in wit.)

John G. Rudy, Wordsworth and the Zen Mind: The Poetry of Self-Emptying

John G. Rudy, Wordsworth and the Zen Mind: The Poetry of Self-Emptying. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. xv + 268pp. $59.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7914-2903-2). $19.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-7914-2904-0).

Reviewed by

Mark S. Lussier

Arizona State University

The use of Zen thought and art as a method for reading Wordsworthian poetic production is, to my mind, long overdue, especially since Wordsworth's mode of spiritual meditation remains embedded in a "discourse of the Other," whether anchored in the "capaciousness of natural process" or dispersed into the "isolation" of the Leech-Gatherer. John Rudy's small book certainly achieves its twofold purpose: "It seeks to provide a Zen context for understanding the spirituality of the English poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) and attempts to enrich the East-West dialogue" emerging with considerable force in the West during the latter half of the twentieth century (xi). As a result, Wordsworth and the Zen Mind will undoubtedly, though not unproblematically, become a foundational text as this critical concern flows into other eddies within Romantic criticism. Indeed, in reviewing my marginal annotations for this assessment, I found continual intersection with other Romantic poets generally and William Blake particularly, suggesting the need for even wider application of the strategies embodied in Rudy's thoughtful book.

Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu

Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. Single-user version, £395/$600US; network version, £1,250/$1,950US (ISBN: 0-631-19944-6).

Reviewed by
Charles Snodgrass & Jeffrey N. Cox
Texas A&M University

New technologies are coming to the aid of the study of Romanticism. E-mail keeps scholars around the world in contact as do on-line discussion groups such as the NASSR-Listserv. Websites — such as Romantic Circles itself — provide a gathering point for scholarly information and a meeting point for scholarly exchange. Now, with the issuance of Romanticism: The CD-ROM, created by David Miall and Duncan Wu and issued by Basil Blackwell, scholars and students have another useful tool at hand for the exploration of the literature and culture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Cultural Minority and the Forms of Transmission

Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Cultural Minority and the Forms of Transmission. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 25. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xiv + 295pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-57236-3).

Reviewed by
Paul Youngquist
Penn State University, University Park

Before there was Wordsworth, before the bright and dying Keats, before even Blake came pugnaciously along, for me there was De Quincey. I learned of him early from a guy who was some years my senior. He was a diabetic and had an easy way with needles, poking himself with enviable nonchalance. He looked gnarled and limber—like a stick that just won't snap, no matter how hard you bend it. He gave me two tips that made college a little more interesting than it would have been otherwise. First, drink the best wine you can afford. That usually kept me from the party crowd, the Thunderbird, and a fair amount of foolishness. Second, read De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. He even lent me his own old copy (the first one's always free). To say it made an impression would be putting it mildly. I read it night after night, a little at a time, not knowing exactly what I was reading, but transfixed. Here was a very strange way of writing: clear and oblique, concrete and complicated, logical and florid. It was a trip. And it got me to thinking that there might be more to literature than Truth and Beauty, then the apparent prerequisites of Great Writing. De Quincey bothered me, put a little glitch into the literature system that my major was wiring up. I'd like to believe that thanks to him, and to that old hipster who first tipped me off, I acquired a feel for other literary oddballs: Blake, Carroll, Burroughs, Dick, to name a few. At any rate, De Quincey remains for me something other than literature, perhaps other to it, at least as it's institutionally construed.

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. xiv + 189pp. $42.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1300-3).

Reviewed by
Jonathan Gross
DePaul University

William Brewer's The Shelley-Byron Conversation is an elegantly written account of the moments of influence and intertextuality that occurred between Byron and Shelley during the six years in which they engaged in their diabolical conversations. Brewer's book differs from Robinson's Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (1976) and Stephen Behrendt's Shelley and His Audiences (University of Nebraska Press, 1989) in seeing a "conversation" between Byron and Shelley rather than a debate "between Shelley's meliorism and Byron's pessimism" (Preface). One point of Brewer's study is that the Shelley-Byron conversation was exploratory in nature. By the time Byron wrote The Island and Shelley wrote The Triumph of Life, they had not only learned from each other, but seemed to be experimenting with positions antithetical to the views they held when they first met. The Island is Byron's most Shelleyan poem, and The Triumph of Life is Shelley's most pessimistic work.

Tim Fulford, Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth

Tim Fulford, Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth. Cambridge Studies in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Thought, 30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xiii + 251pp. $57.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-55455-1)

Reviewed by
Gary Harrison
University of New Mexico

In Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth, Tim Fulford revisits territory made familiar by Raymond Williams's The Country and the City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), John Barrell's The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, 1730-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), and most recently Elizabeth Helsinger's Rural Scenes and National Representation: Britain, 1815-1850 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). Like Williams, Fulford attends to the opposition between the Country and the City, focusing in particular upon the works of Thomson, Cowper, Johnson, Wordsworth and Coleridge, as well as upon the picturesque theories of Uvedale Price, Richard Payne Knight, Humphry Repton, and William Gilpin. Like Barrell and Helsinger, Fulford examines in fine detail the complex web of relations among landscape aesthetics, poetry, rural poverty, and politics. More carefully attending to the particularities of party politics than these writers, Fulford traces a genealogy of transformations in the political inflection of landscape poetry from The Seasons to Home at Grasmere. In so doing, this remarkable book offers an implicit critique of the new historicism, while detailing the relationships among party politics, agrarian change, landscape poetry, and each poet's unique attempt—stylistically and thematically—to claim some moral, political and personal authority for his poetic voice.

Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh, eds., Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 1780–1834

Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh, eds., Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 1780–1834 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996). vii + 352pp. illus. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-253-33212-5).

Reviewed by
Debbie Lee
University of Washington

On a balmy afternoon in San Francisco this past December, at the annual gathering of the Wordsworth Circle luncheon, Alan Richardson had the daunting "keynote" task of talking about Romantic scholarship for the new millennium. The very idea of projecting Romanticism into the twenty-first century seems uncannily Blakean, but rather than asking us to talk prophetically about where Romantic studies are headed, and why, Richardson instead suggested that the field has already found exciting new directions of study. One of these, he said, was to undertake a closer reading of Romanticism in its international setting. To this end, he encouraged the unearthing of the vast history scholars have access to in early printed books and manuscripts. In resituating Romanticism at this moment in time, Richardson suggested, scholars might inform theoretical hunches with a genuine historiography, one that embraces all the writers of the period. Many of us left the luncheon with the sense that Romantic studies is in the midst of one of its most vibrant scholarly phases.

Daniel P. Watkins, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry

Daniel P. Watkins, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. vxii + 157 pp. $34.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1438-7).

Reviewed by
Samuel Lyndon Gladden
Texas A&M University

Daniel P. Watkins's study of works by three major Romantic writers—Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats—examines the place of sexual roles and gendered struggles for power within a social and political landscape marked by profound economic change. Specifically, Watkins investigates the shift from an aristocratic, feudal economy to an emerging capitalism, and he points to gendered subjectivity as the primary experiential space through which anxieties over that shift were mediated. Posing the model of "sadeian logic" as the template for making sense of both social and interpersonal relations, Watkins reads a number of well-known Romantic works through the lenses of gender, class, and power finally to conclude that while the idealistic tendency of Romanticism remains compromised by the masculinist biases of its day, a feminist materialist investigation of the history and historicity of that dilemma—the very sort of project in which Watkins' study participates—offers Romanticism its only way out of the convoluted patriarchalism that structured social, economic, and interpersonal relationships in the early nineteenth century.

Mark Schoenfield, The Professional Wordsworth: Law, Labor, and the Poet's Contract

Mark Schoenfield, The Professional Wordsworth: Law, Labor, and the Poet's Contract. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996. xiv + 360pp. $50.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8203-1791-8).

Reviewed by

John Rieder
University of Hawaii at Manoa

One of the repeated claims in Mark Schoenfield's reading of "law, labor, and the poet's contract" is that aesthetic issues in William Wordsworth's day were inevitably political issues as well. While the claim itself has become something of a literary-critical commonplace in the 1990s, Schoenfield evokes its pertinence to Wordsworth and Wordsworth's milieu with considerable skill and precision. The primary context for Schoenfield's historicizing interpretation is not contemporary politics but rather the growth of the free market and the rise of the modern professions. The entanglement of aesthetics with social issues arises from a tension between value and judgment, or between consumption and criticism, that inevitably accompanied the published work's dual status as commodity and work of art. Schoenfield's counter-figure for the Wordsworthian poetic imagination is therefore not Napoleon or empire but rather a composite character, the lawyer as critical reviewer. Many reviewers were, like Francis Jeffrey, also lawyers, and Schoenfield begins his book by noting that in classical Athens kritikos meant both critic and judge. One of the main merits of The Professional Wordsworth is that it develops this general overlapping of legal and critical domains into a supple tool for the study of Wordsworth's poetry.