Romantic Circles Reviews

Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800–1808

Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808.  Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2003.  201pp. $43.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87413-815-9).

Reviewed by
John L. Mahoney
Boston College

Richard Matlak's Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808 is a notable study of a key episode in Wordsworthiana, the death of the poet's mariner brother John in the wreck of his ship, the Earl of Abergavenny. It is also a fascinating series of persuasive speculations that connect the accident with Sir George Beaumont's painting of Peel Castle in a Storm and Wordsworth's great poem Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm. Matlak, with "long part-time experience with both military and commercial operations" (11) and an impressive command of the required maritime history, offers a psychological or psychobiographical approach to a range of key questions: What drew John Wordsworth to assume command of the Abergavenny and engage William and Dorothy enough to offer financial support? Why did Beaumont paint two oils of the wreck? Why was Wordsworth so engaged by the painting that he felt the need to write his poem and to correspond with Beaumont? And what conclusion can be drawn about John's much discussed behavior at the time of the wreck that took his life?

Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction

Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction.  New York:
Palgrave, 2003.  x + 266pp. $90.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-96849-2).

Reviewed by
Robert K. Lapp
Mount Allison University

Skip over the title of this book to glance at the table of contents, where the key terms "Hazlitt" and "Apostasy" point directly toward its major strengths. "Repeatedly taking its bearings from Hazlitt's critical interventions of the 1810s" (2), this book makes a substantial contribution to Hazlitt studies by reinforcing a trend toward the positive revaluation of his Regency writings, in particular his relentless exposure of the political tergiversations of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey. More than this, Mahoney advances our understanding of the intersection of literary and political discourse during the Regency by focussing on Hazlitt's master-term "apostasy," discerning in it a far more resonant figure than its negative connotations might suggest. By "pressuring" the term's "obliquely impacted etymological resonances" (3), and by applying these to a series of nuanced and illuminating close readings, Mahoney discovers that apostasy, in the writings of romantic authors, comes to name something more than a mere "standing-off" or a "standing-away" from a previously held political or religious principle. Instead, "it repeatedly figures a standing so precarious as finally to be indistinguishable from a falling--and not an isolated fall at that, but an always-falling which can be seen to occur with reference not merely to political principle, but, more unpredictably, literary language" (2). Readers alert to the deconstructive turn will detect in this "always-falling" the familiar vertigo of "an uncontainable falling characteristic of figurative language" in general, and thus an inevitable swerve away from historical particularity toward the risky claim that "romantic apostasy designates less a postrevolutionary historical phenomenon than an abiding crisis in literary signification" (12). For now, however, let us set this point aside, and instead hasten to note that Mahoney balances his figural analysis with "detailed historical assessments of English literary and political culture from the revolutionary decade of the 1790s through the reactionary years of the Regency" (4). In this context, "romantic apostasy" comes more convincingly to name "a particularly romantic anxiety concerning the precarious relation between literary language and ideology," especially "those features of [such] language which seemingly precipitate a falling in with power" (5).

David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy

David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy. Literature and Philosophy Series. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.  xviii + 309pp.  $59.00. (ISBN 0-271-02051-2).

Reviewed by
Anya Taylor
John Jay College of Criminal Justice - CUNY

The Challenge of Coleridge aims to demonstrate the overlap between hermeneutics and ethics, to show how reading deeply may lead to acting morally, how reading and respecting the otherness of a written text resembles hearing and respecting the otherness of an individual person. The book hopes to encourage a new way of teaching the humanities, by "placing the texts of the past and the present into a conversation in which the attention of both partners is focused, albeit from different historical horizons, on important issues of mutual concern" and thus to remove the humanities from "the criteria of technological production" by which university administrators often evaluate their worth (xiii). Even as it promotes the idea of conversations and dialogues on issues, the book engages in such conversations, ranging widely over living and dead philosophers. As Haney ventures into his vast terrain, he is guided by "Gadamer's notion of a transhistorical conversation that is more comprehensive than the horizon of either the modern interpreter or the historical text, a concept which . . . can provide an important alternative to the currently dominant ideological interpretations of history" (xii). Those of us who teach the humanities enter the field of this book with great hope that ethics, morality, and the conscience will be clearly applied to actions as well as interactive words to deepen our teaching of texts and perhaps even our engagements with actual persons. Chapter headings such as "Knowledge, Being, and Hermeneutics," "Oneself as Another: Coleridgean Subjectivity," and "Love, Otherness, and the Absolute Self" promise opportunities for meaningful contemplation. The recollection of Haney's fine "Aesthetics and Ethics in Gadamer, Levinas, and Romanticism: Problems of Phronesis and Techne" (PMLA 114.1 1999, 32-45) adds to the anticipation.

Alexander S. Gourlay, ed., Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant

Alexander S. Gourlay, ed., Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant. Locust Hill
Literary Studies, no. 33.  West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 2002.  xviii + 396pp.  Illus.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-93395-196-5).

Reviewed by
James T. Harris
University of South Carolina

A book dedicated to the distinguished legacy of John E. Grant in Blake studies should rigorously challenge traditional and established ways of understanding Blake.  It should also provide readers with innovative approaches to his oeuvre.  Furthermore, it should raise questions that may remain unanswered for now and yet point to fruitful paths for other students and scholars of Blake. Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant exceeds these expectations.  Several contributors--Catherine L. McClenahan, Morton D. Paley, and Richard J. Squibbs--present groundbreaking essays on topics that have received little or no critical attention, while others, Michael Ferber, Alexander S. Gourlay, and G. A. Rosso, offer chapters that demand reconsiderations of Blake and his art.  This collection contains thirteen unique and provocative essays that engage the reader at every turn.

Clara Tuite, Romantic Austen: Sexual Politics and the Literary Canon

Clara Tuite, Romantic Austen: Sexual Politics and the Literary Canon. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 49.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xiii + 242 pp.  Illus.: 4 halftones.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-80859-6).

Reviewed by
Devoney Looser
University of Missouri-Columbia

Debates about whether or not Austen is "Romantic" have raged for decades, so it is surprising that Clara Tuite's forceful book is the first to address the subject.  Tuite's argument, that Austen's writings are steeped in some of the ideologies of Romanticism, is certainly accurate.  It should seem odd to label Austen an Augustan or Regency author, either removed from her own day and age or placed in a literary category all her own. Tuite's book might provoke arguments about which ideologies Austen's texts display, but Romantic Austen provides the groundwork on which future scholars who consider the matter will need to build.

Those who expect to see comparison to the "big six" and their relationship to Austen's oeuvre will be either disappointed or surprised. Though there are a handful of references to Wordsworth and Coleridge, the names Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Blake do not appear herein.  The Romantic to whom Tuite repeatedly compares Austen is Edmund Burke; the term she most often associates with both figures is "organicism" (11).  As Tuite puts it, "it is possible to identify Austen with a kind of Burkean position that venerates the country ideal and attempts the 'renovation' of the paternal aristocratic order" as the natural order (170).  Likening Austen to Burke does not tell the whole story for Tuite. What complicates Austen's debt to Burke is "feminocentrism," a feature that shows Austen's "commitment to upward mobility for women" and that makes her a kind of "Tory feminist" (95; 170). Austen manifests a greater liberal and professional investment in writing than does Hannah More or Jane West, according to Tuite; Austen also exhibits a greater sense of the "aesthetic as an autonomous category" (171). Tuite's study explores "the relationship between aristocratic apologia and female social mobility" in Austen's writings (155).

Philip Shaw, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination

Philip Shaw, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002.  xvi + 260 pp. $69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-99435-3).

Reviewed by
Charles Rzepka
Boston University

Philip Shaw's Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination combines detailed and extensive research into cultural, scientific, political, and artistic responses to the deciding engagement of the Napoleonic Wars with a challenging, and largely persuasive, reading of its often paradoxical impact on the major writers of the romantic movement.  Employing a Lacanian mode of cultural analysis, Shaw succeeds in up-ending traditional apocalyptic views of Waterloo as a unifying, and unified, historical watershed in the rise of Great Britain as a modern nation state.  As he is at pains to show, far from serving to consolidate the victors' national identity, Napoleon's final defeat tested "ideas of nationhood, authority and the relations between violence and identity" in a more profound manner than the War itself ever could have done (x).

Leah Price, The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel: From Richardson to George Eliot

Leah Price, The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel: From Richardson to George Eliot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.  vii + 224pp.  $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-78208-2).

Reviewed by
Michael Gamer
University of Pennsylvania

Within a culture of the excerpt, the novel forms a test case. Few genres have been better placed to escape the anthology's sphere of influence. Sheer scale helps define the novel. So do the pace and duration of reading which the scale elicits. But the novel depends just as much on readers' resistance to those demands. Skipping (or anthologizing) and skimming (or abridging) have never been separable from a genre that cracks under its own weight. (5)

Leah Price has written an original and cogent book, one that will invite readers to find pleasure in their own habits of reading and compel literary critics to become more self-conscious about how, when, and why we quote, excerpt, and paraphrase. Reviewing a book whose chapters feature section headings like "The Ethics of the Review" (137) feels somewhat like responding to a dare, and my own opening epigraph (without question) has been selected with more than usual care after reading Price's clever and playful study. As it suggests, part of her aim is to expand our sense of the sheer range of anthologizing acts out there--from "[s]kipping (or anthologizing) and skimming (or abridging)" to extracting, compiling, indexing, and expunging--not to mention connecting these acts of reading to the material texts they produce. The analogies inscribed in such parenthetical shifts as "skimming (or abridging)" are key to the book's daring and pleasures. They also form the keystone of its project of combining studies in book history and narrative technique, and of shifting the focus of both critical approaches to readers. Thus, Price's introduction compares acts of anthologizing to those of literary reviewing, cinematic previewing, and quoting out of context, all of which "depend on a gentleman's agreement to take the parts of a work for the whole" (2).

Jerrold E. Hogle, The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and Its Progeny

Jerrold E. Hogle, The Undergrounds of The Phantom of the Opera: Sublimation and the Gothic in Leroux's Novel and Its Progeny. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xv + 261pp.  $69.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-29346-1).

Reviewed by
Steven Bruhm
Mount St. Vincent University

"What accounts for the continuities and the discontinuities in the history of this shifting but ongoing phenomenon?," Jerrold Hogle asks of The Phantom of the Opera (xi).  "What 'cultural work'--what symbolic shaping of the way we think in the West--does The Phantom of the Opera keep doing for us in its original form and in the wider variations on it?" (xi).  Beginning with these questions, Hogle gives us a subtle, nuanced, and lucid excavation of the social and psychological undergrounds that Leroux's Erik and his "progeny" throughout the twentieth century inhabit.  These undergrounds, Hogle argues, "turn out to be deep-seated anomalies in Western European life--crossings of boundaries between class, racial, gender, and other distinctions--that are quite basic to, but commonly shunted off as 'other' than, the social and individual construction of a rise middle-class 'identity'" (xii).  Put another way, the Phantoms are "sublimations" of cultural anxieties, displaced into a monstrously other figure yet resonant and legible as that which white Western culture needs to solidify its sense of itself as a developed and healthy people.

Susan J. Wolfson, ed., Frankenstein: A Longman Cultural Edition; J. Paul Hunter, ed., Frankenstein: The 1818 Text; & Judith Wilt, ed., Making Humans: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, H. G. Wells, The Island of Doctor Moreau

Susan J. Wolfson, ed., Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein: A Longman Cultural Edition. New York: Longman, 2003. 343 pp.   $16.00 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-321-09698-3).
J. Paul Hunter, ed., Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, Contexts, Nineteenth-Century Responses, Modern Criticism. A Norton Critical Edition.  New York: W. W. Norton: 1996.  336 pp., ISBN 0-393-96458-2, $11.40.
Judith Wilt, ed., Making Humans: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, H. G. Wells,
The Island of Doctor Moreau. New Riverside Editions. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2003.  360 pp. $10.76 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-618-08489-4).

Reviewed by
Laura Mandell
Miami University

Three excellent new teaching editions of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein have appeared over the last decade. All three make use of the 1818 text rather than the last, much revised 1831 edition for reasons stated most succinctly by Judith Wilt: "Increasingly [editorial] practice favors the 'first' text, true to its cultural and biographical context, rather than a later, authorized text, in which the writer is often at work 'modernizing' the original child of his or her brain" (13). But in the case of Frankenstein, there is slightly more involved in preferring the 1818 to the 1831 text. Wilt summarizes the reception history of various editions (14), and J. Paul Hunter includes in his edition the text that has had the most impact on our current preference for teaching the 1818 text, Anne K. Mellor's "Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach."1  Mellor argues that "the 1818 edition alone presents a stable and coherent conception of the character of Victor Frankenstein and of Mary Shelley's political and moral ideology" (qtd. in Hunter 37). Significantly, though, Mellor means to open up discussions about comparing various editions rather than to definitively foreclose on them, and her article might provide a useful blueprint for introducing literature students to the biases hidden in editorial choices, invisible to those who simply pick up a text and read it as if it were "Mary Shelley's."

E. J. Clery, Women’s Gothic: From Clara Reeve to Mary Shelley

E. J. Clery, Women's Gothic: From Clara Reeve to Mary Shelley. Devon, U.K.: Northcote House, 2000 viii + 168 pp.  $21.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7463-0872-8).

Reviewed by
Harriet Kramer Linkin
New Mexico State University, Las Cruces

The explosion of interest in Gothic literature during the past twenty-five years has resulted in a tremendous group of books, especially among scholars working on women's Gothic literature or the female Gothic (notably Bette Roberts's 1980 The Gothic Romance, Julian Fleenor's 1983 collection The Female Gothic, Kate Ferguson Ellis's 1989 The Contested Castle, Eugenia DeLamotte's 1990 Perils of the Night, Michelle Massé's 1992 In the Name of Love, Terry Castle's 1995 The Female Thermometer, Anne Williams's 1995 Art of Darkness, and Diane Hoeveler's 1998 Gothic Feminism). Emma Clery's Women's Gothic makes a rich contribution to the field that is both distinctive and innovative in looking exclusively at women's Gothic literature to argue against the simplicity of a separatist tradition that differentiates the male Gothic from the female Gothic. Rather than read women's Gothic works as "parables of patriarchy involving the heroine's danger from wicked father figures, and her search for the absent mother," the classic approach that positions the "'Female Gothic'" within the "notion of a distinctive women's tradition" (as Ellen Moers usefully defined "Female Gothic" in her 1977 opus Literary Women), Clery productively turns the issue of valuation upside down to ask "what happens if we lay aside our assumptions about women's writing and look again at women's Gothic? What we find there suggests the need for another story: wild passions, the sublime, supernatural phenomena, violent conflict, murder and torture, sexual excess and perversion, outlandish settings, strange minglings of history and fantasy" (2). That is the story Clery seeks to tell in Women's Gothic as she offers lucid, concise, and finely researched overviews of the works of Clara Reeve, Sophia Lee, Ann Radcliffe, Joanna Baillie, Charlotte Dacre, and Mary Shelley for Isobel Armstrong's "Writers and Their Work" series (which currently includes over one hundred brief studies of authors and literary movements).