Romantic Circles Reviews

Christopher Z. Hobson, Blake and Homosexuality

Christopher Z. Hobson, Blake and Homosexuality. New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xxii + 249pp. Illus: 20 b&w line drawings. $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-23451-1).

Reviewed by
Kevin Hutchings
University of Northern British Columbia

When teaching William Blake's poetry and designs, I occasionally encounter student questions concerning a number of explicitly homoerotic representations in such works as Milton and Jerusalem.   Because Blake was not himself homosexual, I have tended to explain these representations as an aspect of the poet's iconoclastic propensity to "shock" his readers out of socially induced modes of complacency (as Blake clearly attempts to do, for example, in some of his more outrageous "Proverbs of Hell" in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).  Fortunately, Christopher Z. Hobson's Blake and Homosexuality has given me much food for thought, showing me how incomplete and problematic my understanding of Blake's homosexual representations has been.

The Examiner 1818–1822. Vols. 11–15 (1818–1822). Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi

The Examiner 1818-1822. Vols. 11-15 (1818-1822).  Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi. London: Pickering & Chatto, 1998. 4,260pp. £600/$950 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-85196-427-4, 5 vol. set).

Reviewed by
Charles Mahoney
University of Connecticut

At the beginning of 1818, Leigh Hunt was at the height of his career as the charismatic editor of the Examiner and critical champion of young poets such as Keats and Shelley. His profile was such that when Blackwood's took aim at the factitious "Cockney School" in 1817-19, Hunt was recognized as its ringleader and excoriated accordingly. By the end of 1822, however, Hunt was nearly forgotten: sales of the Examiner had fallen off precipitously; he had been seemingly abandoned by many of the young talents he had gathered around him in Hampstead; and he had resigned the editorship of the paper late in 1821 upon embarking for Italy and the ill-fated partnership (with Shelley and Byron) of the Liberal. The popular, heroic libeler of the Regent in 1812--the "wit in the dungeon"--was little more than the deposed and exiled "King of the Cockneys" in 1822. Whereas the paper's first five years, 1808-12, were highlighted by the series of ex officio informations filed against it for seditious libel (culminating in the Hunts' notorious trial and conviction in 1812), and the second five years, 1813-17, were dramatized by its transformation from a political weekly into a broader vehicle for reform in cultural as well as political matters (enlivened most noticeably by the regular contributions of Hazlitt and the introduction of the "Literary Notices" in 1816), these last five years under Hunt witness the erosion of both the paper's appeal and the stature of its editor: Hunt was regularly either overworked or too ill to work; circulation fell so low that a page of advertisements was begun in 1820; and when John Hunt was imprisoned and Leigh was en route to Italy in 1822, the paper often consisted in little more than numerous extracts from other publications. Nevertheless, these volumes--the third and final installment in Pickering & Chatto's invaluable reprint of the first fifteen years of the Examiner--are crucial to our understanding of the literary and political culture of Regency England. However unsystematic the paper's political principles may have been, the Examiner stood--liberally, unstintingly, invariably--for Reform, as articulated by a critic who steadfastly championed the vital and renovating consequences of literature for political change. And when chastening the Quarterly Review for its abuse of Keats and Shelley, upbraiding the ministerial press for its coverage of Peterloo, defending Queen Caroline, or denouncing the cant and hypocrisy of a corrupt Parliament, the Examiner succeeded time and again in "telling the Truth to Power" with its provocative combination of political intransigence and literary virtuosity.

Richard W. Clancey, Wordsworth's Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth

Richard W. Clancey, Wordsworth's Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth. New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xxiii + 215pp. $65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22560-1).

Reviewed by
J. Douglas Kneale
University of Western Ontario

In reconstructing Wordsworth's classical education at Hawkshead" (xv), Richard W. Clancey emphasizes the fundamental importance of the concept of ethos in the growth of Wordsworth's style. Comprising "honesty, truth, and audience-concern" (9), ethos is at once an Aristotelian principle and a Wordsworthian signature. It begins with Wordsworth "in his mother's arms, at her knee, among his father's books, in his presence and shadow" (7), and it develops-with more continuity than disrupture-through the admirable, "holistically" based (51) education that Wordsworth received at Hawkshead Grammar School and his deepening intimacy with the classics at Cambridge. In a book on a poet whose originality owes much to his origins, Clancey argues for the importance of Wordsworth's teachers, and his teachers' teachers, in the formation of a poetical character whose romanticism is thoroughly grounded in its classicism.

The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 5: Romanticism. Editor, Marshall Brown

The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 5: Romanticism. Editor, Marshall Brown. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xii + 493pp>. £65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-30010-X).

Reviewed by
Andrew Elfenbein
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

In an era of flashy titles accompanying thin books, The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Volume 5: Romanticism is seductively unseductive. Its stern cover radiates resistance to market pressures. Yet what the book lacks in flashiness it makes up for in uncompromisingly high scholarly standards and a commitment to the value of comparative intellectual history. Marshall Brown and Cambridge University Press are to be congratulated for investing in long-term interest rather than short-term trendiness. As Brown explains in the introduction, the volume was originally conceived as a joint project with Ernst Behler. Behler's death left Brown to carry out this history, and he has done an exceptional job in developing a volume of uniform excellence.

Each chapter, rather than being merely a close reading of a work or a meditation on a small debate, presents comprehensive views of developments in England and Germany, the two areas that receive the most emphasis in the volume. All chapters are unusually rich in bibliographical depth; a history of twentieth-century literary criticism unobtrusively partners the more overt history of early nineteenth-century literary criticism. It is hard to single out "bests" when quality is so high, but David Simpson's chapter on "Transcendental philosophy and Romantic criticism," evidently a late contribution to the volume, is dazzling. It seems impossible that anyone could explain Kant and the responses to him by Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel so clearly and with so fine a sense of nuance, yet Simpson pulls it off. I suspect that many romanticists will welcome such a friendly guide to the era's most daunting texts. Other illuminating chapters include Kurt Mueller-Vollmer's on language theory, Tilottama Rajan's on genre theory, Brown's on the theory of the novel, Jon Klancher's on the "crisis in the republic of letters," and Theresa M. Kelley's on women, gender, and literary criticism. But the book has no obviously weak chapters: all of them make valuable contributions.

Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth

Jonathan Bate, The Song of the Earth.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. xiv + 335pp. Illus.: 15 halftones. $31.50/£21.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-674-00168-0).

Reviewed by
James C. McKusick
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

In The Song of the Earth, Jonathan Bate ponders some fundamental questions about the purpose of literary criticism, and of imaginative literature itself, in a time of ever-increasing environmental crisis. He asks: "What are poets for?" (243). Is poetry the authentic representation of reality, or merely the decoration of life? Does it help us to remember our origins, or does it enable us to remain oblivious of the bleak future? Does poetry distract the reader with the soothing sound of Nero's fiddle while Rome burns?

These questions are squarely within the domain of poetics, as that discipline was conceived by Aristotle. In The Song of the Earth, Bate's extended meditation on these questions leads him to a new kind of poetics with an ecological inflection--an ecopoetics, as Bate terms it (thereby coining a useful term for contemporary literary production and critical analysis). In an era of impending ecological doom, the emerging discipline of ecopoetics is engaged in a vital re-vision of the fundamental task of poetry. At the present historical moment, ecocriticism has become more than just a marginal mode of literary analysis, because nature is more than just a passive backdrop or setting for the human drama of literature. Bate provocatively argues that the pastoral theme, because it raises the perennial question of the relationship between humankind and the natural world, "is, in fact, the only poetic theme, that it is poetry itself" (74).

John Whale, ed., Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France: New Interdisciplinary Essays

John Whale, ed., Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France: New Interdisciplinary Essays. Texts in Culture Series. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000. xii + 228pp. £40.00/$69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7190-5786-8).   £13.99/$24.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-7190-5787-6).

Reviewed by
Steven Blakemore
Florida Atlantic University

John Whale's collection of interdisciplinary essays is important given the rich variety of Burke's language and thought, which often embrace a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives--historical, literary, sociological, and cultural. In the first chapter, Whale traces the historical reception the Reflections has met, stressing the ways in which the text has been appropriated by a variety of writers and hence has taken on a kind of secondary afterlife. Aware that the contributors to his volume are also involved in these appropriations, Whale emphasizes the complex negotiations that occur whenever the Reflections is read.

Orrin N. C. Wang, Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory

Orrin N.C. Wang, Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. x + 232pp. (Hdbk; 0-8018-5220-X).  $17.95 (Pap, 2000; ISBN: 0-8018-6525-5).

Reviewed by
Adam Carter
University of Lethbridge

"Il faut etre absolument moderne."
–Arthur Rimbaud

In "Literary History and Literary Modernity," Paul de Man theorized an "inherent conflict" between the concepts announced in his title--concepts which, he suggested, might even constitute "logical absurdities."1 "The continuous appeal of modernity," de Man wrote, "the desire to break out of literature toward the reality of the moment, prevails and, in its turn, folding back upon itself, engenders the repetition and continuation of literature. Thus modernity, which is fundamentally a falling away from literature and a rejection of history, also acts as the principle that gives literature duration and historical existence" (162). This inherent conflict, de Man contends, determines both literary history and the structure of literary language. However, the manner in which it does so, de Man concedes, "cannot be treated within the limits of this essay" (162). Although inevitably reductive, it would not be wrong to conceive of Orrin Wang's Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory as an attempt to think through this inherent conflict and certain of its implications within the broader horizons of a book-length study.

Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Edited by Judith Pascoe

Mary Robinson: Selected Poems. Edited by Judith Pascoe. Petersborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2000.  444pp. illus: 16 halftones. (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-55111-3171). CAN$21.95/US$15.95 (Pap; ISBN: 1-55111-201-9).

Reviewed by
Terence Alan Hoagwood
Texas A&M University

Not only for the importance of Mary Robinson's poetry, much of which it makes readily available for the first time, but also for the sake of the high quality of scholarship which it represents, this book is one of the more valuable contributions to Romantic-period studies in many years. The judiciously edited poetic contents are supplemented valuably (consistent with other volumes in the series, Broadview Literary Texts) by editions of ancillary primary material (letters and early reviews), increasing the scholarly utility of this important book. The learned editor's graceful, unobtrusive, but outstanding critical judgment, which is expressed in the substantial introduction, for example, is another sort of supplement which also contributes to the book's value. The volume is aptly and handsomely illustrated with four portraits of Mary Robinson (the editor's introduction makes plain how Robinson's intellectual integrity always suffered from the popular and pictorial tendency to substitute her pretty face for the substance of her trenchant and often bitter writings) and twelve illustrations which are engravings by Caroline Watson after Maria Cosway's drawings illustrating Robinson's poem "The Wintry Day."

Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality

Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality. Romanticism in Perspective Series. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 2000. ix + 220pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22671-3).

Reviewed by
Alan Bewell
University of Toronto

In this book, Mark S. Lussier announces "physical criticism," a theoretical perspective that seeks to illuminate the productive interchange between literature and science, particularly the ways in which physical theory and poetic expression share similar models in their representation of the mind and physical world. Lussier's goal is to take criticism beyond the mechanistic and dualistic models of mind and universe that continue to influence contemporary thought—the world of Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Newton—toward a theoretical perspective that responds to the far more complex and dynamic models of the mind in relation to the physical world that emerged with Romanticism and are now being renewed in contemporary science, especially in biology, ecology, and theoretical physics. Quantum theory has undercut the Newtonian absolutes of space and time. The stabilities of matter in the Newtonian cosmos have been replaced by indeterminacies and relativity, and the meaning of time, always a flexible concept, has been transformed. Since Heisenberg it has been difficult for scientists to employ naively the Lockean model of experience, in which the mind passively registers the sensory data supplied to it by the outside world. Scientists can no longer be said to be removed what from they observe, something that has not been lost on social constructivists. Ecological criticism has insisted even more powerfully upon the crucial necessity for human beings to recognize that they exist in nature and that they need to develop new, less destructive ways of interacting with it. Lussier's "physical criticism" synthesizes ecology and physics in order to provide an alternative to the cultural legacy of mechanistic philosophy. He uses the term "dynamics" to describe this more complex and holistic conception of the interaction of the mind and the physical world. In his view, Romantic poetry not only anticipates these developments, but has played an important role in providing "physical criticism" with the language and metaphors needed for representing this new world.

Richard Cronin, The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth

Richard Cronin, The Politics of Romantic Poetry: In Search of the Pure Commonwealth. Romanticism in Perspective Series.  London: Macmillan, 2000. viii + 225pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22749-3).

Reviewed by
Mark Canuel
The University of Illinois at Chicago

In recent years, the historical study of Romantic writing has led more or less seamlessly to a study of reading audiences or the "reading public." For many critics, that is, taking an interest in the "politics" of Romantic literature, or Romantic "ideology," entails an attempt to account—from a genetic point of view—for precisely where politics or ideology come from. Whether the object of study is a public or multiple publics (or counterpublics), the point of these explorations is that publics have ideologies and ideologies provide the conditions under which works are written and received; the reading public is thus said to "influence" or "inform" canonical and non-canonical Romantic writing in a way that has been unappreciated by critics before this time. The Romantic writer, it might be said, becomes an audience for his or her audience, and the difficulty of determining the meaning of literary utterances has been solved, somewhat surprisingly, by suggesting that the utterances of publishers, reviewers, and participants in the popular "press" are more stable or easier to read than the utterances of poets and novelists.

Richard Cronin's The Politics of Romantic Poetry does something different because it does not merely take a view of literary works as if they needed to be untangled by the pre-adjudicating utterances of an audience. His subject, in fact, is not the politics of poetry (as the title would suggest) as much as it is the poetry of politics; he sees the works he studies—from the Jacobin poets of the 1790s to Byron, Shelley, and Keats—as more directly engaging the beliefs and assumptions of an audience in order to secure poetic authority. If historicism's familiar gesture is to see the audience as determining the "historical and cultural context" for the meaning of literary works, Cronin sees those works, by contrast, as interpretations and determinations of their audiences.