Romantic Circles Reviews

Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire

Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire. New York: Palgrave, 2006. 256pp. Illus: 8 halftones. ISBN-13: 978-0-3339-9314-9 (Hdbk.), $69.96.

Reviewed by
Julia M. Wright
Dalhousie University

This important collection of twelve essays, arising from a 2000 Blake conference at Tate Britain, offers an array of historical frames through which to recontextualize Blake—from sensibility to eighteenth-century ideas of sexuality, and from the Sierra Leone project to the diverse religious cultures of Blake's England and debates about art, economy, historiography, and proselytization. "Nation" and "Empire" are capacious categories here, allowed to float freely, as they did in Romantic-era discourse (though there are moments when distinctions between patriotism and modern nationalism, cultural nationalism and ideas of the nation-state, or settler colonies and invaded colonies would have contributed to a clearer picture of "Blake, Nation and Empire"). The aim of this volume is to continue the cultural materialist project of Clark and Worrall's earlier collections and, hence, to focus on the "minute particulars" of Blake's time and place—a project richly pursued here. This collection is not divided into parts, but I have organized my discussion below to highlight some continuities, and complementarities, among these diverse chapters beyond their shared historicist orientation.

John Thelwall's 'The Peripatetic', ed. Judith Thompson

John Thelwall’s ‘The Peripatetic’. Ed. Judith Thompson. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001. 447pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8143-28882-2).

Reviewed by
Michael Scrivener
Wayne State University

Since the original 1793 edition, Thelwall’s Peripatetic had been reissued twice before Judith Thompson’s new edition, in the facsimile edition that was a part of the 1978 Garland “Romantic Context” series edited by Donald H. Reiman, and in a 1984 microfilm facsimile reprint (The Eighteenth Century series, reel 923). Recognized as a correspondent with Coleridge in the 1790s and as a poetic influence on Wordsworth, Thelwall is finally receiving the attention he deserves after long neglect thanks in part to E. P. Thompson’s work on his politics, Nicholas Roe’s work on his connection with Coleridge and Wordsworth, and especially Gregory Claeys’s edition of Thelwall’s political writing, and also in part to the reconfiguration of Romantic studies that has been going on for several decades. Thelwall’s extraordinary Peripatetic is worthy of a modern edition for which Judith Thompson (no relation to E. P.) has written a thoroughly lucid introduction of some fifty pages and has provided valuable explanatory notes, appendices, and an index.

Anthony Jarrells, Britain's Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature

Anthony Jarrells, Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Ix + 229 pp. $80.00 (Hdbk; 1-4039-4107-6).

Reviewed by
C. Durning Carroll

Anthony S. Jarrells’s book, Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature, argues that the Glorious Revolution served for the British of the eighteenth century as a model for how to prevent the sort of bloody revolution that was to happen a century later in France. For Jarrells, it was the peculiar ability of writing (and the way writing was ultimately shaped into “literature” during Britain’s long eighteenth century) to configure the wishes and hopes of ordinary people that kept England from France’s passionate zealotry. Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions suggests a dialog between non-fictional writing—more ideological because it aimed explicitly to persuade—and the imaginative genres of poetry, fiction and drama, whose political and ideological aims were absent, or at least were rendered covert through fictionalization. This conversation between imaginative and persuasive writing, and the way both worked together to meet the needs of the people, regulated Britain’s revolutionary impulses. Jarrells explains that during the eighteenth century “not only was the literary narrowed to exclude, in large part, moral philosophy, historiography, and political economy, but this narrowed focus also helped to narrow the range of opinion in the larger world beyond letters” (98). Jarrells’s central thesis is that the narrowed focus of literature brought about by non-fictional writing helped depoliticize literature and refocus it on the individual.

Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque: British Art, Poetry, and Instruments, 1750-1830

Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque: British Art, Poetry, and Instruments, 1750-1830. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2008. 236pp. ISBN-10: 0-8387-5700-0 (Hdbk.), $50.00.

Reviewed by
Julia Sandstrom Carlson
University of Cincinnati

Water, earth, sky, and animals? At first glance, one of the four sections into which Technologies of the Picturesque is divided seems unlike the others. We come quickly to recognize, however, that the likeness of “animals” to the other categories lies in its also being an object of picturesque vision: one of the basic “elements of nature” (15) encountered, perceived, and composed in visual art according to the rules of picturesque aesthetics. Water, earth, sky, and animals are the basic vocabulary of the picturesque. Yet, as Ron Broglio shows, Romantic artists were not alone in representing these objects and fitting them to human use; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientists and surveyors encountered and inscribed the same elements according to their particular technological, cartographic, agricultural, and immunological agendas. In six tightly focused chapters, the author compares artistic and scientific encounters with nature, their tools and epistemologies, and their respective effects on human subjectivity and sense of space. Crossing disciplinary divides consolidated only after the Romantic period, Broglio brings to light the reliance of poets and artists on the technologies of scientific endeavor and, conversely, the employment by scientists of picturesque principles and tools. Both sorts of optical projects and systems made chaotic nature “legible” to humanity but in doing so enforced a Cartesian divide between human perceiver (eye, mind) and nature (body, matter) that materially distanced human beings and the environment.

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.

Paul Davies, Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination

Paul Davies, Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination. Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Books, 1998. 208pp. $18.95 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-940262-88-6).

Reviewed by
Sheila A. Spector
Independent Scholar

The task of reviewing for a scholarly journal a book intended for a popular audience invites a comparison between what are essentially two completely different genres—the trade book and the scholarly monograph—as well as some speculation about the gap that separates the two. When the book, like Paul Davies's Romanticism & Esoteric Tradition: Studies in Imagination, deals with so-called New Age teachings, the problems are compounded because at least since the Enlightenment, the rationalists dominating intellectual matters in the West have relegated studies of the occult to the outer margins of what has, as a result, become commonly viewed as some sort of pseudo-scholarship. Yet, as the persistent appearance throughout the centuries of books like Davies's suggests, significant numbers of people, even in the rational West, have always been and continue to be attracted to areas of supposedly unenlightened thought, so the question for the reviewer is not whether or not to condemn a popular text for lacking scholarly rigor but, rather, to consider its implications for academics.

Steven E. Jones, Satire and Romanticism

Steven E. Jones, Satire and Romanticism.  New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. x + 262pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22879-1).

Reviewed by
Donelle R. Ruwe
Fitchburg State College

Steven E. Jones poses two self-reflexive questions that are increasingly vital to today's scholars of British Romanticism: how has the canon of Romantic texts been created, and what is the critical history of the concept of Romanticism? Through New Historicist readings of specific productions of satire, which are then inflected through Pierre Bourdieu's analyses of the workings of cultural capital, Jones examines Romantic-era satire in its immediate context in order to understand the ways in which the concept of "Romanticism" evolved into a dominant aesthetic. Jones contends that Romanticism emerged through a struggle with satire, which he sees as Romanticism's other, with Romanticism and satire now defined by mutual exclusion, now by interpenetration. As Jones states, "If Romantic poetry is defined as vatic or prophetic, inward-turning, sentimental, idealizing, sublime and reaching for transcendence--even in its ironies--then satire, with its socially encoded, public, profane, and tendentious rhetoric is bound to be cast in the role of generic other" (3). In the contested space between the two modes, Romanticism and satire gradually defined each other. As Bourdieu writes, distinction is a serious game played for dominance in the field of legitimate taste, and these distinctions are made through rhetorical competitions and symbolic violence. The friction between satiric and sentimental/sincere modes subtly rearranged reputations, aesthetic assumptions, standards of taste, and a distribution of symbolic and cultural capital. These rearrangements paved the way for the Victorian and modern construct of English Romanticism as excluding satire. Even our more recent constructions of the aesthetic mode of Romantic irony, Jones suggests, are a way for criticism to allow Romanticism to reabsorb its traditional opposites and recognize its darker sides while still turning them into Romantic forms. Jerome McGann, Stuart Curran, and Marilyn Butler have variously commented on how criticism of Romantic writing has tended "to replicate Romantic ideological formations, to ignore or underplay the importance of satire in the period" (Jones 4). Prior to Jones, recent studies of Romantic satire focused generally on recovery of satiric and radical writings: Gary Dyer's British Satire and the Politics of Style 1789-1832 (Cambridge University Press, 1997) offers an essential survey of satirical writings; and Marcus Wood's Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790-1822 (Oxford University Press, 1994) presents an historically rich--though not primarily literary--reading of the range of activities and satirical publications (from wooden coins to parodic cartoons and courtroom battles) undertaken by British radicals during the Romantic era. Jones, by contrast, is interested in exploring how the canonically peripheral genre of Romantic era satire was essential in shaping the contours of canonical Romantic aesthetics.

William D. Brewer, The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley

William D. Brewer, The Mental Anatomies of William Godwin and Mary Shelley. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh-Dickinson University Press, 2001.  246pp.  $39.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8386-3870-8).

Reviewed by
Judith Barbour
University of Sydney

There is no denying the dramatic interest and thematic pertinence to the fictional writings of William Godwin and Mary Shelley of the metaphor of the "mental anatomy" (Introduction 15–17 and passim), which gives the title to William D. Brewer's critical monograph, and contours its extended comparison of this father-and-daughter pair of authors. An anatomy in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (in the old form of the word "an atomie") is a violent delapidation of an organic unity. In the primitive conditions of hospitals and morgues contemporary with the Godwin-Shelley writers, only cadavers could be anatomized and made intelligible, dissected and made visible, the veins, nerves, and musculature traced, flayed, and probed. The metonym of the eye—its "terrible aspect"—is hegemonic in Enlightenment cultural politics. In one pathetic instance, the dead foetus, or as it was officially called the abortion, could by now be anatomized in situ in the dead gravid uterus, as the "naturalistic" optics and perspective machines of graphic artists gave the burgeoning male profession of scientific obstetrics its first breakthrough. Incidentally, "abortion" was one of the key words inserted by Percy Bysshe Shelley into the manuscript-in-the making of his pregnant lover's and soon-to-be-wife's Frankenstein (1818).

Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein to Falkner. Edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra

Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein
to
Falkner. Edited by Michael Eberle-Sinatra.  New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xxvi + 250pp.  $65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-77106-0).

Reviewed by
Lisa Vargo
University of Saskatchewan

The very idea for this volume provides evidence for a significant reappraisal of Mary Shelley's career as a writer, a process that began in the late 1970s, when Frankenstein became an object of critical attention and a popular classroom text.  Further recuperation of Shelley's critical reputation has been aided by the appearance of editions of Mary Shelley's letters (1980-1988) and journals (1987), by critical studies by Anne K. Mellor (1988) and Jane Blumberg (1992), and by the suitably titled The Other Mary Shelley (1992). More recently access to fiction by Shelley was made possible by the appearance in 1996 of The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley from Pickering & Chatto and by single volumes from Broadview Press and from other publishers.  Mary Shelley's Fictions joins two other volumes of essays, Iconoclastic Departures (1997) and Mary Shelley in Her Times (2000), in communicating "the vitality and richness of current Shelleyan criticism" (ix).  The majority of the contributions that make up this volume took their first form in papers delivered at a series of conferences on Mary Shelley in Britain, Canada, and the United States during, as Nora Crook puts it, "the double bicentenary of Mary Shelley's birth and Mary Wollstonecraft's death" (xix).  In tracing the development of Mary Shelley studies, Nora Crook suggests in her introduction to the volume that "[w]e are now in a phrase of transition towards--let us say--'The Inclusive Mary Shelley,'" and it is her hope that this collection is "partly its product" and "partly its producer" (xx).  The fourteen essays, which are arranged into four sections, go a long way towards achieving inclusiveness in their considerations of Frankenstein, The Last Man, Mathilda, Valperga, selections from her short fiction, The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, Lodore, Falkner, and the fragmentary "Life of William Godwin."

Timothy Morton, The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and the Exotic

Timothy Morton, The Poetics of Spice: Romantic Consumerism and the Exotic. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 42.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xiii + 282pp. Illus.: 17 halftones. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77146-3).

Reviewed by
Paul Youngquist
Pennsylvania State University, University Park

This is a book about getting stoned, or scoring in a scholarly mode. What after all does dope have in common with less questionable commodities? The rush that comes with consumption. Consumers get hooked on the hit that delivers. But culturally speaking such dependency is not inevitable. Capitalism may be the biggest drug lord of them all, but it remains a historical phenomenon. And its emergence as an economic order that today constitutes reality on a global scale involves more than the simple domination of the masses by a ruling class of profiteers and their empty ideologies. One of Timothy Morton's central claims in The Poetics of Spice is that capitalism achieves its legitimacy by mobilizing desire, promoting fantasies that produce consumers who desire their dependency. It's the old cultural logic of entrapment: capitalism creates a desire whose fulfillment can be managed in advance. But what is new to Morton's analysis is its insistence on the affective register of that logic. Capitalism works because it enthralls the senses. Consumerism triumphs because it dazzles the imagination. The dreams and pleasures of consumer capitalism consolidate its reality--as any doper knows. That's why Morton attends so carefully to the political efficacy of what he calls the poetics of spice in the long eighteenth century. Pepper, cinnamon, salt, cumin, nutmeg, ginger, fennel, galingal, and clove (not to mention their darker kin, cannabis and opium): these and other spices were also commodities, exotic goods that materialized dreams. As such they play a powerful role in the production and circulation of desire in the consumer culture whose emergence Morton associates with eighteenth-century Britain.

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