Romantic Circles Reviews

Gillen D'Arcy Wood, The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture, 1760–1860

Gillen D'Arcy Wood, The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture, 1760-1860. New York: Palgrave, 2001. vii + 273.  Illus.  $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22654-3).

Reviewed by
James Robert Allard
University of Toronto

The Shock of the Real is the latest in a string of recent texts that explore the often conflicted relationship between late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century popular visual culture and literary Romanticism.  In an effort to explore that conflict in greater detail, Wood reads such popular and influential phenomena as David Garrick's peculiarly "visual" acting technique, public art exhibitions, panoramas, the installation of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, and the emergence of photography against the elitist complaint--made most tangible in Coleridge, but present in the writings of many of the canonical authors of the period--that "visual representations intended to deceive the viewer into mistaking them for the real thing, are not pleasurable but 'disagreeable'" (4).  More than just disagreeability, though, Wood argues convincingly that what Coleridge and his contemporaries experienced was the sense of shock occasioned by skillful deception: whereas "in 'a work of genuine imitation, you begin with an acknowledged total difference'" that produces "a Work of Art," in "a real Copy . . . . Not finding the motion and the life which we expected, we are shocked as by a falsehood. . . . In short, the same pictorial effects of similitude produce pleasure in a work of art, but shock and disgust in a sub-artistic 'real Copy'" (4).  Wood then goes on to explore the different results of that shock effect on both the popular imagination and the sensibilities of the cultural elite and suggests that not only were the effects different, but also that the differences themselves only served to magnify the sense of shock: "The shock of the real discloses its double value: for the 'vulgar crowd' it represents a thrilling novelty, while to the discerning eyes of the cultural elite it effects a 'disenchantment'" (4).  Lurking in the background on nearly every page of the text is Wood's contention that "the late Georgian fascination for replicating the visible world . . . constitutes the template of our own popular tastes and expectations in visual culture in the new millennium.  This includes the sometimes violent minority reaction against visual culture, for which, I suggest, Romantic aesthetic ideology continues to provide the conceptual vocabulary" (222).  With an eye fixed not on diagnosing and "curing" the continuing fascination with visuality and spectacle--and, ultimately, the by now tired culture wars--but on exploring the roots of that fascination and the ubiquity of the conflicts, Wood proceeds with a set of perhaps surprising juxtapositions that at once manifest and illuminate the very "shock of the real" he wants to discuss.

The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat

The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. xlviii + 492pp.  Illus.: 7 halftones.  $80.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8018-6119-5).

Reviewed by
Nancy Moore Goslee
University of Tennessee

Scholars and critics have long needed a new, complete version of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poetry.  His controversial politics, his marital complexities, his Italian exile, and his unexpected early death all contributed to a legacy of textual confusion that even the magisterial "Julian" edition of Roger Ingpen and Walter Peck in 1927 could not solve (see, The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 10 vols., edited by Roger Ingpen and Walter Edwin Peck, Julian Editions [London: E. Benn, Ltd.; New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1927]).  Now that Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat have given us Volume 1 of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (CPPBS), our needs have been answered with a profoundly well-planned, meticulously-executed edition.  Its editorial commentary and notes often read like the denouéments of detective stories, offering solutions to long-standing textual problems with a clear placement of these poems in the all-too-human contexts of compositional occasion and production difficulties.  This volume, the first of a planned seven or eight volumes in the completed edition, explains and tests the editorial principles that are to govern the entire project.  It then tests these principles on six groupings of Shelley's earliest published or otherwise circulated poems.  Volume 1 brings into focus scattered, suppressed, and virtually unknown works by this brilliant, busy, and oddly canny young poet.  If the uncanny of the gothic is the most unifying characteristic of these early works, the real uncanny here is the mystery of how the mature poet, with his verbal and intellectual brilliance, emerges from such derivative, if playfully derivative, poems as these.

William J. P. Neish, The Speaking Eye: Byron's Aberdeen – Places, People and a Poem

William J. P. Neish, The Speaking Eye: Byron's Aberdeen - Places, People and a Poem. Sussex, England: Book Guild Ltd., 2001. xviii + 312pp. Illus.: 4 halftones. £10.50/$22.50 (Ppbk; ISBN: 1-85776-593-1).

Reviewed by
Ann R. Hawkins
Texas Tech University

In 1866, William Neish's great-great-grandmother received a bequest of the entire estate of John Raeburn, a childhood schoolfellow of George Gordon, Lord Byron, that included an oil portrait, several engraved portraits, manuscript copies of three poems by an Aberdeenshire poet, and a piece of Delftware tile with a motif of a sailing ship reputed to have come from the house of the Byrons (xiv).  But among those items Neish discovered a manuscript of an elegy memorializing Professor William Duncan by "Old Pupil" that was published in the Aberdeen Journal on September 6, 1815.

Neish's The Speaking Eye records his exhaustive research to discover who Professor William Duncan and the "Old Pupil" who memorialized him were.  Along the way Neish uncovers a significant amount of data about Raeburn, Duncan, Byron's schoolfellows, and the Byrons' Aberdeen neighbors.  Neish chooses to provide much of this data--even when somewhat tangential to his argument--having discovered a number of discrepancies between published information about these figures and the archival evidence.  Ultimately, Neish considers that Byron might have written the elegy, and he compares "Old Pupil['s]" phraseology with Byron's poems of the period, particularly Parisina.

Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education

Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xii + 241pp.  $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-74936-7).

Reviewed by
Tilar J. Mazzeo
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Although much has been made of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's interest in and intellectual obligations to German Romantic figures such as Schelling and Kant and to the Jena Romantics more generally, his relationship to his older contemporary, Friedrich Schiller, has not been the subject of extended critical inquiry.  In his recent study of Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education, Michael John Kooy remedies this imbalance, offering the first sustained account of Coleridge's relationship to Schiller and while tracing the poet's evolving investment in the psychological and historical effects of Bildung, a term that encompasses both "aesthetic education" and its "cultivation."  Drawing upon extensive new research into Romantic print culture and offering lucid insights into subtle philosophical distinctions, Kooy charts the contours of a sustained intellectual engagement and offers Coleridge's readers a fresh perspective on his early German translations, his attitudes toward female education and genius, and his privileging of clerical history.

Kooy suggests that Coleridge's relationship to the writing of Schiller has been obscured for several reasons.  On the one hand, Kooy identifies and refutes the "unexamined presumption" (4) that, because Coleridge does not call attention to Schiller as a source, there was no substantial interest or influence.   In fact, Coleridge not only owned copies of Schiller's Muse's Almanac (1797), Poems (1800, 1803; 2 vols.), and Shorter Works in Prose (1792-1802; 2 vols.)--a collection representing the majority of the philosopher's corpus--but he also had access to any number of contemporary periodicals publishing works of German literary interest for an engaged British reading public.  Perhaps most importantly, Kooy shows that Coleridge was at least loosely affiliated with a circle of English Germanophiles, which included intimates such as Thomas Beddoes, William Taylor, and Henry Crabb Robinson, all of whom were writing reviews and completing German translations for these periodical journals.  Kooy suggests that Coleridge's fraught relationship to his other German sources has made critics wary of engaging his intellectual debts to Schiller, especially in the Biographia Literaria.  Although "Coleridge clearly did not rely on Schiller textually in the same way as he did on the Schlegels or on Schelling," Kooy proposes that there has been a "nervous fixation on sources" and that "we have become unaccustomed, even unwilling, to think of Coleridge's relationship with the other thinkers except in terms of either slavish dependence or absolute ignorance" (96).  As a result, Kooy maintains that important aspects of both Coleridge's compositional method and his investment in the social role of aesthetics have been elided.

William Wordsworth, Last Poems, 1821–1850. Edited by Jared Curtis et al.

William Wordsworth, Last Poems, 1821-1850. Edited by Jared Curtis, with Associate Editors Apryl Lea Denny-Ferris and Jillian Heydt-Stevenson.  The Cornell Wordsworth.   Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. lxxxv + 852 pp.   Illus.: 112 halftones.  $110.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8014-3625-7).

Reviewed by
Kurt Fosso
Lewis & Clark College

In recent years The Cornell Wordsworth series has more than realized General Editor Stephen Maxfield Parrish's vision of a multi-volume collection of the "earliest complete versions" of Wordsworth's important longer works.  The expanded series will soon comprise all of the poet's poems, from the first to this present volume's last.  In this pursuit Cornell's editors have followed the lead of the Clarendon Press's pioneering edition of the Poetical Works, in which editors Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire printed variants, including some draft texts, of the final authorized versions of Wordsworth's poems and also appended much of his unpublished juvenilia.  The Cornell Wordsworth series has, of course, gone considerably further, ambitiously attempting, as Parrish states, to "offer successive stages of a [complete] poem to show how Wordsworth's poetic strategies evolved over the years of his poetic life."

Frederick Burwick, Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power

Frederick Burwick, Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power. Romanticism in Perspective Series. New York: Palgrave, 2001.  xiii + 192 pp. $65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-77403-5).

Reviewed by
Charles J. Rzepka
Boston University

Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power reflects the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime devoted to the works of the English Opium-Eater, whose writings Fred Burwick has recently helped co-edit for Pickering & Chatto.  Burwick's familiarity with the manuscript and published sources of De Quincey's work is impressively displayed in this book, along with a mastery of German sources and Romantic science and philosophy that will not surprise readers who have consulted his many contributions on German and English Romanticism over the years.

The book comprises seven chapters, four of which (3, 4, 5, and 6) are revised and expanded versions of published essays well worth re-reading in their present form.  However, as one might expect from the presence of so much re-issued material, not all of it fits comfortably under the rubric announced in the sub-title, "Knowledge and Power," and the fit decreases as the book proceeds.

Martin Priestman, Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780–1830

Martin Priestman, Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 37. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. xiii + 305pp. Illus.: 7 halftones. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-62124-0).

Reviewed by
Mark S. Lussier
Arizona State University

Given the pronounced tendency in Romantic Studies to ground critical efforts historically and to re-examine past assumptions from that historical prospect, a book exploring the full range of "these [Romantic ] poets" in their "infidel phase" (6) was somewhat inevitable. And while Martin Priestman's Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830 traverses much familiar territory, the book steadfastly realizes its aim "to show how the possibility of being an atheist impacted on a wide range of poets and other writers" (257). Thus, while one can certainly agree with Priestman's initial self-assessment that "the core idea of this book is simple" (1), such modest, self-effacing critical humility, although rare and welcome in any scholarly investigation, hardly does justice to the motives for and results of this detailed re-assessment of one of the "givens" within Romantic thought. Taking the last first, this book strives in every possible way to provide its readers aids for reflection, including the quite useful "Glossary of Theological and Other Terms" (whose entries ranges from "alchemy" to "Zoroastrianism" [258-62]) with which it concludes. Such glossing is necessary to do justice to the spectrum of thinking and writing Priestman engages, and this range is evoked near the conclusion to the work's "Introduction," where the author carefully defines the terms of his engagement. Upon completing this satisfying assessment and re-examination, Priestman amply proves the case that the issues analyzed "touched everybody" (10).

James C. McKusick, Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology

James C. McKusick, Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology. New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2000. x + 261pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-23448-1).

Reviewed by
Kevin Hutchings
University of Northern British Columbia

James C. McKusick is one of the pioneers of Green Romanticism, an emerging critical movement investigating Romantic literature in relation to the histories of ecological thought and environmental activism. His most recent book, entitled Green Writing: Romanticism and Ecology, is among the important contributions McKusick has made to literary scholarship as an author of ecocritical articles, a guest editor of special periodical issues on Romanticism and Ecology, and co-editor of a significant new anthology of nature writing. What sets McKusick's work apart from that of Jonathan Bate and Karl Kroeber, the earliest and most widely cited advocates of English Green Romanticism, is its avoidance of an overtly polemical basis for the establishment of ecological literary criticism. This difference in critical approach is a crucial one, for Bate's and Kroeber's heated dismissals of New Historicist and poststructuralist critical perspectives have arguably done as much to impede the cause of Romantic ecocriticism as to encourage its advancement. By rejecting the ground-breaking insights of Alan Liu, Jerome McGann, Marjorie Levinson, Marilyn Butler, and other socially minded Romantic scholars, Bate and Kroeber have not only helped to consolidate the view that contemporary literary theory and ecocriticism are dichotomously opposed and irreconcilable; whether deservedly or not, they have helped to perpetuate the stereotype that environmental studies scholars are reactionary anti-intellectuals whose work is idealistically naive and dangerously misanthropic (because somehow disengaged from fundamental issues of social justice). In an era wherein the editorial board of a mainstream journal no less important than PMLA has by its own admission unfairly characterized environmental criticism as critically "soft" "hug-the-tree stuff," Green Romanticism needs more advocates like McKusick, whose arguments are persuasive without being needlessly polemical, succeeding not by virtue of a negatively reasoned attack upon the established views of others, but on the solid constructive basis of their own intellectual rigor and critical merit.

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain

Laura Mandell, Misogynous Economies: The Business of Literature in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. x + 228pp.  Illus.: 4 halftones.  $42.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8131-2116-7).

Reviewed by
Miranda J. Burgess
University of British Columbia

The first word in the title of this book is tonally at odds with the second, and with the argument of the book as a whole. "Misogyny" sounds like a topic for an older or more naïve feminism than Mandell's fresh and sophisticated version, and its transhistorical ring belies the specificity Mandell brings to her cultural study of eighteenth-century economic history. But these impressions are misleading, as Mandell makes clear in framing her book. She begins by arguing that "[m]isogyny in representations is not about women but rather about society" (1). She ends with the assertion that the "[d]isgust allegedly aroused by women's bodies comes in fact from the stench of social inequity" (158). Moreover, she insists that "misogyny is not necessary" either to literature or to culture (158). Criticism that is to be effective in the twenty-first century must be "willing to see gender as a figure, not a thing" (157).

Yet according to Mandell's analysis, the figure of gender and an accompanying misogyny are everywhere in eighteenth-century writing, from the individual poems, plays and economic texts discussed in the first four chapters to the anthologies and critical writings that processed such works later in the century, addressed in chapters five and six. The key to the simultaneous ubiquity and unnecessariness of this seemingly essential discourse is the way in which eighteenth-century poets and Romantic anthologists and critics used misogynist rhetorics and practices to manage the pleasures of their readers. It is eighteenth-century readers and their pleasures, and the social anxiety these pleasures produce in contemporaries, that are the major topic of Mandell's book.

Richard Gravil, Romantic Dialogues: Anglo-American Continuities, 1776–1862

Richard Gravil, Romantic Dialogues: Anglo-American Continuities, 1776-1862. New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's Press, 2000. xx + 250pp. $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22716-7).

Reviewed by
Kenneth M. Price
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Richard Gravil studies English and American literature from the Revolutionary War until about the midpoint of the American Civil War. Gravil's thorough-going knowledge of connections between British and American texts enables him to create illuminating juxtapositions and to make provocative assertions.

This book displays the strengths and weaknesses of its biases. More interested in Romantic writers than Victorians, Gravil offers an unreconstructed view of the Romantics in his emphasis on a select few writers--Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats--and he has little patience with those who would look beyond these figures. His study of literary influences is paradoxically broad and narrow at once. Expansive in its discussion of many writers on both sides of the Atlantic, Romantic Dialogues is also constricted in its lack of theoretical interests and its scant concern with history and politics. Gravil dismisses canonical revision and other current critical trends; for example, he belittles recent "definitions of context that take literary currencies to be of less account than those of merchant banking" (xii). He offers an insight into his overall view of literature when he describes a poem by Emily Dickinson as a "babel of 'quotation'" (199). For Gravil, literature grows out of literature: everyone quotes, echoes, alludes to, or rewrites someone else.