Romantic Circles Reviews

Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation

Michael Gamer, Romanticism and the Gothic: Genre, Reception, and Canon Formation. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 40. Cambridge University Press, 2000. xii + 255pp. £37.50/$48.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77328-8).

Reviewed by
Anne Williams
University of Georgia

Ever since professional criticism of the Gothic emerged in the early decades of the twentieth century, this literature's relationship to high Romanticism has been a vexed question. Although early critics such as Eino Railo (The Haunted Castle, 1927) took it for granted that since Gothic motifs and archetypes appeared in "Romantic" poets such as Coleridge and Keats, the two modes were fundamentally akin. It was the newly professional critics of the equally emergent "Romanticism," however, who established, usually by simply ignoring their favored poets' use of Gothic conventions, that Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" had nothing in common with Lewis's Wandering Jew, for instance, or that Keats's Gothic edifice in "The Eve of St. Agnes" was no Udolpho (though Keats himself had commented on the "fine Mother Radcliff [sic]" names he had chosen for his characters). And as feminist critics have more recently demonstrated, another latent motive for marginalizing Gothic works lay in their associations with women both as writers and as readers.

Michael Gamer's fine study directly confronts this critical amnesia or repression. In exploring the historical roots of the literary phenomenon we now call "Gothic," he exposes not only the ways in which this concept emerged around the turn of the nineteenth century in Britain, but he also argues provocatively that "the reception of gothic writing . . . played a fundamental role in shaping many of the ideological assumptions about high culture that we have come to associate with 'romanticism'" (2), and that the "Gothic's reception tells us much about how readers . . . organized and attempted to make sense of gothic as a 'new' kind of writing" (3).

Kenneth Daley, The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin

Kenneth Daley, The Rescue of Romanticism: Walter Pater and John Ruskin. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001. ix + 169pp. Illus. $36.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8214-1382-1).

Reviewed by
Ernest Fontana
Xavier University

Given their obvious affinity of interests and sensibility and their importance in the Bloomian canon as strong critics, one would have expected more studies than currently exist of the interrelationship of Ruskin and Pater. One looks in vain for a study of them that is comparable to Delaura's study of Newman's influence on Arnold and Pater. Daley's study of Pater's possible revision of Ruskin's critique of an emerging concept of Romanticism attempts to fulfill this need. In his book, Daley focuses on what he feels are important topics shared by both writers: Wordsworth, the Italian Renaissance, and Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. The last chapter deals with the possible relation between Ruskin's Slade lectures, given at Oxford in the 1870's, and Pater's contemporary critical project.

Brad Sullivan, Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge: Refiguring Relationships Among Minds, Worlds, and Words

Brad Sullivan, Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge: Refiguring Relationships Among Minds, Worlds, and Words. Studies in Nineteenth-Century British Literature, no. 15.  New York: Peter Lang, 2000.  xii + 202pp.  $50.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8204-4857-5).

Reviewed by
Spencer Hall
Rhode Island College

Brad Sullivan describes Wordsworth and the Composition of Knowledge as "an experiment in critical discourse--an attempt both to discuss and embody an alternative model of knowing" (169). The word "experiment" recalls Wordsworth's own description of Lyrical Ballads, and like the poet's, Sullivan's ambitious and passionate "experiment" may well engender strong responses.  The text is meant to propound and to reflect in its very composition a "rigorous" way of thinking marked by recursive, self-reflexive, and synthetic approaches to knowledge, as opposed to a "systematic" way of thinking marked by linear, logical, and "philosophical" reasoning (103).  The stated aim of this aggressively interdisciplinary work is "to provide a starting point for more fruitful discussions of [Wordsworth's] literary theory, his philosophy, his educational ideas, his social and moral purposes, and his poetic and rhetorical strategies for reaching an audience" (12).  Students of Wordsworth and British Romanticism will find much to interest them in Sullivan's book.  They will also find much to question, beginning with its wildly inflated claim to be a "starting point" for Wordsworth studies.

Mark Storey, The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period

Mark Storey, The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period. New York: St. Martin's Press/Palgrave, 2000. xi + 197pp.  $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-23044-3).

Reviewed by
J. Morgan
University of Kentucky

In the preface to The Problem of Poetry in the Romantic Period, Mark Storey positions his work within a school of Romantic criticism that takes the self-conscious role of questioning or doubt on the part of the Romantic poet to be the central factor in the development of Romantic poetry.   However, whereas earlier studies, such as Charles Rzepkas's Self as Mind and Andrea Henderson's Romantic Identities: Varieties of Subjectivity, treat the development of this self-conscious attitude in relationship to a more "psychological and phenomenological point of view," Storey prefers to concentrate, as he says, "much more centrally on the nature of the poet, on how each poet struggles with a definition of poetry that involves a definition of the self as poet, and on how this struggle manifests itself in the poetry" (ix).  In essence, Storey takes the position that we will be able to better grasp the how Romantic writers struggled with the concept of poetic identity if we avoid reading their poetry in light of more "abstruse" models of subjectivity (viii).  I should note though that Storey seems to takes this position not so much from a desire to shout his defiance at "theory" than from a quiet belief in the interpretability of poetry, the lives of poets, and the intersections between the two.  As such, Storey's book is not wholly a polemic, but more a practical demonstration of what one can do with texts without a structured theoretical framework.

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

Mary Shelley's Fictions: From Frankenstein
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."

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).

Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780–1800, & Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790–1840, edited by Catherine B. Burroughs

Betsy Bolton, Women, Nationalism and the Romantic Stage: Theatre and Politics in Britain, 1780-1800. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 46.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xiv + 272pp. Illus.: 20 halftones.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-77116-1 ).
Women in British Romantic Theatre: Drama, Performance, and Society, 1790-1840. Edited by Catherine B. Burroughs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.  xv + 344pp.  Illus.: 1 halftone, 4 line diagrams.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-66224-9).

Reviewed by
Melynda Nuss
The University of Texas at Austin

The link between women and the Romantic drama has been unusually fertile in the past several years.  Perhaps because of women's association with theatricality, or perhaps because of the unusal number of women who made their mark as playwrights, actresses, and critics in the Romantic period, the new field of Romantic drama has focused a good deal of attention on women and women's concerns.  Even works which explore the works of the cannonical male playwrights, like Julie Carlson's In the Theatre of Romanticism, devote a good deal of time to the charismatic figure of Sarah Siddons, Joanna Baillie's work has already generated a full length study by Catherine Burroughs, and Elizabeth Inchbald, the actress and playwright who was also England's first major dramatic critic, has begun to make critics aware of the astonishing diversity of roles that women played in the Romantic theatre.  The two books under review here, then, represent something of a second generation of criticism on the role women played in the Romantic drama.  They not only expand the analyses of women in the Romantic drama beyond the small canon of Baillie, Inchbald, and Siddons, but they also represent a questioning of some of the field's initial assumptions--that women operated under severe constraints in the male dominated world of the theater, that women's work is always (or usually) progressive in terms of politics and gender, that women's writing is largely confined to the closet and their public impact limited to the body onstage, and that women were confined by certain domestic ideologies. Together, these two books provide a broader and more nuanced view of the way that women participated in the drama as playwrights, critics and actresses, and the way that the drama enabled women to participate in public life.

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.

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.

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.