Romantic Circles Reviews

James Chandler, England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism

James Chandler, England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. xxii + 584. $35.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-226-10108-8).  $21.00 (Pap; ISBN: 0-225-10109-6).

Reviewed by
Stephen C. Behrendt
University of Nebraska

This is a book that many of us would like to have written, for reasons both personal and professional. In particular, those of us who took degrees in the 1960s and early 1970s will recognize much of the volatile cultural milieu that James Chandler describes as having exerted a strong formative influence on him and on his teaching in those years. Those were heady times in many respects, if only because there was, especially on academic campuses, a heightened awareness of the unmistakable historical import of the political and intellectual demonstrations that were taking place on the streets and in the classrooms. To everyone present in those environments, from the most committed activists to those who were nearly impervious to the force of political issues and who wanted nothing more than to attend their classes and transcribe their lecture notes, the performative aspect of all that cultural ferment was inescapable. Everyone knew that these were "historical" times, and that both the nature of history and the ways of recording it were changing before their (and our) eyes. That Chandler appreciated this complex cultural dynamic and incorporated it into his teaching of the British Romantics, then and later, says much about his view of the nature of the teaching/learning dynamic and the place of the teacher/scholar in it.

Michael O'Neill, Romanticism and the Self-Conscious Poem.

Michael O'Neill, Romanticism and the Self-Conscious Poem. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.  xliv + 308 pp. $75.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-812285-3).

Reviewed by
Jeffrey Robinson
University of Colorado at Boulder

In the first eight chapters of Romanticism and the Self-Conscious Poem, Michael O'Neill reads many of the most familiar poems of Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats in order to show the pervasiveness during the British Romantic Period of "a text that knows it is a text" and of speakers, to varying degrees identifying with "the poet," struggling with but often surmounting anxieties about writing, about poems, and about the imagination. Behind the readings, which often celebrate and praise the dexterity and honesty with which self-consciousness is identified, described, and surpassed in the exercise of other-relatedness, lies the polemical insistence to save poems from the ravenous and reductive clutches of theorists and historicist critics (particularly the latter) so that he might recover the full aesthetic power of the poems. In a long "Coda," O'Neill discusses poems by Yeats, Stevens, and Auden and Amy Clampitt's suite of poems Voyages: A Homage to John Keats. This section acts to authenticate the Romantic self-conscious poem in the work of the High Moderns and in a more contemporary work that interprets the life and poetry of the perennially most beloved of Romantic poets; it asserts, moreover, a fundamental lineage of poetry from the French Revolution to our own time and, by implication, confirms in principle Harold Bloom's version of the line of "strong" poets in Britain and the United States.

Saree Makdisi, Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity.

Saree Makdisi, Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 27. Cambridge University Press, 1998. xv + 248 pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-58438-8); $18.95 (Pbk;
ISBN: 0-521-58604-6).

Reviewed by
Alan Richardson
Boston College

Saree Makdisi's important new book, Romantic Imperialism, appears at a critical moment for Romantic studies. Pathbreaking work by Marilyn Butler, John Barrell, Mary Louise Pratt, and Nigel Leask has successfully established that the cultural movement called "British Romanticism" cannot be fully understood without reference to the profound geopolitical transformations that make the years 1780-1830 as important for the history of the British Empire as for conventional literary history. For the first time, a significant number of literary scholars have begun paying sustained attention to such issues as the slave trade, colonial slavery, and the mass movements directed against them; the crisis in imperial confidence following the loss of the North American colonies; the increasing turn to the East, and especially India, in developing the "second" British empire; the consolidation of the "internal" empire through the Act of Union with Ireland and the pacification and commodification of the Highlands; the exploration and continuing exploitation of sub-Saharan Africa; the Haitian revolution and the threat of black self-determination elsewhere in the Caribbean; the growing importance of the Hispanophone Americas for British trade and foreign policy; and the rise of modern racism as a justification for slavery and empire. Few students of Romanticism would now be willing to dismiss these issues and events as peripheral to the literature of the time. New anthologies like Anne Mellor and Richard Matlak's British Literature 1780-1830 and Peter Manning and Susan Wolfson's "Romantics and Their Contemporaries" section of the Longman Anthology have made the global aspects of Romanticism central to the new classroom canons, and essay collections edited by Sonia Hofkosh and myself (in the U.S.) and Tim Fulford and Peter Kitson (in the U.K) have helped bring a number of new critical voices and perspectives into play. Yet, as the reception of this new work has shown, a backlash is already making itself felt, even as many of the relevant texts are finally becoming widely available and the serious study of Romanticism and empire is just getting underway. Longstanding Romantic notions of the autonomy of the creative imagination and the transcendent character of high art have resurfaced in charges that to consider the imperialist and racist aspects of British Romanticism is an exercise in anachronistic "political correctness" and a reduction of complex human subjects to "ideological robots." Makdisi's powerfully argued book enters a recently trivialized dialogue with a series of claims that some will consider outrageous, amounting to a fundamentally new understanding both of Romanticism and empire. It is this very outrageousness that makes Romantic Imperialism so timely and so welcome.

Deidre Shauna Lynch, The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning.

Deidre Shauna Lynch, The Economy of Character: Novels, Market Culture, and the Business of Inner Meaning. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998. xiv + 318pp. illus. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-226-49819-0). $18.00 (Pap; ISBN: 0-226-49820-4).

Reviewed by
John O'Brien
University of Virginia

Deidre Lynch's study of how eighteenth-century British culture imagined the concept of character recovers a mostly-forgotten mode of reading and understanding, one in which outsides rather than insides, objects rather than subjects occupy the center of critical attention. Deftly showing how early eighteenth-century readers typically apprehended "the ethical, the physiognomic, the typographic, and even the numismatic" meanings of the term character all at once (30), Lynch persuasively recasts the history of literary conventions as a history of changing reading practices in a culture that was being transformed by the expansion of market relationships into every domain. By disaggregating her account of the eighteenth century's transformation of reading protocols from either the history of the novel form or the history of the individual subject, Lynch offers a clear alternative—and a challenge—to teleological and post-Romantic approaches to literary character. Marshaling an impressive range of literary and historical evidence, Lynch describes how character-writing gained new purpose by the end of the eighteenth century by becoming, in the genre of the novel of manners, the site where readers could go to learn about how to develop distinctive characters of their own.

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency and Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley

William Jewett, Fatal Autonomy: Romantic Drama and the Rhetoric of Agency. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997. xiv + 262pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8014-3352-5).
Michael Simpson, Closet Performances: Political Exhibition and Prohibition in the Dramas of Byron and Shelley. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.  xiii + 469pp. 
$55.00  (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-3095-4).

Reviewed by
Catherine Burroughs
Wells College and Cornell University

In an age when anxieties about the political efficacy of institutional theatre are so palpable, it is no surprise that the question of why certain playscripts reside in "the closet" has proved a crucial line of investigation for scholars. Indeed, recent critical preoccupation with how the body and mind of any reader-spectator are implicated in both the acts of playreading and playgoing seems a poignant response to the desire to believe that theatre, broadly defined, can effect positive cultural change.

Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës

Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. 250 pages. $40.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-271-01809-7).

Reviewed by
Deborah Kennedy
Saint Mary's University, Halifax

Dand to criticism in the field. Concentrating on gothic novels written by women, Hoeveler traces patterns within the genre, ranging from the work of Charlotte Smith in the late eighteenth century to that of the Brontës in the nineteenth century, with two chapters on Ann Radcliffe forming the core of the book. Hoeveler's phrase "gothic feminism" might sound like an oxymoron, but she uses it to define the way that women writers created fictional worlds which in some way addressed the problem of their physical and social vulnerability. For Hoeveler, gender and the body become the overriding concerns of these texts. While one may not always agree with her attempt to find one key to unlock all of these novels, Hoeveler is a gifted literary critic. Her work is informed by recent theory, and she conscientiously cites a whole range of articles and books on gothic literature. But Hoeveler always keeps the novels themselves at the center of her discussion. One can see why she was first "entranced" by Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (xvii), and her detailed and engaging commentary makes one want to read these novels again.

Jennifer Ford, Coleridge on Dreaming: Romanticism, Dreams and the Medical Imagination

Jennifer Ford, Coleridge on Dreaming: Romanticism, Dreams and the Medical Imagination Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 26. Cambridge University Press, 1998. xii + 256pp. illus. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-58316-0).

Reviewed by
Richard Matlak
College of the Holycross

I believe it was Walter Jackson Bate who commented that one could quote Coleridge to support either side of almost any argument, and, one might add, believe wholeheartedly in its one-sidedness. Because of the subject of this review, let us consider Bate's part in creating the prevailing understanding of the Coleridgean imagination. His influential explication of Coleridge on imagination began with Criticism: The Major Texts (Harcourt, Brace,1952), continued in his lucid and once-standard biography, Coleridge (Macmillan,1968), and rests now at the permanent center of Coleridge studies in the editorial introduction to the Bollingen Bate-Engell edition of Biographia Literaria (Princeton University Press, 1983; pp. lxxxi–civ). This finely-honed and learned exposition of Coleridge's Primary and Secondary Imaginations, which was prepared by James Engell, is illustrated by a conceptual diagram that would please anyone with a rage for order. "God, The 'Great I AM'" sits at the top, "Philosophy scientia scientiarum," at its base, and the term Imagination is positioned right above a midline of demarcation identified as natura naturata and is connected to the meaningfully ordered concepts of Reason, Understanding, Perception, Senses, Art (Subjective & Objective), Organic Form, and Symbols by arrows shooting every which way (cf. p. lxxx). Jennifer Ford, however, suggests a surreal, more fleshly, image to represent another side of Coleridge on imagination in Coleridge on Dreaming: Romanticism, Dreams and the Medical Imagination. It is Henry Fuseli's painting of The Nightmare, with its Goblin sitting on the sleeping, restless virgin, and the head of an excited stallion leering out of the gloom at the foot of her bed. As opposed to the received Germanic-philosophical-aesthetic lineage of the Creative Imagination, the "Medical Imagination" has its grounding in contemporary medical debates whose arguments are to be found in tomes such as John Brown's Elementa Medicinæ (1780), Erasmus Darwin's Zoonomia (1794–96), John Haygarth's Of the Imagination as a Cause and Cure of Disorders in the Body (1800), and William Falconer's A Dissertation on the Influence of the Passions on Disorders of the Body (3rd ed, 1796). Coleridge's relationship to the contemporary debate, coupled with his private reflections on the mysterious functioning of (his) imagination as a translator of bodily ailments and sensations into the "dramatic dreaming spaces" of his consciousness, is not to be found primarily in the public pronouncements of his lectures, essays, or the Biographia, but rather in letters, marginalia, and especially the Notebooks, more than twenty of which still remain unpublished. Ford shows that "[i]n adopting a fundamentally physiological doctrine of the source and production of dreams, Coleridge was also able to explore the physiological, medical nature of the imagination" (3). In other words, Ford knowingly counters the quite convincing "spiritual, poetic, idealist" understanding of the Coleridgean imagination with a quite convincing description of the Coleridgean imagination as "a physical and medical faculty, . . . distinctly linked to the material, to the corporeal" (185).

Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh, eds., Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 1780–1834

Alan Richardson and Sonia Hofkosh, eds., Romanticism, Race, and Imperial Culture, 1780–1834 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996). vii + 352pp. illus. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-253-33212-5).

Reviewed by
Debbie Lee
University of Washington

On a balmy afternoon in San Francisco this past December, at the annual gathering of the Wordsworth Circle luncheon, Alan Richardson had the daunting "keynote" task of talking about Romantic scholarship for the new millennium. The very idea of projecting Romanticism into the twenty-first century seems uncannily Blakean, but rather than asking us to talk prophetically about where Romantic studies are headed, and why, Richardson instead suggested that the field has already found exciting new directions of study. One of these, he said, was to undertake a closer reading of Romanticism in its international setting. To this end, he encouraged the unearthing of the vast history scholars have access to in early printed books and manuscripts. In resituating Romanticism at this moment in time, Richardson suggested, scholars might inform theoretical hunches with a genuine historiography, one that embraces all the writers of the period. Many of us left the luncheon with the sense that Romantic studies is in the midst of one of its most vibrant scholarly phases.

Robin Jarvis, Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel.

Robin Jarvis, Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel. London: Macmillan, 1997. x + 246pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-65814-0).

Reviewed by
Anne D. Wallace
University of Southern Mississippi

In this contribution to the ongoing critical discussion of mobility and literature in the modern world, Robin Jarvis significantly refines our understanding of the material histories of walking and these histories' conjunctions with literature in Britain during the crucial period from the 1780s to the 1820s. Many of his most important claims concern "pedestrian travel," the long-distance touring he characterizes as "fluid, improvised, open-ended walking" (90). But he also surveys the varieties of motivations, forms and expressions of walking during the period so that, rather than advancing one master thesis, Jarvis collects related observations of

the ways in which intellectual processes and textual effects are grounded in the material practice of walking. . . . This is not to imply some organic oneness of sense and expression in peripatetic literature, but to insist that in the displacement from physical experience to the order of imagined reality and literary representation the rhythms and modalities of walking remain a visibly determining influence. (33)

Without being reductive, I think it is safe to say that Jarvis attributes what he later calls "the potential of the genetic link between walking and writing" (91), in the specific case of pedestrian travel, to what he identifies as the freely directed, irregular, underdetermined physical qualities of such movement. These qualities, which Jarvis posits as inhering in the materialities of pedestrianism itself, mean that such travel can embody resistance to cultural categories from the personal to the aesthetic to the political, and at levels ranging from the oppositional to a suspension of resolution resembling Keats's "negative capability." Jarvis also argues that these free, resistant material and psychological conditions of pedestrian travel can be traced in the formal and thematic textual effects of writers who were themselves pedestrian travelers (or whose walking, for some reason, approached that specific modality). Like several recent critics—although no work of this kind had been published when he began his inquiry—Jarvis locates the release of pedestrianism's positive textual potential in the Romantic period, agreeing with Leslie Stephen's classic claim that "'the literary movement at the end of the eighteenth century was . . . due in great part, if not mainly, to the renewed practice of walking.