Romantic Circles Reviews

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.

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).

Paul Hamilton, Metaromanticism: Aesthetics, Literature, Theory

Paul Hamilton, Metaromanticism: Aesthetics, Literature, Theory (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). viii+316 pp (Softcover; ISBN: 0-226-31480-4).

Reviewed by
Colin Jager
Rutgers University

In a 2003 review on this site, Mary Favret identified a new paradigm for romantic historicism: “A might-have-been, could-have-been, evermore-about-to-be historiography is … emerging as the Romanticism of our own turn of the century,” she wrote. Favret was reviewing William Galperin’s The Historical Austen; she grouped that book with Jerome Christensen’s Romanticism at the End of History and James Chandler’s England in 1819. What all of these books shared, according to Favret, was an abiding interest in the political possibilities that adhere to a history of lost chances, foreclosed opportunities, and near misses—those moments, in other words, when romantic texts seem to gesture toward alternative kinds of social organization that never quite come into focus. Now we can add Paul Hamilton’s Metaromanticism to Favret’s list.

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 280 pp. $80.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0512854008).

Reviewed by
Dana Van Kooy
University of Colorado at Boulder

Just as Mont Blanc has been central to the Shelleyan canon, so too the sublime as an aesthetic discourse has been pivotal to our understanding of Percy Shelley as a poet, a philosopher, and a radical. Cian Duffy's Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime challenges the "critical orthodoxy which assumes not only that there is such a thing as a generic 'romantic sublime', but also that this 'sublime' rehearses the transcendentalist paradigms of [Kant's] Critique of Judgment" (5). Eschewing Burke and Kant, Duffy reorients the Shelleyan sublime through two other texts: C.F. Volney's Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les Révolutions des Empires (translated into English in the early 1790s) and Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1766-88). Both texts, according to Duffy, embody the eighteenth-century idea of "ruin-sentiment" (38-9), a term which links imperial collapse to moral decadence and, as a discourse of political and social reform, offers to resolve the terrifying prospect of ruin through an appeal to moral restraint. Shelley, Duffy argues, takes this causal formulation a step further; the sublime provides the means of representing the inevitable imperial failure as a natural cultural process that mirrors society's moral and political corruption. Shelley's sublime landscapes—significantly, inhabited by volcanoes, avalanches, and other events marking geological catastrophe—signify the natural necessity of revolution. This essentially inverts the traditional theistic discourse of the natural sublime; instead of pointing to God as the organizing principle of life, Shelley's sublime exposes "the artificiality, the un-naturalness of contemporary social structures" (9). Duffy's study places a new emphasis on the catastrophic imagery of the natural sublime while it also redefines the Shelleyan sublime as an "aesthetic ideology" in order to be attentive to the figurative power of the natural sublime to change the observer's conception of what is "natural" or what is "right."

Eric Wilson, Romantic Turbulence: Chaos, Ecology and American Space

Eric Wilson, Romantic Turbulence: Chaos, Ecology and American Space. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. xxii. + 169 pp. $49. 95 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-312-22882-1).

Reviewed by
John Parham
Thames Valley University, UK

Eric Wilson’s Romantic Turbulence is a helpful addition to ecocritical work, offering not only a new perspective on American Romanticism but, more generally, a sophisticated, dialectical understanding of the ecology articulated out of that tradition.

Wilson’s primary argument is founded upon a detailed acquaintance with both contemporary ecological science and critical cultural theory. Drawing from these currents of thought, the conceptual paradigm that undergirds this book is a new organicism of “agitated processes,” which eschews the (still) prevailing notions in ecological science of balance or harmony (4). Wilson defines this as a conception of nature shaped by antagonistic forces of chaos and order, the interaction of which equates with life. Without order nature “would dissolve into a formless mass,” without chance “the second law of thermodynamics would run the universe down to heat death,” an interesting argument he develops from C. S. Pierce and Prigogine and Stengers (142). This paradigm of dialectical ecology is not new, even to ecocriticism. It dominates recent, second generation work such as Greg Garrard’s Ecocriticism (2004), and the attempt to establish a trajectory of ecological thinking around the Romantics is also a familiar one. What is distinctive, however, is the combination of the two and, in this, the book does what all good historical ecocriticism ought to do: it legitimates ecological thinking as part of a longer, alternative tradition in western literature, culture and philosophy that exists, and has value, independently of concerns about (say) global warming.

Stanley Plumly, Posthumous Keats

Stanley Plumly, Posthumous Keats. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008. Hdbk, $27.95 (ISBN-10: 0393065731); Ppbk, 2009, $17.95 (ISBN-10: 0393337723).

Reviewed by
Susan J. Wolfson
Princeton University

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” That may be, as Keats’s ironizing odist insists, all we know on earth, and all we need to know, but the tautology is as enigmatic as it is alluring. And so the dust jacket of Stanley Plumly’s extraordinary biography reads, in small print at the top, a personal biography, then, more largely declared, Posthumous Keats. But the title page within inverts the order: Posthumous Keats, a personal biography. Which came first, the personalizing of a biography that, by generic agreement, is supposed to be about the other person, the biographized? Or Posthumous Keats, an epithet that feels like a personal biography, even though the poet-biographer outlives poet-Keats, who dies not even a third of the way into his twenty-sixth year, by decades--more than twice and half Keats’s mortal span?

Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats's Boyish Imagination

Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats’s Boyish Imagination. Routledge, 2004. Xiv + 158pp. $145.00 (Hdbk; 0-415-28882-7)

Reviewed by
Jonathan Mulrooney
College of the Holy Cross

A concern with “maturity”—psychological, social, poetic—has informed critical discussions of Keats more than those of any other English poet. For much of the twentieth century, the concern was framed biographically: how is it that one so young could have developed so quickly? In 1988, Marjorie Levinson’s shattering Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style turned that question upon itself, claiming that profound cultural dispossession rather than transcendent formal mastery constituted the most radical element of Keats’s poetry. Measuring as it does the psychological (if not the psychoanalytic) valences of the poet’s verses, Levinson’s study continues to serve as a salutary counter to the historicisms that have illuminated Keats studies over the last three decades. As the social and material conditions within which the poems were produced and circulated have been recovered, we have recognized a serious political dimension to Keats’s aesthetic project. Yet Keats’s Life of Allegory reminds us that the formal standards by which we came to value Keats’s lyric form—and the lyric persona they enact—have not, even by virtue of Levinson’s inversion of them, been discarded. In short, Keats’s formal achievement endures in a way that historicism cannot entirely explain. We might reframe my opening question: how is it that an historically informed criticism might attend to matters such as stylistic and psychological “development” without embracing once again an exhausted Romantic ideology?

Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith, Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape

Judith W. Page and Elise L. Smith, Women, Literature, and the Domesticated Landscape: England’s Disciples of Flora, 1780-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011). ISBN: 9780521768658. $90.00.

Reviewed by
Patricia Peek
Fordham University

This volume, a recent addition to the Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture series, should be of great interest to both Romantic and Victorian scholars. Spanning nearly one hundred years of literature about gardens and horticulture, Page and Smith discuss how women engaged in discussions of topics not limited by their domestic sphere. The motivating agenda for this work is an exploration of how in “a period marked by major political, technological, and cultural changes, the domesticated landscape was central to women’s complex negotiation of private and public life” (1). The act of gardening, botanical study and writing, and sketching the landscape both within and beyond the garden gate created opportunities for women in the nineteenth century to stretch beyond the boundaries set for them by society, in an attempt to participate in the larger socio-political arena. The essays found in the volume demonstrate how these acts “served as a ground for both social and intellectual experimentation” (11). Both Romantic and Victorian scholars will feel at home in the tangencies found in this genre and with the socio-political currents of each period, as Page and Smith see in their "domesticated landscape" the familiar (but always fresh) prospects of gender, female education, the tensions of class and labor, as well as the more abstract concept of sympathy.

Christopher Rowland, Blake and the Bible

Christopher Rowland, Blake and the Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011). ISBN: 9780300112603. $50.00.

Reviewed by
G.A. Rosso
Southern Connecticut State University

On the final day of Christopher Rowland's lectures on Blake and the Bible at Yale Divinity School in 2008, the renowned apocalypse scholar John J. Collins began the question-and-answer period by intoning, “Yes, well, but did Blake get Jesus right?" Rowland, the Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at Oxford, replied "Yes and no." Blake got the "non-conformist" Jesus right but he was not particularly interested in the "historical Jesus". Although the book developed from these lectures shows that Blake sometimes does get the "Jesus of history" right, Rowland’s primary focus throughout is on "Jesus the archetypal antinomian." In one of the book’s most profound and original insights, Rowland suggests that the figure of the antinomian Jesus provides a key underlying pattern of thought connecting early and late Blake. In the course of tracing this pattern, Rowland accomplishes his goal of raising Blake’s exegetical profile, arguing persuasively for his place at the center of modern hermeneutical history as "one of the foremost biblical interpreters" (xii).

Alan Bewell, Romanticism and Colonial Disease

Alan Bewell, Romanticism and Colonial Disease. Medicine and Culture Series. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. xviii + 374pp. illus: 17 line drawings, 2 halftones. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8018-6225-6).

Reviewed by
Timothy Morton
University of Colorado at Boulder

"As a study of the geographical dimension of disease during the Romantic period, Romanticism and Colonial Disease examines the role played in the making and unmaking of national identities by ideas about the geographical distribution of diseases and what kind of people were susceptible to them" (17). This is a modestly stated plan. But Alan Bewell's project, while posed as the recovery of empirical information, has a grander view than this: it is a strong work of ecocriticism.