Romantic Circles Reviews

Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality

Mark S. Lussier, Romantic Dynamics: The Poetics of Physicality. Romanticism in Perspective Series. Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 2000. ix + 220pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22671-3).

Reviewed by
Alan Bewell
University of Toronto

In this book, Mark S. Lussier announces "physical criticism," a theoretical perspective that seeks to illuminate the productive interchange between literature and science, particularly the ways in which physical theory and poetic expression share similar models in their representation of the mind and physical world. Lussier's goal is to take criticism beyond the mechanistic and dualistic models of mind and universe that continue to influence contemporary thought—the world of Bacon, Descartes, Locke, and Newton—toward a theoretical perspective that responds to the far more complex and dynamic models of the mind in relation to the physical world that emerged with Romanticism and are now being renewed in contemporary science, especially in biology, ecology, and theoretical physics. Quantum theory has undercut the Newtonian absolutes of space and time. The stabilities of matter in the Newtonian cosmos have been replaced by indeterminacies and relativity, and the meaning of time, always a flexible concept, has been transformed. Since Heisenberg it has been difficult for scientists to employ naively the Lockean model of experience, in which the mind passively registers the sensory data supplied to it by the outside world. Scientists can no longer be said to be removed what from they observe, something that has not been lost on social constructivists. Ecological criticism has insisted even more powerfully upon the crucial necessity for human beings to recognize that they exist in nature and that they need to develop new, less destructive ways of interacting with it. Lussier's "physical criticism" synthesizes ecology and physics in order to provide an alternative to the cultural legacy of mechanistic philosophy. He uses the term "dynamics" to describe this more complex and holistic conception of the interaction of the mind and the physical world. In his view, Romantic poetry not only anticipates these developments, but has played an important role in providing "physical criticism" with the language and metaphors needed for representing this new world.

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism and Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action

Susan J. Wolfson, Borderlines: The Shiftings of Gender in British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). 430 pp. (Hdbk., $ 97.95; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8047-6105-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8047-6105-5). Wolfson, Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Literary Action (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010). 381 pp. (Hdbk., $ 70; Pbk., $ 29.95; ISBN-10: 0-8018-9474-3; ISBN-13: 978-0-8018-9474-9).

Reviewed by
Diego Saglia
University of Parma, Italy

Although published six years apart, these two volumes belong in the same multifaceted critical mosaic. Both studies address the distinctive concerns which have been central to Susan Wolfson’s critical practice since the 1980s—her preoccupation with gender, her focus on literary form, and her indefatigable search for an increasingly detailed, as well as historically attuned, approach to the stylistic materiality of literary works. As with her previous works, these books require us to read intensively into texts, and we cannot escape this demand as we gradually explore their largely shared literary terrain: Hemans and Byron, mostly, but also Wollstonecraft, the Wordsworths and Keats. Wollstonecraft, in particular, plays a major role in Wolfson’s presentation of her argument in the earlier Borderlines, and its discussion of the continuities and discontinuities within Romantic-period gender debates between the 1790s and the 1830s.

Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire

Ian Dennis, Lord Byron and the History of Desire (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2009). 266pp. (Hdbk., $55.00; ISBN-13: 978 0 87413 066 9.)

Reviewed by
Colin Carman
Colorado Mountain College

Desire, by definition, is mediated, imitative, and mimetic. At the core of identity and indeed of being itself lie the dual demands to be recognized and to be imitated. These are just some of the premises of Eric Gans and René Girard, and the insightful literary study these two thinkers have inspired, Lord Byron and the History of Desire. Byron is a provocative choice: while the “Byronic hero” is usually typified by defiant autonomy, even solipsistic self-adulation, Ian Dennis reveals just how important the roles of mediation, interplay, and the desires of—and for—others are in Byron’s oeuvre.

Kevis Goodman, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History

Kevis Goodman, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). 244 pp (Cloth; ISBN: 0521831687; £45.00).

Reviewed by
Seamus Perry
Balliol College, Oxford

Readers have often noticed that something odd keeps happening in Thomson’s The Seasons. A poem supposedly devoted to the Newtonian excellences of order and proportion keeps surprising itself with the counter-experience of disorderliness and unruly profusion. These glimpses of covert chaos prove no less absorbing for their being so obviously troublesome to the poem’s tidy-minded Deist agenda:

Nor undelighted by the boundless Spring
Are the broad monsters of the foaming deep:
From the deep ooze and gelid cavern roused,
They flounce and tumble in unwieldy joy.
Dire were the strain and dissonant to sing
The cruel raputures of the savage kind …

The Woman of Colour: A Tale, by Anonymous, ed. Lyndon J. Dominique

The Woman of Colour: A Tale, by Anonymous, ed. Lyndon J. Dominique (Broadview, 2007). 268pp (Paperback, ISBN-10: 1551111764; $24.95).

Reviewed by
Patricia A. Matthew
Montclair State University

The allure of editing a text that has been out of print for two hundred years is irresistible to any scholar interested in lesser-known texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially a novel compelling enough to gain the notice of influential periodicals like The British Critic and The Monthly Review. For anyone interested in histories of prose fiction, Lyndon J. Dominique’s edition of The Woman of Colour: A Tale (1808) has much to offer. The novel fits neatly into that period between Frances Burney’s novels of the late eighteenth century and the historical novels of the Romantic era, and anticipates Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). As Dominique convincingly argues, it extends the traditions introduced by Samuel Richardson in Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740). The meticulously annotated primary text and the supplemental material Dominique has selected to situate it within its cultural moment has the potential to fill in gaps in our understanding of literary history, expand our understanding of a specific cultural moment and struggle (namely England’s competing projects of abolition and empire), and provide an entry to heretofore marginalized (if not completely unknown) literary traditions, all the while highlighting previously ignored threads in existing ones.

Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon, ed. White, Goodridge, and Keegan

Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon, ed. Simon White, John Goodridge, and Bridget Keegan (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2006). 315pp (ISBN-10: 0838756298).

Reviewed by
Ron Broglio
Arizona State University

Several years ago, Pickering and Chatto published three volumes of collected period poems entitled Eighteenth-Century Laboring-Class Poets, as well as another three volumes under the title Nineteenth-Century Laboring-Class Poets. Through this large project general editor John Goodridge and a list of volume editors have brought to light many lesser known poets, and they have contextualized better known peasant poets such as Stephen Duck, Mary Collier, Robert Burns, Ann Yearsley, Elizabeth Hands, Robert Bloomfield and John Clare. The formidable size of this handsome collection calls for scholarly inquiry into a large number of poets and poems which have seen only marginal attention.

Orrin N. C. Wang, Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory

Orrin N.C. Wang, Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. x + 232pp. (Hdbk; 0-8018-5220-X).  $17.95 (Pap, 2000; ISBN: 0-8018-6525-5).

Reviewed by
Adam Carter
University of Lethbridge

"Il faut etre absolument moderne."
–Arthur Rimbaud

In "Literary History and Literary Modernity," Paul de Man theorized an "inherent conflict" between the concepts announced in his title--concepts which, he suggested, might even constitute "logical absurdities."1 "The continuous appeal of modernity," de Man wrote, "the desire to break out of literature toward the reality of the moment, prevails and, in its turn, folding back upon itself, engenders the repetition and continuation of literature. Thus modernity, which is fundamentally a falling away from literature and a rejection of history, also acts as the principle that gives literature duration and historical existence" (162). This inherent conflict, de Man contends, determines both literary history and the structure of literary language. However, the manner in which it does so, de Man concedes, "cannot be treated within the limits of this essay" (162). Although inevitably reductive, it would not be wrong to conceive of Orrin Wang's Fantastic Modernity: Dialectical Readings in Romanticism and Theory as an attempt to think through this inherent conflict and certain of its implications within the broader horizons of a book-length study.

Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce

Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 232 pages. $80.00 (ISBN10: 1-4039-6925-6)

Reviewed by
David M. Baulch
University of West Florida

A book entitled Erotic Mary Robinson or Erotic Byron would not be all that surprising. By contrast, Anya Taylor’s Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce is immediately unsettling—and interesting—precisely because tradition has constructed Samuel Taylor Coleridge as one of the least erotic beings imaginable. Canonizing Coleridge alongside “Dry Bob” Southey, Byron’s Don Juan set the terms for reception, contrasting the success of Coleridge’s metaphysical interests with the failure of young Juan’s attempts to sublimate erotic attachments through abstruse contemplations. Slightly less than two centuries of subsequent critical treatment have done little to challenge the orthodoxy of Byron’s irreverence. While Anthony John Harding’s Coleridge and the Idea of Love: Aspects of Relationship in Coleridge’s Thought and Writing (1974) accords a centrality to love in its broadest possible sense as a moral/relational metaphysic, and Raimonda Modiano’s Coleridge and the Concept of Nature (1985) recognizes love as an important element in Coleridge’s complex and shifting engagements with aesthetic theory, Anya Taylor’s remarkable book asserts that Coleridge, throughout his life, was positively sexy and charmingly flirtatious. In short, Erotic Coleridge argues that the vicissitudes of Coleridge’s life, the complexities of his thought, and the protean character of his literary achievement need to be seen alongside his consistent interest in women.

William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Authorship, Commerce and the Public, eds. Clery, Franklin, Garside. Press, Politics and the Public Sphere, eds. Barker and Burrows. Women's Writing, eds. Justice and Tinker.

William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge University Press, 2004. xxix + 765pp., 765 pp., £90, $150.00 (Pbk.,; 2007; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-81006-7). (paperback edition), 796 pp., $43.99.
Authorship, Commerce and the Public: Scenes of Writing, 1750-1850. Eds. E. J. Clery, Caroline Franklin, and Peter Garside. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. xi + 242pp. $95.00. (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 9-780-333-96455-2).
Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820. Eds. Hannah Barker and Simon Burrows. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. ix + 263pp. $99.00 (Pbk., 2007: ISBN-13: 9-780-521-03714-3).
Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800. Eds. George L. Justice and Nathan Tinker. Cambridge University Press, 2002. x + 245pp. $90.00 (ISBN-13: 9780521808569).

Reviewed by
Michelle Levy
Simon Fraser University

In the last decade, historians of the book have held forth the possibility that material culture might provide us with a compelling account of the historical uniqueness and special tenor of Romantic-era literary culture. By examining the dramatic rise in print publication that began in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, the Romantic period may be more easily distinguished both from what came before (the more stable rate of print production that prevailed through most of the eighteenth century) and what came after (the even larger rise in print production and emergence of a truly mass reading public in the Victorian era, enabled by new forms of mechanical reproduction—iron presses powered by steam, industrial paper-making, stereotyping, and lithography). The four books under review demonstrate the potentially transformative effect of a rigorous empiricism on literary studies, as it seeks to supplement and even supersede the more anecdotal and impressionistic material histories that preceded them.

The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, ed. Morris Eaves

The Cambridge Companion to William Blake, ed. Morris Eaves. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge UP, 2003. 326 pp. ISBN-10: 0521781477(Hdbk)/0521786770(Ppbk), $90.00/$27.99

Reviewed by
R. Paul Yoder
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Each volume in the Cambridge Companion series provides a sort of snapshot of the state of the art concerning its given subject at the time of its publication, and this is certainly the case with the Cambridge Companion to William Blake. Morris Eaves has put together an excellent collection of overview essays on Blake’s contexts and works. After Eaves’ Introduction, the book is divided unevenly into two parts: “Perspectives” and “Blake’s Works.” All essays in both parts include endnotes and suggestions for further reading. The point of the essays is not so much to make new arguments as to synthesize the body of critical knowledge into a useful companionable form, and in this the volume succeeds quite well. The only glaring omission from the collection is a discussion of Blake and gender, a difficult issue for which a summary essay, if not a true synthesis, would be especially useful.

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