Romantic Circles Reviews

Thomas Pfau and Robert F. Gleckner, eds., Lessons of Romanticism: A Critical Companion

Thomas Pfau and Robert F. Gleckner, eds., Lessons of Romanticism: A Critical Companion. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.  xii + 475 pp. illus: 19 halftones, 7 score samples. $69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8223-2077-0).   $24.95 (Pap.; ISBN: 0-8223-2091-6).

Reviewed by
Bridget Keegan
Creighton University

Subtitled "A Critical Companion," the Lessons of Romanticism, edited by Thomas Pfau and Robert Gleckner, does not accompany any new anthology of Romantic "primary" works (although a glimpse at the table of contents reveals a more expansive understanding of what constitutes a Romantic text). Rather, the volume serves as a worthy companion to anyone engaged in the advanced study or teaching of the field. This collection of essays powerfully illustrates the variety, vitality, and continued viability of the study of a period that has—somewhat perilously of late—tended to define itself precisely by questioning its very status as a period. Without ignoring that (un)defining question, Lessons of Romanticism ought to put to rest any remaining questions about the future of the field. Such questions seemed particularly acute in 1994, the year during which the papers that became the Lessons of Romanticism were first delivered at the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism conference. That very November, only five positions out of the several hundred advertised in the MLA Job Information List had designated "Romanticism" as an area of specialization, granting a new urgency to the question of not just how but whether Romanticism could still be taught or studied.

Mary Ann O'Farrell, Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush

Mary Ann O'Farrell, Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth-Century English Novel and the Blush. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997.  ix + 197pp.  illus.  $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8223-1903-9).  $17.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-8223-1895-4).

Reviewed by
Laura Mooneyham White
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Mary Ann O'Farrell's Telling Complexions: The Nineteenth Century English Novel and the Blush extends an already burgeoning line of Foucauldian analyses of the connection between the social and somatic through a study of the blush, that physiological response so readily employed in nineteenth-century novels as a sign of a character's real feelings—shame, embarrassment, self-consciousness, or erotic interest. O'Farrell works throughout to distinguish between the expressive blush, a sign of "deep personal truth (expressive of character, of self, of the body)" and the mechanistic and/or social blush, a blush that arises as "the appropriate local response to and inevitable product of the pressure of social circumstance" (111). She argues that the use of the blush in the nineteenth-century English novel becomes increasingly complex, undermined, and reconfigured as authors such as Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Henry James work through their growing awareness of the blush as mechanical, concomitantly losing a faith in the more innocent expressive blush, as well as losing faith in the blush as novelistic device. Extending her discussion to other forms of somatic telling (stumbling, swooning, the scar), O'Farrell argues that each new device which attempts to reclaim a simple expressivity becomes convoluted with cultural twists almost as soon as it is deployed, whether the device at issue is the scar on Rosa Dartle's mouth in David Copperfield or the recurrent stumbles and fumbles of Margaret Hale, the heroine of Gaskell's North and South. O'Farrell is particularly adept at showing this authorial discomfort with the blush as device in her discussion of Dorothea in Eliot's Middlemarch, rightly noting that Eliot describes Dorothea as blushing more than several dozen times in the novel while nonetheless maintaining as narrator a contradictory belief that Dorothea is a character who does not blush, or blush much: what Dorothea's "blush tells is what the silliest of novelistic blushes have long been known to tell . . . [but] Eliot's desire to assert the rarity of Dorothea's blush registers her own irritation with a blush that has been debased and robbed of expressivity by convention" 120–21).

Anne Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition

Anne Janowitz, Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.  xii + 278pp. illus. $64.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-57259-2).

Reviewed by
Michael Scrivener
Wayne State University

The question with which Janowitz begins her very stimulating consideration of Romantic literature—"Can we extricate ourselves enough from romantic presuppositions to produce a history of romanticism?"—does not lead her to an epistemologically oriented inquiry under the sign of either Derrida or Althusser or Foucault. Her study is neither a self-conscious performance of a Romantic and futile attempt to escape a Romantic logic (deconstruction), nor a strenuous act of intellectual disciplining whereby the wheat of scientific knowledge can be separated from the chaff of ideology (ideological critique). Rather, she draws a new map of Romanticism that includes these—and other—recent approaches within a "unified field" whose coordinates are determined ultimately by "debate" and "unrelieved tension" (1).

Jonathan David Gross, ed., Byron's "Corbeau Blanc": The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne

Jonathan David Gross, ed., Byron's "Corbeau Blanc": The Life and Letters of Lady Melbourne. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997.  xiii + 488pp. illus. $24.95 (Pbk; ISBN: 0-89263-351-4).

Reviewed by
William D. Brewer
Appalachian State University

Lord Byron met Lady Melbourne (1751–1818) when she was sixty and he was twenty-four, and he came to regard her as his only "confidential correspondent on earth," "the best friend [he] ever had in [his] life, and the cleverest of women." He found her conversation delightful and declared that her letters were "the most amusing—the most developing—and tactiques [sic] in the world" (Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Marchand, 3:141–42, 3:209, 3:153). Jonathan Gross's edition of Lady Melbourne's correspondence makes her numerous letters to Byron, the Duchess of Devonshire, the Prince of Wales (later George IV), Caroline Lamb, her niece Annabella Milbanke (Lady Byron), and others widely available for the first time. He supplements the letters with an informative introductory biography, extensive headnotes and endnotes, a helpful "Glossary of Personalities," and sixty-five illustrations. The illustrations alone make this a valuable book: they include portraits of Lady Melbourne, her family members, and associates; photographs and drawings of her various houses; and political cartoons. Gross also provides the reader with a "Scale of Bon Ton" printed by the Morning Post which ranks Lady Melbourne and other upper-class women on a scale of 0–19 in the following categories: beauty, figure, elegance, wit, sense, grace, expression, sensibility, and principles. (Oddly, Lady Melbourne only scores a three in wit.)

Jane Girdham, English Opera in Late-Eighteenth Century London: Stephen Storace at Drury Lane

Jane Girdham, English Opera in Late-Eighteenth Century London: Stephen Storace at Drury Lane. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.  xiv + 272pp. illus: 5 halftones, 8 tables, 29 score samples. $89.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-816254-5).

Reviewed by Alex J. Dick
University of Toronto

Scholars of Romantic-period theater have done much of late to demystify artistic creation by highlighting the material contingencies of stage production. Those processes of theatrical production are now seen, in turn, to havebeen instrumental in forming the ideals and ideologies that we associate with Romanticism. Theater does not represent culture; rather, it is a culture industry. Theatrical music, by contrast, has remained for the most part something of an enigma. Jane Girdham's study of the life, career, and works of Stephen Storace, the de facto composer-in-residence at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane from 1787 until his premature death in 1796, goes a long way toward clarifying the dynamics and the importance of music to early Romantic theater. The rigorous historical and archival orientation of this book does not achieve the critical potential apparent in many of its findings.  Nevertheless, it provides a clear and useful view of just how complex stage performance and theatrical management were in the late eighteenth century.

Thomas Pfau, Wordsworth's Profession: Form, Class, and the Logic of Early Romantic Cultural Production and John Rieder, Wordsworth's Counterrevolutionary Turn: Community, Virtue, and Vision in the 1790s.

Thomas Pfau, Wordsworth's Profession: Form, Class, and the Logic of Early Romantic Cultural Production. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997. xii + 454 pp. illus. $49.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8047-2902-6).
John Rieder, Wordsworth's Counterrevolutionary Turn: Community, Virtue, and Vision in the 1790s. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1997. 273 pp. $41.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87413-610-5).

Reviewed by
Margaret Russett
University of Southern California

The theses of John Rieder's and Thomas Pfau's recent books present striking parallels, a fact that reflects at least as much on the theoretical climate both critics inhabit as it does on their shared topical focus. Although it may be unsurprising to find similarities between two studies of Wordsworth—each of which, moreover, concentrates on a limited number of works from early in the poet's career—more notable are the ways each positions itself as post-New Historicism, even while insisting on the rigorous articulation of historical context. For both critics, this stance involves a renewed attention to the category of the aesthetic, defined not as the evasion or mystification of history but as the precise and determinate response to questions posed at the level of material circumstance. The cultivation of aesthetic (i.e., "literary") experience, argue Pfau and Rieder, constitutes the particular ideological project of the middle class in its late-eighteenth century period of consolidation. What Pfau calls the "virtual commodity" of "unselfconscious aesthetic interest" (1, 65) surfaces in Rieder's account as, more simply, the "literary community held together . . . by poetry itself" (Rieder 216–17). The construction of literature as an autonomous domain thus solves a "problem of cohesion or social totality" which (Rieder 46), because it cannot be addressed by the available modes of political representation, instances the modern concept of class itself.

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.