Romantic Circles Reviews

Robert Crawford, ed., Robert Burns and Cultural Authority

Robert Crawford, ed., Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997. xiii + 242 pp. $29.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87745-578-3).

Reviewed by
Ian Duncan
University of Oregon

First things first: Burns is a great poet, as technically accomplished, interesting, ambitious and historically consequential as anyone else writing verse in the British Isles in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It's worth stating the case baldly, since standard versions of English literary history (including most of those still current) have failed to give any plausible account of Burns's achievement or cultural place. "Romanticism," a term non-synchronous and non-homologous between English and Scottish developments, is only part of the problem. Burns wrote in Scots, a vulgar drawback; more subtly, he eschewed what later criticism decreed to be the major poetic genres; this was what Arnold meant when he put Burns down for lacking "high seriousness." Burns's work, writes the editor of the present volume, "is the most alert and renovating literary channel of vernacular culture produced anywhere in the English-speaking world of the eighteenth century". It is also poetry of formidable intellectual energy and sophistication.

Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation

Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). x + 224pp. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-231-10816-8). $16.50 (Pap; ISBN: 0-231-10817-6).

Reviewed by
Dennis Berthold
Texas A&M University

In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1992), Toni Morrison calls for greater attention to the place of race and slavery in classic American literature: "The contemplation of this black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination" (5). Teresa Goddu's book answers that call by grounding nineteenth-century American gothicism in the history and politics of American racialism. In America, Goddu argues, the gothic stands as an elaborate code for slavery, race, and oppression, including the oppression by the new capitalist marketplace and its consequence, rampant literary commercialism. Goddu's fundamental aim is to historicize the gothic, to situate it within a particular social and political milieu and show how "American gothic literature criticizes America's national myth of new-world innocence by voicing the cultural contradictions that undermine the nation's claim to purity and equality" (10). By rendering Julia Kristeva's notion of the "abject" (or "horror of being") into concrete, historical narratives, American gothic tales expose the American nightmare even as they mask it with the modes of popular fiction and fantasy. Goddu moves the gothic from the margins to the center of American literary history, and to the already considerable literature studying the gothic's psychological role adds an argument for its social function.

Brennan O'Donnell, The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art

Brennan O'Donnell, The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995. xii + 290pp. $35.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87338-510-1).

Reviewed by
Steven J. Willett
University of Shizuoka, Hamamatsu Campus

Despite the modest renaissance in the study of versification the past few years, romantic critics continue to write about poetry as if it were little more than a textual stream of rhetoric, imagery, metaphor, ideology and selfreferentiality whose only purpose is to provide matter for hermeneutic hunters. Nowhere has this tendency been more pronounced than in criticism of Wordsworth, a poet who combined unmatched passion for the sound and rhythmic texture of poetry with a Horatian dedication to craftsmanship. As Brennan O'Donnell notes in the introduction to this superb study of Wordsworth's metrical art, "Wordsworthians and commentators on the romantic period and on the history of English poetry and prosody have tended, with some notable exceptions, to depreciate, dismiss as irrelevant, or simply ignore the particularities and peculiarities of Wordsworth's verse considered as verse" (2). The neglect of the metrical, rhythmic and auditory in Wordsworth is symptomatic of a general postmodernist tendency to level all literary texts to one semantic Flatland where their oral, aural and temporal dimensions are lost. Against this background of neglect, The Passion of Meter: A Study of Wordsworth's Metrical Art stands out as the first and for some time probably the only sustained treatment of his metrical theory and practice. It rectifies a crucial omission in our understanding of Wordsworth, but does more than just that. Its close, dexterous analysis of the verse provides a virtual education in techniques of metrical scansion for the reader with little knowledge of prosody. The exposition of metrical theory is so lucid, and the examples so well chosen, that one can learn quite enough here to read many another poet with a fair degree of metrical competence.

Tim Fulford, Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth

Tim Fulford, Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth. Cambridge Studies in Eighteenth-Century Literature and Thought, 30. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. xiii + 251pp. $57.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-55455-1)

Reviewed by
Gary Harrison
University of New Mexico

In Landscape, Liberty and Authority: Poetry, Criticism and Politics from Thomson to Wordsworth, Tim Fulford revisits territory made familiar by Raymond Williams's The Country and the City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), John Barrell's The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting, 1730-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), and most recently Elizabeth Helsinger's Rural Scenes and National Representation: Britain, 1815-1850 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997). Like Williams, Fulford attends to the opposition between the Country and the City, focusing in particular upon the works of Thomson, Cowper, Johnson, Wordsworth and Coleridge, as well as upon the picturesque theories of Uvedale Price, Richard Payne Knight, Humphry Repton, and William Gilpin. Like Barrell and Helsinger, Fulford examines in fine detail the complex web of relations among landscape aesthetics, poetry, rural poverty, and politics. More carefully attending to the particularities of party politics than these writers, Fulford traces a genealogy of transformations in the political inflection of landscape poetry from The Seasons to Home at Grasmere. In so doing, this remarkable book offers an implicit critique of the new historicism, while detailing the relationships among party politics, agrarian change, landscape poetry, and each poet's unique attempt—stylistically and thematically—to claim some moral, political and personal authority for his poetic voice.

John G. Rudy, Wordsworth and the Zen Mind: The Poetry of Self-Emptying

John G. Rudy, Wordsworth and the Zen Mind: The Poetry of Self-Emptying. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. xv + 268pp. $59.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7914-2903-2). $19.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-7914-2904-0).

Reviewed by

Mark S. Lussier

Arizona State University

The use of Zen thought and art as a method for reading Wordsworthian poetic production is, to my mind, long overdue, especially since Wordsworth's mode of spiritual meditation remains embedded in a "discourse of the Other," whether anchored in the "capaciousness of natural process" or dispersed into the "isolation" of the Leech-Gatherer. John Rudy's small book certainly achieves its twofold purpose: "It seeks to provide a Zen context for understanding the spirituality of the English poet William Wordsworth (1770–1850) and attempts to enrich the East-West dialogue" emerging with considerable force in the West during the latter half of the twentieth century (xi). As a result, Wordsworth and the Zen Mind will undoubtedly, though not unproblematically, become a foundational text as this critical concern flows into other eddies within Romantic criticism. Indeed, in reviewing my marginal annotations for this assessment, I found continual intersection with other Romantic poets generally and William Blake particularly, suggesting the need for even wider application of the strategies embodied in Rudy's thoughtful book.

Daniel P. Watkins, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry

Daniel P. Watkins, Sexual Power in British Romantic Poetry. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996. vxii + 157 pp. $34.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1438-7).

Reviewed by
Samuel Lyndon Gladden
Texas A&M University

Daniel P. Watkins's study of works by three major Romantic writers—Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats—examines the place of sexual roles and gendered struggles for power within a social and political landscape marked by profound economic change. Specifically, Watkins investigates the shift from an aristocratic, feudal economy to an emerging capitalism, and he points to gendered subjectivity as the primary experiential space through which anxieties over that shift were mediated. Posing the model of "sadeian logic" as the template for making sense of both social and interpersonal relations, Watkins reads a number of well-known Romantic works through the lenses of gender, class, and power finally to conclude that while the idealistic tendency of Romanticism remains compromised by the masculinist biases of its day, a feminist materialist investigation of the history and historicity of that dilemma—the very sort of project in which Watkins' study participates—offers Romanticism its only way out of the convoluted patriarchalism that structured social, economic, and interpersonal relationships in the early nineteenth century.

Mark Schoenfield, The Professional Wordsworth: Law, Labor, and the Poet's Contract

Mark Schoenfield, The Professional Wordsworth: Law, Labor, and the Poet's Contract. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1996. xiv + 360pp. $50.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8203-1791-8).

Reviewed by

John Rieder
University of Hawaii at Manoa

One of the repeated claims in Mark Schoenfield's reading of "law, labor, and the poet's contract" is that aesthetic issues in William Wordsworth's day were inevitably political issues as well. While the claim itself has become something of a literary-critical commonplace in the 1990s, Schoenfield evokes its pertinence to Wordsworth and Wordsworth's milieu with considerable skill and precision. The primary context for Schoenfield's historicizing interpretation is not contemporary politics but rather the growth of the free market and the rise of the modern professions. The entanglement of aesthetics with social issues arises from a tension between value and judgment, or between consumption and criticism, that inevitably accompanied the published work's dual status as commodity and work of art. Schoenfield's counter-figure for the Wordsworthian poetic imagination is therefore not Napoleon or empire but rather a composite character, the lawyer as critical reviewer. Many reviewers were, like Francis Jeffrey, also lawyers, and Schoenfield begins his book by noting that in classical Athens kritikos meant both critic and judge. One of the main merits of The Professional Wordsworth is that it develops this general overlapping of legal and critical domains into a supple tool for the study of Wordsworth's poetry.

Charles E. Robinson, Ed. The Frankenstein Notebooks: A Facsimile Edition of Mary Shelley's Novel, 1816-17 (Parts One and Two)

Charles E. Robinson, Ed., The Frankenstein Notebooks: A Facsimile Edition of Mary Shelley's Novel, 1816-17 (Parts One and Two). The Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics, Volume IX, General Ed., Donald H. Reiman. Garland Publishing, 1996. cx + 827 pp. $340. (ISBN 0-8153-1608-9).

Reviewed by
Steven Jones
Loyola University Chicago

First, in the interest of full disclosure: I was lucky enough a few years back to do journeyman editor's work on the related Garland Publishing series, The Bodleian Shelley MSS, also under the general editorship of Donald H. Reiman. It was a remarkable education, one which left me thoroughly convinced of the larger importance of these monumental series. Their purpose is, first, to disseminate knowledge of archival primary sources, to make widely available, in photographic facsimiles accompanied by expert transcriptions and annotations, rare materials that were once only accessible to a handful of scholars conducting specialized research primarily in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. My own modest contributions to the series were like the proverbial individual stones laid in the wall of a larger collective edifice. The two volumes of The Frankenstein Notebooks here under review represent, by contrast, a whole archival wing of useful knowledge, a striking example of just what this kind of "diplomatic" edition--for that is what these two volumes are: an important scholarly edition--really can do. At the bicentennial of the author's birth, along with Nora Crook's Pickering edition and Stuart Curran's forthcoming Pennsylvania Hypertext edition, Charles Robinson's edition of Frankenstein manuscripts puts studies of the novel on a whole new footing for the coming century.

Theresa M. Kelley, Reinventing Allegory

Theresa Kelley, Reinventing Allegory. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xv + 345pp. $54.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-43207-3).

Reviewed by

Esther Schor

Princeton University

The dark horse of all the "dark conceits," allegory has not been without champions in our century. Walter Benjamin reclaimed allegory for modernism in 1928, and in the sixties Paul de Man made it the centerpiece of his own rhetoric of Romanticism. Three decades later, we have Theresa Kelley's learned and ambitious study, Reinventing Allegory, which narrates the role of allegory "in the cultural and political temper of modernity" (3). For Kelley "modernity" refers to the ascendancy of the linked values of "empiricism, realism, and plain, rational speech" in the seventeenth century and to the unsettling of Platonic, Augustinian, and "syncretic" ideologies a century earlier (2). While her narrative leaves the conventional periods of literary history (Renaissance, seventeenth century, Restoration, eighteenth century, Romanticism, and Victorianism) more or less undisturbed, her book is a sustained meditation on the vicissitudes not only of allegory, but also of modernity over five centuries.

Nancy Easterlin, Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion"

Nancy Easterlin, Wordsworth and the Question of Romantic Religion. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1996. 182 pp. $33.50 (Hdbk; ISBN 0 8387 5309 4).

Reviewed by
Beth Bradburn
Boston College

Nancy Easterlin's Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion" vividly manifests both the advantages and the pitfalls of an interdisciplinary approach to literature. Easterlin addresses the question of Romantic religion by thinking about religion, and by bringing to bear the cumulative insights of the field known as psychology of religion. She argues persuasively that the psychological study of religious experience may productively rediscribe some important tensions in Romanticism; for example, she points out that it is "the paradoxical discrepancy between religion defined, on the one hand, as affective experience—state of heightened consciousness or intuition of the divine, for example—and, on the other, as organized belief systems that describes the characteristic and manifestly problematic religiousness of romanticism" (29). The tension between individual and social that seems to pervade Romanticism is, in other words, also the paradox of religion.