Romantic Circles Reviews

Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Cultural Minority and the Forms of Transmission

Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Cultural Minority and the Forms of Transmission. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 25. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xiv + 295pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-57236-3).

Reviewed by
Paul Youngquist
Penn State University, University Park

Before there was Wordsworth, before the bright and dying Keats, before even Blake came pugnaciously along, for me there was De Quincey. I learned of him early from a guy who was some years my senior. He was a diabetic and had an easy way with needles, poking himself with enviable nonchalance. He looked gnarled and limber—like a stick that just won't snap, no matter how hard you bend it. He gave me two tips that made college a little more interesting than it would have been otherwise. First, drink the best wine you can afford. That usually kept me from the party crowd, the Thunderbird, and a fair amount of foolishness. Second, read De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. He even lent me his own old copy (the first one's always free). To say it made an impression would be putting it mildly. I read it night after night, a little at a time, not knowing exactly what I was reading, but transfixed. Here was a very strange way of writing: clear and oblique, concrete and complicated, logical and florid. It was a trip. And it got me to thinking that there might be more to literature than Truth and Beauty, then the apparent prerequisites of Great Writing. De Quincey bothered me, put a little glitch into the literature system that my major was wiring up. I'd like to believe that thanks to him, and to that old hipster who first tipped me off, I acquired a feel for other literary oddballs: Blake, Carroll, Burroughs, Dick, to name a few. At any rate, De Quincey remains for me something other than literature, perhaps other to it, at least as it's institutionally construed.

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation

William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. xiv + 189pp. $42.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1300-3).

Reviewed by
Jonathan Gross
DePaul University

William Brewer's The Shelley-Byron Conversation is an elegantly written account of the moments of influence and intertextuality that occurred between Byron and Shelley during the six years in which they engaged in their diabolical conversations. Brewer's book differs from Robinson's Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (1976) and Stephen Behrendt's Shelley and His Audiences (University of Nebraska Press, 1989) in seeing a "conversation" between Byron and Shelley rather than a debate "between Shelley's meliorism and Byron's pessimism" (Preface). One point of Brewer's study is that the Shelley-Byron conversation was exploratory in nature. By the time Byron wrote The Island and Shelley wrote The Triumph of Life, they had not only learned from each other, but seemed to be experimenting with positions antithetical to the views they held when they first met. The Island is Byron's most Shelleyan poem, and The Triumph of Life is Shelley's most pessimistic work.

Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent

Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. xviii + 315. $75.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-818396-8). $24.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-818629-0).

Reviewed by
Anne Janowitz
University of Warwick

Nicholas Roe's John Keats and the Culture of Dissent is a substantial contribution to the on-going debate about Keats's politics. As Roe notes in his discussion, Jerome McGann's 1979 article, "Keats and the Historical Method in Literary Criticism" (Modern Language Notes 94 [988–1032]), and Marjorie Levinson's subsequent Keats's Life of Allegory: the Origins of a Style (Oxford Univeristy Press, 1988) developed a historico-political reading of Keats's poetics in the context of class culture and politics. But it was the discussion of Keatsian stylistics presented by William Keach in a 1986 Studies in Romanticism forum on "Keats and Politics" that may well be a more crucial inspiration for Roe's thorough and wide-ranging study of the elements that together add up to the political-poetics of the "Cockney School." For the main investigation of Roe's study is how "Z"'s Blackwood's articles shaped a set of erroneous critical commonplaces about Keats (which, Roe wryly argues, underpin the greater part of twentieth-century Keats criticism, including the ostensibly demystificatory approach), but also, paradoxically, accurately responded to the force of a coherent political grouping. But if Roe shows us how we came to have a version of Keats that has until recently dominated the critical tradition, he also opens up the questions of Keats's own literary and political inheritance by looking closely at his formation in the culture of Dissent. So Roe is able to place Keats within a consistent narrative of the trajectory of the liberal intellectual tradition from the 1780s through the 1820s.

Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu

Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. Single-user version, £395/$600US; network version, £1,250/$1,950US (ISBN: 0-631-19944-6).

Reviewed by
Charles Snodgrass & Jeffrey N. Cox
Texas A&M University

New technologies are coming to the aid of the study of Romanticism. E-mail keeps scholars around the world in contact as do on-line discussion groups such as the NASSR-Listserv. Websites — such as Romantic Circles itself — provide a gathering point for scholarly information and a meeting point for scholarly exchange. Now, with the issuance of Romanticism: The CD-ROM, created by David Miall and Duncan Wu and issued by Basil Blackwell, scholars and students have another useful tool at hand for the exploration of the literature and culture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

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.