Romantic Circles Reviews

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.

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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.

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John Thelwall's 'The Peripatetic', ed. Judith Thompson

John Thelwall’s ‘The Peripatetic’. Ed. Judith Thompson. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001. 447pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8143-28882-2).

Reviewed by
Michael Scrivener
Wayne State University

Since the original 1793 edition, Thelwall’s Peripatetic had been reissued twice before Judith Thompson’s new edition, in the facsimile edition that was a part of the 1978 Garland “Romantic Context” series edited by Donald H. Reiman, and in a 1984 microfilm facsimile reprint (The Eighteenth Century series, reel 923). Recognized as a correspondent with Coleridge in the 1790s and as a poetic influence on Wordsworth, Thelwall is finally receiving the attention he deserves after long neglect thanks in part to E. P. Thompson’s work on his politics, Nicholas Roe’s work on his connection with Coleridge and Wordsworth, and especially Gregory Claeys’s edition of Thelwall’s political writing, and also in part to the reconfiguration of Romantic studies that has been going on for several decades. Thelwall’s extraordinary Peripatetic is worthy of a modern edition for which Judith Thompson (no relation to E. P.) has written a thoroughly lucid introduction of some fifty pages and has provided valuable explanatory notes, appendices, and an index.

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Anthony Jarrells, Britain's Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature

Anthony Jarrells, Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Ix + 229 pp. $80.00 (Hdbk; 1-4039-4107-6).

Reviewed by
C. Durning Carroll

Anthony S. Jarrells’s book, Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature, argues that the Glorious Revolution served for the British of the eighteenth century as a model for how to prevent the sort of bloody revolution that was to happen a century later in France. For Jarrells, it was the peculiar ability of writing (and the way writing was ultimately shaped into “literature” during Britain’s long eighteenth century) to configure the wishes and hopes of ordinary people that kept England from France’s passionate zealotry. Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions suggests a dialog between non-fictional writing—more ideological because it aimed explicitly to persuade—and the imaginative genres of poetry, fiction and drama, whose political and ideological aims were absent, or at least were rendered covert through fictionalization. This conversation between imaginative and persuasive writing, and the way both worked together to meet the needs of the people, regulated Britain’s revolutionary impulses. Jarrells explains that during the eighteenth century “not only was the literary narrowed to exclude, in large part, moral philosophy, historiography, and political economy, but this narrowed focus also helped to narrow the range of opinion in the larger world beyond letters” (98). Jarrells’s central thesis is that the narrowed focus of literature brought about by non-fictional writing helped depoliticize literature and refocus it on the individual.

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Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing

Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xi + 249pp; illus. $101.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 052187419X; ISBN-13: 978-0521874199)

Reviewed by
Brian Bates
University of Denver

In Wordsworth Writing, Andrew Bennett challenges several pervasive myths about Wordsworth, revisits the most significant cruxes of twentieth-century Wordsworth criticism, and sheds fresh light on Wordsworth’s poetic practice. Bennett carries out this three-pronged revision by questioning the assumption behind many studies of Wordsworth’s life and poetry: that Wordsworth composed poetry without actually writing. Wordsworth has long been considered a poet who composed aloud while walking outdoors, but Bennett contends that this view of Wordsworth as a spontaneous poet of nature misrepresents how he wrote the majority of his poetry. Instead, Bennett demonstrates that Wordsworth’s concern with the process of writing—from thinking about writing, to inscribing words on the page, false starts, writing blocks, and re-writing—defined his poetic identity, choice of subject matter, and passion for poetry.

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Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism

Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 318pp. ISBN-13: 9780521879118 (Hdbk.), $103.99

Reviewed by
Matthew VanWinkle
Ohio University

Adam Potkay’s ambitious study provides a deep background for a word of particular interest to Romantic era writers, a word that since has fallen into relative disfavor. By tracing instances of joy through a range of religious and literary texts, Potkay seeks to establish two constants in its variable history. The first is that joy, as distinct from words or concepts nearly synonymous, bears a close relationship to narrative. The second is that joy is inextricably involved with questions of ethics. Given how rapidly he surveys two and a half millennia of cultural history in the West, Potkay cannot always give each of these claims equal or consistent attention. Even so, he develops these claims persuasively, supporting them with a richness of detail and a clarity that still recognizes complexity. The result is a thoughtful and a bracing book that suggests both the need for and the appeal of further scholarly interest in its subject.

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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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Edoardo Zuccato, Petrarch in Romantic England

Edoardo Zuccato, Petrarch in Romantic England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Xiv + 241 pp. $80.00 (Hdbk; 0-230-54260-3)

Reviewed by
Mary Anne Myers

With Petrarch in Romantic England, Edoardo Zuccato refines and updates the meaning of "Italian influences" in British literature from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, tilling rich ground for additional study from several critical and cultural perspectives. While Dante's influence on the "Canonic Six" has long been duly noted, Zuccato's historical approach demonstrates that Petrarch was actually more popular among the period's writers, particularly among those women and men who have more recently been included in the field of Romantic studies. Not only does Zuccato's enterprise dovetail with the expansion of the Romantic canon, it also illustrates how a central question in the period's debates over Petrarch is keyed to the larger English Romantic movement and its subsequent critical reception. As the author positions the apparent paradox: "Petrarch was recognised simultaneously as one of the masters of love poetry and an extremely skilled rhetorician who exhibited his technical devices with unashamed pride. How could exalted passion and extreme artificiality coexist?" (15). Then as now, disagreements hinged on the issue of sincerity and the connections among feeling, truth, art, and action.

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Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque: British Art, Poetry, and Instruments, 1750-1830

Ron Broglio, Technologies of the Picturesque: British Art, Poetry, and Instruments, 1750-1830. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2008. 236pp. ISBN-10: 0-8387-5700-0 (Hdbk.), $50.00.

Reviewed by
Julia Sandstrom Carlson
University of Cincinnati

Water, earth, sky, and animals? At first glance, one of the four sections into which Technologies of the Picturesque is divided seems unlike the others. We come quickly to recognize, however, that the likeness of “animals” to the other categories lies in its also being an object of picturesque vision: one of the basic “elements of nature” (15) encountered, perceived, and composed in visual art according to the rules of picturesque aesthetics. Water, earth, sky, and animals are the basic vocabulary of the picturesque. Yet, as Ron Broglio shows, Romantic artists were not alone in representing these objects and fitting them to human use; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientists and surveyors encountered and inscribed the same elements according to their particular technological, cartographic, agricultural, and immunological agendas. In six tightly focused chapters, the author compares artistic and scientific encounters with nature, their tools and epistemologies, and their respective effects on human subjectivity and sense of space. Crossing disciplinary divides consolidated only after the Romantic period, Broglio brings to light the reliance of poets and artists on the technologies of scientific endeavor and, conversely, the employment by scientists of picturesque principles and tools. Both sorts of optical projects and systems made chaotic nature “legible” to humanity but in doing so enforced a Cartesian divide between human perceiver (eye, mind) and nature (body, matter) that materially distanced human beings and the environment.

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Sara Coleridge, Collected Poems, ed. Peter Swaab

Sara Coleridge, Collected Poems, ed. Peter Swaab. London: Fyfield Books / Carcanet, 2007. 256 pp. £14.95 (Pbk; ISBN 978 1 857548 95 2).

Reviewed by
Dennis Low

When Peter Swaab’s edition of Sara Coleridge: Collected Poems appeared in 2007, the media leapt upon it with gusto.

“POEMS BY DAUGHTER OF LAKES BARD DISCOVERED IN AMERICA,” ran the headline of the North-West Evening Mail: “The poems, by Sara Coleridge, had lain undiscovered for 150 years and have now been published in a collection for the first time.” “Dr Peter Swaab,” reported the Bridgwater Mercury, “stumbled across an anonymous poem by chance when he was researching for a book on William Wordsworth at the University of Texas.” The national broadsheets were similarly impressed. “A British academic has discovered 120 unknown poems by Sara Coleridge” said The Telegraph; “Now,” said The Guardian, “with the publication of 185 of her poems, two-thirds of which have only recently been discovered, the daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge has been revealed as a talented and versatile poet in her own right.”

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