Romantic Circles Reviews

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.

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.

Robin Jarvis, Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel.

Robin Jarvis, Romantic Writing and Pedestrian Travel. London: Macmillan, 1997. x + 246pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-65814-0).

Reviewed by
Anne D. Wallace
University of Southern Mississippi

In this contribution to the ongoing critical discussion of mobility and literature in the modern world, Robin Jarvis significantly refines our understanding of the material histories of walking and these histories' conjunctions with literature in Britain during the crucial period from the 1780s to the 1820s. Many of his most important claims concern "pedestrian travel," the long-distance touring he characterizes as "fluid, improvised, open-ended walking" (90). But he also surveys the varieties of motivations, forms and expressions of walking during the period so that, rather than advancing one master thesis, Jarvis collects related observations of

the ways in which intellectual processes and textual effects are grounded in the material practice of walking. . . . This is not to imply some organic oneness of sense and expression in peripatetic literature, but to insist that in the displacement from physical experience to the order of imagined reality and literary representation the rhythms and modalities of walking remain a visibly determining influence. (33)

Without being reductive, I think it is safe to say that Jarvis attributes what he later calls "the potential of the genetic link between walking and writing" (91), in the specific case of pedestrian travel, to what he identifies as the freely directed, irregular, underdetermined physical qualities of such movement. These qualities, which Jarvis posits as inhering in the materialities of pedestrianism itself, mean that such travel can embody resistance to cultural categories from the personal to the aesthetic to the political, and at levels ranging from the oppositional to a suspension of resolution resembling Keats's "negative capability." Jarvis also argues that these free, resistant material and psychological conditions of pedestrian travel can be traced in the formal and thematic textual effects of writers who were themselves pedestrian travelers (or whose walking, for some reason, approached that specific modality). Like several recent critics—although no work of this kind had been published when he began his inquiry—Jarvis locates the release of pedestrianism's positive textual potential in the Romantic period, agreeing with Leslie Stephen's classic claim that "'the literary movement at the end of the eighteenth century was . . . due in great part, if not mainly, to the renewed practice of walking.

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.

Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës

Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës (University Park, Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998. 250 pages. $40.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-271-01809-7).

Reviewed by
Deborah Kennedy
Saint Mary's University, Halifax

Dand to criticism in the field. Concentrating on gothic novels written by women, Hoeveler traces patterns within the genre, ranging from the work of Charlotte Smith in the late eighteenth century to that of the Brontës in the nineteenth century, with two chapters on Ann Radcliffe forming the core of the book. Hoeveler's phrase "gothic feminism" might sound like an oxymoron, but she uses it to define the way that women writers created fictional worlds which in some way addressed the problem of their physical and social vulnerability. For Hoeveler, gender and the body become the overriding concerns of these texts. While one may not always agree with her attempt to find one key to unlock all of these novels, Hoeveler is a gifted literary critic. Her work is informed by recent theory, and she conscientiously cites a whole range of articles and books on gothic literature. But Hoeveler always keeps the novels themselves at the center of her discussion. One can see why she was first "entranced" by Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho (xvii), and her detailed and engaging commentary makes one want to read these novels again.

Frans de Bruyn, The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke: The Political Uses of Literary Form

Frans De Bruyn, The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke: The Political Uses of Literary Form (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996). xii + 318pp. $72.00 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-19-812182-2).

Reviewed by
Tim Fulford
Nottingham Trent University

Frans De Bruyn makes the purpose of The Literary Genres of Edmund Burke clear at the outset. "This study," he writes, "seeks to redeem Burke as a literary figure for our time by reviving a historical sense of what literary discourse meant for him and his contemporaries" (viii). The late twentieth-century reader, it seems, must undergo nothing less than a conversion experience, becoming an honorary subject of George III, to understand Burke's importance today. The conversion in question proves less difficult than might be expected since what De Bruyn wants us to acquire is a pre-Romantic mindset in which the literary is not separated from the political, nor the fictional from the factual. He wants us, in other words, to put aside the influence of the Romantic Ideology and to value as literary a discourse that participates in the partisan issues of its day. After the strictures of Jerome J. McGann, most Romanticists are keen enough to do just so, and indeed, recent studies by Steven Blakemore (Burke and the Fall of Language [University Press of New England, 1988]), Christopher Reid, (Edmund Burke and the Practice of Political Writing [St. Martin's Press, 1985]), and Tom Furniss, (Edmund Burke's Aesthetic Ideology [Cambridge University Press, 1993]) approach Burke in exactly the way that De Bruyn recommends.

Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century, edited by Adriana Craciun & Zofloya, or, The Moor, edited by Kim Ian Michasiw

Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century Edited and introduced by Adriana Craciun (Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1997). [xvii] + 303pp. $15.95 (Pap; ISBN: 1-55111-146-2).
Charlotte Dacre, Zofloya, or, The Moor Edited and introduced by Kim Ian Michasiw (New York, Oxford University Press, 1997). [xxiv] + 280pp. $11.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-283239-5).

Reviewed by
Michael Gamer
University of Pennsylvania

One hundred and ninety-one years after its first publication, Charlotte Dacre's Zofloya; or, The Moor finally has received not one new edition but two. The respective editors of the Broadview and Oxford editions, Adriana Craciun and Kim Ian Michasiw, take similar editorial approaches with Dacre's romance, basing their own texts on the first edition of 1806, keeping nearly all spelling and punctuation irregularities, and only correcting obvious inconsistencies and errors (such as the multiple spellings of the name of Zofloya's femme fatale Magalena Strozzi). Given the relatively simple editorial history of their text, such an approach is a blessing because it retains Zofloya's linguistic excesses and allows readers, therefore, to intuit the relation between Zofloya's language and its preoccupation with representing sexual, emotional, and physical violence.

The Examiner 1808–1822, Vols. 6–10 (1813–1817), introduced by Yasuo Deguchi

The Examiner 1808–1822. Vols. 6–10 (1813–1817). Introduction by Yasuo Deguchi. London: Pickering & Chatto Publishers, 1997. 4,240pp. £550.00/$850.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 1-85196-426-6).

Reviewed by
Charles Mahoney
University of Connecticut

Keats saved his back issues to send to his brother George in America; in Florence, Shelley learned of the Peterloo massacre when his copy arrived; John Gibson Lockhart ridiculed it in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine as but the "Cockney Court-Gazette"; and Southey not only censured it in The Quarterly Review but also fumed to Lord Lonsdale that its editor ought to be transported to Botany Bay. Whether inclined to subscribe to or proscribe it, you could not ignore The Examiner in the 1810s. And now, with Pickering & Chatto's invaluble reprint of its first fifteen years, 1808–1822, it is once again possible to understand why, week after week, The Examiner was and is the indispensable index of the political and literary culture of Regency England. The volumes before us here, 1813–1817, constitute the second installment of Pickering & Chatto's three-year project: the first five volumes (1808–1812, culminating in the Hunts' trial and conviction on charges of libel), were published in 1996, and the last five (1818–1822, from the height of its literary influence through Leigh Hunt's resignation of the editorship), are scheduled to appear in December, 1998. Pickering & Chatto's impressively legible reprint (made from the Cambridge University Library set) has already begun to provide scholars of Romantic studies with a timely opportunity to recalibrate their understanding of "political Romanticism" in terms of the effects of the Regency, the Napoleonic Wars, and their catastrophic aftermath on English prospects for Reform. When complete, The Examiner, 1808–1822 will again be available to radicals and apostates alike as (according to The Edinburgh Review in 1823) "the ablest and most respectable of the publications that issue from the weekly press."

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Valperga; or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca, edited by Stuart Curran

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca Edited and introduced by Stuart Curran. Women Writers in English 1350-1850, General Eds. Susanne Woods and Elizabeth H. Hageman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). [xxvi] + 454pp. $45.00 (ISBN: 0-19-510881-7); $16.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-510882-5).

Reviewed by
Beth Dolan Kautz
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Thanks to Stuart Curran's new edition of Valperga: or, The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca (1997), students and scholars alike can put away their tattered photocopies of the first of Mary Shelley's "other" novels. Curran dazzles us with the meticulous and thorough editing that we have come to expect from him, for example in his edition of Charlotte Smith's poetry (1993), a sister volume in the Oxford series Women Writers in English 1350–1850(General Editors Susanne Woods and Elizabeth H. Hageman). As a longtime scholar of the Shelley circle, a leader in the recovery and study of Romantic women's writing, and Director of the Center for Italian Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, Curran is particularly well suited to edit this historical novel, set in fourteenth-century Italy. Available in either cloth or paperback, the Oxford edition is not only an excellent resource for scholarly study, but also an affordable and portable alternative for the classroom. Curran's presentation of the novel, from his introduction to his last footnote, brings both fourteenth- and nineteenth-century Italian culture to life and invites readers to consider Mary Shelley's novel in a political framework.

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