Romantic Circles Reviews

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire. New York: Palgrave, 2003. x + 240pp. $110.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-333-98583-4).

Reviewed by
Peggy Dunn Bailey

In Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire, James Najarian traces the influence of Keats upon the ways that male sexuality came to be understood and expressed in the Victorian era. One of the most valuable and insightful elements of Najarian's discussion, however, is that he extends his analysis beyond the Victorian era to the World War 1 era poetry of Wilfred Owen and to appropriations of Keats's "story" by contemporary artists struggling to find a language for the horrors of HIV/AIDS and its legacy, especially for the gay community. Doing so solidifies his point that Keats became, and continues to be, a phenomenon of sorts, not just because of his poetry but because of the ways in which the poet himself was turned into a symbol of transgressive sexuality and a commentary on its manifestations and potential consequences. Najarian is careful to point out that Keats's "influence" was transmitted not just by his poetry but also by biographies and conceptions of the "doomed," "sensuous," "effeminate" poet and to make clear that his goal is not to uncover the "real" John Keats but to examine the legacy of "Keatsianism" (2). Will we understand Keats and his poetry better if we "prove"/"know" him to have been a latent homosexual instead of (or, titillatingly, in addition to) a frustrated heterosexual? Not necessarily. Najarian astutely points out that late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century attempts to categorize would be unwise for practical and theoretical reasons; we would do well to remain vigilant regarding the dependability of our knowledge of the sexual proclivities and practices of human beings in a culture and a time within which the discourse of sexuality was so very different from our own. Furthermore, such attempts to "out" Keats, the man, are irrelevant to Najarian's project. In the Introduction, Najarian candidly announces his text as "unashamedly a literary history" (2).

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Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic

Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005. x + 387pp; illus. $84.95 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-8223-3558-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8223-3558-0); $23.95 (Pbk; ISBN-10:0-8223-3596-4; ISBN-13: 978-0-8223-3596-2).

Reviewed by
S. Adair Rispoli
Greg Pierrot, Shawna Ross, David Jefferson, Dustin Kennedy, Laura Collins,
Tyler Hollet, Esther Deutsch, Paul Johnston, Brian Neff
Pennsylvania State University

Ian Baucom's stimulating and rigorous Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History provides a philosophically sophisticated account of the role of slavery within the development of Western capitalism. Borrowing from Walter Benjamin's angel of history and Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origin of Our Times (Verso, 1994), Baucom advances the notion that "now" is never simply the present but rather an accumulation of history, which also moves through alternating cycles of economic development. Slavery, then, is no issue of the past, but one with the most salient consequences in the present, not only because the past has gathered itself within the present, but also because, according to Baucom, our era of high finance capitalism is comparable to that which arose out of the consolidation of the slave trade in the eighteenth century. Through a minutely detailed analysis of the 1781 Zong incident—in which one hundred and thirty-three slaves were thrown overboard in order to collect insurance—he shows how slaves as physical merchandise became at that historical moment the equivalent of finance capital: a potential, abstract and impersonal medium of exchange.

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Gordon Bigelow, Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain & Ireland; Philip Connell, Romanticism, Economics, & the Question of Culture; & Maureen N. McLane, Romanticism & the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of..

Bigelow, Gordon. Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland. Cambridge Studies in Nineteeth-Century Literature and Culture, no. 40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ix + 229pp. $43.00 (Pbk., 2007; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-03553-8).
Connell, Philip. Romanticism, Economics, and the Question of Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xii + 338pp. $50.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 9-780-199-28205-0).
McLane, Maureen N. Romanticism and the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of the Species. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. x + 282pp. $50.00 (Pbk., 2006; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-02820-2).

Reviewed by
Alex J. Dick
University of British Columbia

Most literary critics are familiar with economic terms like class, market, exchange, circulation, and production even if they aren't all that interested in economics. But people working in the field now called "literature and economics" or sometimes "the new economic criticism" are not primarily interested in using economic terminology to enhance readings of literary works. Nor are they particularly invested in using the tools of rhetoric or linguistics to challenge the ideological principles of academic economics, as even some economists have recently done. The new economic criticism, so called, is not really a branch of literary criticism at all. Rather it is part of a larger emerging field—discipline studies—that has attracted linguists, intellectual historians, anthropologists, and even economists and that is beginning to make headway in literature. Borrowing methodologies from discourse and systems analysis, the object of discipline studies is to understand when, how, and why literature and economics converge within institutional systems like the print marketplace or the University. These scholars share an interest in the way the different academic disciplines operate not discretely but in relation to one another. Disciplines formulate epistemologies by dismissing the usefulness or legitimacy of other competing epistemologies. At the same time, each discipline also adapts terms and ideas from others as part of their own disciplinary mandates.

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Steven E. Jones, ed., The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period

Steven E. Jones, ed., The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period. New York: Palgrave, 2003. 231pp. $69.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-29496-4).

Reviewed by
Talissa J. Ford
University of California, Berkeley

"The man who permits you to injure him deserves your vengeance. He will also receive it. Go, Spectre! Obey my most secret desire," writes William Blake, the romantic satirist conspicuously absent from Steven E. Jones' collection The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period. What this book does particularly well is to consider the relationship between satire and the culture in which it intervenes—what happens, in other words, when that spectre is let loose in the world. From the American satirist-barber J. R. D. Huggins and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" poet Jane Taylor, to first—and second—generation standards Wordsworth and Byron, The Satiric Eye explores not just the fact but the circulation of satire in the public, consumer culture of Romantic-era England (and America).

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Jerome McGann, Byron and Romanticism & Drummond Bone, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Byron

Jerome McGann, Byron and Romanticism. Ed. James Soderholm. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 328 pp.  $85.00. (Hdbk: ISBN 978-0521809580).
Drummond Bone, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Byron. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. 360 pp. $24.99 (pbk). (Pbk: ISBN 978-0521786768).

Reviewed by
Gillen D'Arcy Wood
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Byron plays Mephistopheles to Wordsworth's (and synecdochally, Romanticism's) Faust. Even at moments where he appears a poetic failure—in Childe Harold III or "Fare Thee Well"—he remains magister ludi, hoisting the reader on his own falsifiable expectations. But Byron at the last is also Faust himself. . . .

Such is Jerome McGann's Byron, whose articles on the poet, independent of his two early books, have now been collected in a single, indispensable volume. The first two-thirds of the collection, nine essays in all, constitute a Byron book unto themselves, but have been supplemented by seven further pieces, including a retrospective interview published here for the first time, that showcase McGann's crucial theoretical interventions—on the subjects of ideology, historical method, and deconstruction—and treat Byron mostly obliquely. Taken together, the volume offers both an assembly of vital essays by the most important Byronist of his generation, while pointing toward the Greater McGann of Social Values and Poetic Acts (1988) and the epoch-making Romantic Ideology (1983).

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William Hone, Regency Radical: Selected Writings of William Hone, eds. David A. Kent and D. R. Ewen

William Hone, Regency Radical: Selected Writings of William Hone. Eds. David A. Kent and D. R. Ewen. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2003. 460pp.  $51.95. (Hdbk. ISBN: 0-8143-3060-6).

Reviewed by
Kyle Grimes
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Romanticists have an unusual penchant for "circles" and "schools."  We have a Lake School, a Satanic School, and a Cockney School (which includes the Hunt circle); we have Joseph Johnson's circle, the Wordsworth Circle, Shelley and his Circle; and we have, of course, the plural and seemingly all-encompassing Romantic Circles.  It is as if romanticists wish to account for the literary culture of the early nineteenth century in the graphic terms of a Venn diagram. And yet, for all these overlapping schools and circles, some figures always seem to lie just beyond the circumference, unlisted on the roster of any particular school and thus relegated (literally) to the margins of literary history where they appear only occasionally in the odd footnote.  Until quite recently, William Hone has been just such a figure.  Though he was well known to many of the central writers and publishers of the Regency period, and in spite of his general fame (or notoriety) in the public prints, and though he was the long-time friend of Charles Lamb, the publisher of Hazlitt's Political Essays, and perhaps the best-selling writer in England during the post-Peterloo and Queen Caroline affair periods, Hone has not been widely known or widely read among more recent romantics scholars.  Happily, over the last dozen years or so this state of affairs has begun to change.  With the publication of such works as Marcus Wood's Radical Satire and Print Culture, Joss Marsh's Word Crimes, a handful of essays and electronic editions (such as The Political House That Jack Built, here on Romantic Circles and on my BioText website), and most recently in Ben Wilson's Laughter of Triumph, Hone's work as a publisher and journalist, parodist and antiquarian is coming into increasing prominence.

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Jillian Heydt-Stevenson, Austen's Unbecoming Conjunctions—Subversive Language, Embodied History

Jillian Heydt-Stevenson, Austen’s Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Language, Embodied History. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. x + 275pp. 11 Illustrations. $65.00. (ISBN 1-4039-6410-6).

Reviewed by
Anne K. Mellor
University of California, Los Angeles

This is a book that will forever change the way we read Jane Austen's fiction. In a series of compelling and well-documented analyses, Jillian Heydt-Stevenson shows us that Austen's work is replete with sexual jokes, bawdy humor, double-entendres, erotic puns. Moreover, she persuasively argues that for Jane Austen, the mind cannot be separated from the body: sense and sensibility, consciousness and physical sensations, thought and feeling, are inextricably fused. Heydt-Stevenson here puts paid once and for all to the misconceived notion that Austen was too "respectable" to explore the functioning of the human body in all its unruly sexuality. She further links Austen's use of bawdy language to her overriding concerns with the economics of marriage, the commodification of the female body, the advent of a consumer culture, and the role of language in mediating between "nature" and "fashion."

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Luke Gibbons, Edmund Burke and Ireland: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Colonial Sublime

Luke Gibbons, Edmund Burke and Ireland: Aesthetics, Politics, and the Colonial Sublime. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.  xiv +304 pp.  $60.00 (Hdbk;  ISBN: 0-521-81060-4).

Reviewed by
Frans De Bruyn
University of Ottawa

Until fairly recently, the Irish dimension of Edmund Burke's life experience and his views on colonialism and empire have been under-explored by scholars and critics.  Yet, as Luke Gibbons shows in Edmund Burke and Ireland:  Aesthetics, Politics, and the Colonial Sublime, both these circumstances are central to any adequate understanding of Burke himself and his extensive writings.  Moreover, as Gibbons further claims, Burke's opinions about the British imperial project were intimately shaped by his experience of the colonial system in Ireland.  Gibbons brings these interconnected themes together across a wide range of cultural and political contexts, including aesthetics, economic theory, philosophical history, and Irish unrest (the Whiteboys, agrarian struggle, the United Irishmen) to argue for a more integrated understanding of Burke's multifarious thought and experience.

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James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 & Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Exile of Unfulfilled Renown, 1816-1822

James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth's Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2004. 457pp. $69.50 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-87413-870-1).
James Bieri, Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Exile of Unfulfilled Renown, 1816-1822. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005. 441pp. $69.50 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-87413-893-0).

Reviewed by
Stephen C. Behrendt
University of Nebraska

James Bieri's new two-volume biography of Percy Bysshe Shelley appeared in 2004-05 with relatively little fanfare, perhaps because it was published by a less prominent press than one might expect for so major a biography. A flurry of comments in October 2005, though, on the on-line discussion list of the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, has focused attention at last on this important new study. As well it should. For Bieri's biography, which will surely be the definitive study of Shelley's life and work for many years to come, advances and enriches the state of contemporary Shelley studies in remarkable ways.

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Julia M. Wright, Blake, Nationalism, and the Politics of Alienation

Julia M. Wright, Blake, Nationalism, and the Politics of Alienation. Athens: Ohio UP, 2004. xxxiii + 230. Illus: 5 b&w. $44.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8214-1519-0).

Reviewed by
R. Paul Yoder
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Julia M. Wright's Blake, Nationalism, and the Politics of Alienation is a well-researched study that situates Blake in the political struggle to define an English (or sometimes British) national identity. Wright is less concerned with "Blake's ideology" per se than with "the formal and rhetorical strategies with which he sought to propagate that ideology," and so she limits her discussion, "almost exclusively, to Blake's printed works" (xxvi), as opposed to Blake's letters, notebooks and manuscripts. The book has a sort of chiastic structure: Wright devotes Chapter 1 to Laocoön and Chapter 6 to Jerusalem (both late works), part of Chapter 2 and all of Chapter 5 to Milton, and all but one section of Chapters 3 and 4 to America and Europe; shorter discussions of Poetical Sketches, Visions of the Daughters of Albion, The Song of Los and The [First] Book of Urizen fill out the remaining pages. There is little or no mention of Thel or The Book of Los, and only passing reference to the Songs, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and the Book of Ahania. Wright's topic is "not the 'liberating potential of discursive practices,' but the pan-ideological competition to control the representation of the individual and, more crucially, the community through which the individual is defined" (xxiii). That is, Wright focuses more on competing rhetorical strategies than on the different systems those strategies serve, a distinction that is often difficult to maintain. Nevetheless, the chapters on Laocoön, America and Europe, and Jerusalem are especially strong, and Wright offers some good insights on the social implications of some of Blake's key images.

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