Romantic Circles Reviews

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.

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.

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.

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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Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire

Steve Clark and David Worrall, eds., Blake, Nation and Empire. New York: Palgrave, 2006. 256pp. Illus: 8 halftones. ISBN-13: 978-0-3339-9314-9 (Hdbk.), $69.96.

Reviewed by
Julia M. Wright
Dalhousie University

This important collection of twelve essays, arising from a 2000 Blake conference at Tate Britain, offers an array of historical frames through which to recontextualize Blake—from sensibility to eighteenth-century ideas of sexuality, and from the Sierra Leone project to the diverse religious cultures of Blake's England and debates about art, economy, historiography, and proselytization. "Nation" and "Empire" are capacious categories here, allowed to float freely, as they did in Romantic-era discourse (though there are moments when distinctions between patriotism and modern nationalism, cultural nationalism and ideas of the nation-state, or settler colonies and invaded colonies would have contributed to a clearer picture of "Blake, Nation and Empire"). The aim of this volume is to continue the cultural materialist project of Clark and Worrall's earlier collections and, hence, to focus on the "minute particulars" of Blake's time and place—a project richly pursued here. This collection is not divided into parts, but I have organized my discussion below to highlight some continuities, and complementarities, among these diverse chapters beyond their shared historicist orientation.

Matthew S. Buckley, Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama

Matthew S. Buckley, Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2006. x + 191pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-8018-8434-9).

Reviewed by
Lissette Lopez Szwydky
Penn State University

Matthew S. Buckley's Tragedy Walks the Streets: The French Revolution in the Making of Modern Drama is "an effort to render explicit, and thus pull into the active present, modern drama's connection—it's 'secret link'—not only to the drama of the French Revolution but also, and through it, to the dramas of the pre-Revolutionary past" (152). The author uncovers the modern drama's "secret link" to the past through an interdisciplinary analysis of the politics of the French Revolution as played out both in the streets and on the stages of Paris, as well as London. Although the title of the book suggests an historical approach to developments in the drama from the late-eighteenth century to the early-twentieth century, Buckley instead offers a history of the dramatic character of the French Revolution, its relationship to the dramas staged in the decades immediately before and after, its influence on English political and literary authors, and finally "the Revolution's relationship to the formal development of modern drama between 1780 and 1840" (1). The aims of the book are many, but in its multi-national (France, England, and Germany) coverage of the theatricality of politics during this period, its focus is fixed on the permanent effects of the French Revolution on European cultural production.

Kevin Gilmartin, Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832

Kevin Gilmartin, Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Xii + 316 pp. 3 Illustrations. $90.00 (Hdbk; 0-521-86113-6).

Reviewed by
Anthony Jarrells
University of South Carolina

The implicit claim of Kevin Gilmartin's Writing Against Revolution: Literary Conservatism in Britain, 1790-1832, is that containment is as apt a metaphor for romantic-period writing as the more widely used explosion. Of course, the effort by conservative writers to counter what was thought by many in the period to be a very real threat of revolution did itself lead to an explosion of print. Indeed, it is precisely this tension that Gilmartin finds at the heart of the "counterrevolutionary" enterprise: how do those who see print as a suspect vehicle of revolution engage in a print-based campaign to counter such a threat? Gilmartin's first book, Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in early Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), explored the radical side of the struggle. His new study brings a similar, rigorous approach to the "pervasive rhetorical and literary dilemma" (13) that occupied those writers working to forestall the movement chronicled in Print Politics. The five chapters of Writing Against Revolution trace the myriad forms in which this rhetorical and literary dilemma found expression: from pamphlets and tracts (chapters one and two), periodical reviews (chapter three), and novels (chapter four), to attempts (chronicled in chapter five) by two canonical writers of the period—Robert Southey and Samuel Coleridge—to extend counterrevolutionary practices beyond specific moments of crisis and to articulate "a model for a more stable society" (207). Against a scholarly field that tends to associate romantic writing with progressive strains and causes, Gilmartin aims "to demonstrate the enterprising and productive (rather than merely negative and reactive) presence of counterrevolutionary voices in the culture of the romantic period" (9).

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 280 pp. $80.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0512854008).

Reviewed by
Dana Van Kooy
University of Colorado at Boulder

Just as Mont Blanc has been central to the Shelleyan canon, so too the sublime as an aesthetic discourse has been pivotal to our understanding of Percy Shelley as a poet, a philosopher, and a radical. Cian Duffy's Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime challenges the "critical orthodoxy which assumes not only that there is such a thing as a generic 'romantic sublime', but also that this 'sublime' rehearses the transcendentalist paradigms of [Kant's] Critique of Judgment" (5). Eschewing Burke and Kant, Duffy reorients the Shelleyan sublime through two other texts: C.F. Volney's Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les Révolutions des Empires (translated into English in the early 1790s) and Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1766-88). Both texts, according to Duffy, embody the eighteenth-century idea of "ruin-sentiment" (38-9), a term which links imperial collapse to moral decadence and, as a discourse of political and social reform, offers to resolve the terrifying prospect of ruin through an appeal to moral restraint. Shelley, Duffy argues, takes this causal formulation a step further; the sublime provides the means of representing the inevitable imperial failure as a natural cultural process that mirrors society's moral and political corruption. Shelley's sublime landscapes—significantly, inhabited by volcanoes, avalanches, and other events marking geological catastrophe—signify the natural necessity of revolution. This essentially inverts the traditional theistic discourse of the natural sublime; instead of pointing to God as the organizing principle of life, Shelley's sublime exposes "the artificiality, the un-naturalness of contemporary social structures" (9). Duffy's study places a new emphasis on the catastrophic imagery of the natural sublime while it also redefines the Shelleyan sublime as an "aesthetic ideology" in order to be attentive to the figurative power of the natural sublime to change the observer's conception of what is "natural" or what is "right."

Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism

Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. xxxi + 224pp. ISBN: 0-8166-3979-5; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3979-3 (Hdbk.), $60.00. ISBN-10: 0-8166-3980-9; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3980-9 (Pbk.), $20.00.

Reviewed by
Debbie Lee
Washington State University

It seems appropriate that Gunter von Hagens held his London exhibition Bodyworlds in the same neighborhood where Jack the Ripper took his victims. When I attended the 2002 exhibition at the Atlantis Gallery on Brick Lane, I was both fascinated and freaked out. It progressed from body parts to full corpses, in postures that mocked their lifelessness. One was a horseman, one held what looked to be a cape but turned out to be his entire skin, while others mimicked athletes: a runner, a basketball player, a swimmer, and a pole-vaulter lodged half-way between floors. Then there was a room dedicated to the development of the baby in embryo.