Romantic Circles Reviews

Nicola Trott and Seamus Perry, eds. 1800: The New "Lyrical Ballads." Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories

Nicola Trott and Seamus Perry, eds. 1800: The New "Lyrical Ballads." Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories, gen. eds. Marilyn Gaull and Stephen Prickett. Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2001. x + 245 pp. £60.00 (US$70) (Hdbk.; ISBN 0-333-77398-5).

Reviewed by
Alison Hickey
Wellesley College

"'1800' is not one of the most famous dates in English literary history, but it should be" (1), declares the Introduction to this outstanding collection of essays. The idea that the literary-historical importance of the 1800 Lyrical Ballads equals or even surpasses that of its "more celebrated rival of 1798" is not itself new, but it has never before been so convincingly borne out by sustained, multifaceted, and rigorous critical inquiry.

The essayists, among the most highly respected Wordsworth and Coleridge scholars now writing in the UK and the US, define 1800's "newness" in various ways, and their approaches range from "revisiting the title" (Zachary Leader) to delving into "Wordsworth's Loves of the Plants" (Nicola Trott). Yet the volume as a whole, for all its diversity, possesses a coherence not often found in collections of essays by multiple authors. The tension between unity and multeity, comparable to tensions in Lyrical Ballads itself (or "the" Lyrical Ballads "themselves"), gives the critical volume a rare integrity.

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Alan Richardson, British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind

Alan Richardson, British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 266 pp. $65.00/£40.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0521781914).

Reviewed by
Joel Faflak
University of Western Ontario

Alan Richardson's detailed and provocative British Romanticism and the Science of the Mind reads the nineteenth-century concern with the imagination and the mythopoeic powers of the mind through the lens of Romanticism's fascination with brain science of its own era. This reading corrects the view that Kant, or more generally German metaphysics, largely taught the Romantics, by way of teaching us, what they needed to know about how the mind makes sense--and makes sense of--the world. The Romantics were reacting against a too materialistic Enlightenment empiricism, a story which finds its main plot in Coleridge's rejection of Hartleyan associationism in Biographia Literaria. Or as Richardson argues in "Neural Romanticism," the book's Introduction, "Although literary Romanticism has most often been associated with idealistic and transcendental conceptions of mind, the many points of contact between scientific and literary representations of the embodied psyche helps remind us of an antidualistic, materialist register within Romantic writing that has, until recently, been badly ignored" (36).

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Peter Otto, Blake's Critique of Transcendence: Love, Jealousy, and the Sublime in The Four Zoas

Peter Otto, Blake's Critique of Transcendence: Love, Jealousy, and the Sublime in The Four Zoas. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. xiv + 365 pp. $95.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-818719-X).

Reviewed by
Kathleen Lundeen
Western Washington University

Night the Ninth of The Four Zoas has been likened to the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The words epiphany, apotheosis, and climax have all been used to describe the grand finale of Blake's unfinished epic, in which all of life appears to rush together to restore the transcendent unity that was shattered in Night the First. In a recent study of The Four Zoas, Peter Otto argues otherwise. "It is my contention," he writes, "that rather than urging sublime transcendence, The Four Zoas hopes to thwart it." He explains, "The poem aims to delay the movement of the sublime from blockage to transport and elevation, long enough for the reader to see the warring visual and verbal elements of the fallen world as the fragmented and dismembered body of humanity" (8). "Blake's poem," he goes on to argue, "directs us to a human rather than transcendent reality. Contrary to the thrust of the sublime, therefore, the 'transcendence' canvassed in this poem is horizontal and temporal rather than vertical and eternal" (33-4). In the 300 pages of commentary that follow, Otto defends his thesis through an exhaustive explication of the poem, including its graphic design.

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Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830 2nd ed.

Anne K. Mellor, Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830. 2nd ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002. 172pp. $39.95/$17.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0253337135, Pbk; ISBN: 025321369X).

Reviewed by
Sarah M. Zimmerman
Fordham University

Anne Mellor's latest book brings to bear on the field of British Romantic women's writing recent debates about women and the public sphere. She invokes two pervasive critical accounts: Jürgen Habermas's theory of the emergence of a "bourgeois public sphere" in eighteenth century Europe, and feminist narratives of the development of gendered "separate spheres" that culminated in the Victorian ideal of a domesticated womanhood. These historical paradigms do not readily map onto one another (chronologically, geographically, or theoretically), yet both accounts rehearse the rise of a predominantly masculine realm of public debate and discursive exchange. Mellor challenges both models, finding Habermas's "conceptual limitation" of the public sphere to propertied men "historically incorrect" (2), and "the theoretical paradigm of 'the doctrine of the separate spheres'" limiting for our understanding of the period's lived experience and literary culture (7).

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Kevin Hutchings, Imagining Nature: Blake's Environmental Poetics

Kevin Hutchings, Imagining Nature: Blake's Environmental Poetics. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. xiv + 256 pp. $75.00/£57.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-7735-2342-1).

Reviewed by
Dennis M. Welch
Virginia Tech

Because scholars since Northrop Frye's Fearful Symmetry (1947) have generally considered Blake an adversary of nature, he has largely been avoided in the recent emergence of eco-criticism among Romanticists.[1] Kevin Hutchings's book changes this situation and deserves much respect for doing so.

Imagining Nature seeks to delineate a "distinctively Blakean view of the relationship between humanity and nature," a view challenging "the traditional Western notion that humans should exercise a hierarchical and narrowly anthropocentric 'dominion'" over the non-human world (3). Hutchings's strategy involves a double focus, in which he finds Blake distinguishing between nature itself and Enlightenment discourses about it, opposing and critiquing mostly the latter instead of the former. Deeply aware of discursive ideological renderings of nature, Blake shows that Enlightenment philosophy, science, and religion colonize it with anthropocentric systems of thought.

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Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism

Adriana Craciun, Fatal Women of Romanticism. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 54. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xviii + 328 pp.  Price. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-81668-8).

Reviewed by
Kathryn Pratt
Auburn University

Feminist inquiry in Romantic studies achieves new sophistication with the publication of books such as Adriana Craciun's study, which addresses the need for scholarship on sexuality in order to supplement the vast range of works on gender that have already enriched the field.  After the early emphasis on male writers' representations of women and, in recent decades, the recovery of popular and respected women writers who had been written out of the Romantic canon, critical attention necessarily turns to the historicizing of Romantic feminism.  In other words, recent developments in feminist theory demand a self-conscious critique of feminist ideology: how do feminist notions of gender and sexual difference reify the women they purportedly seek to liberate?  Examining how representations of the body disrupt normative notions of sexual difference at the very moment of their cultural enshrinement in the early nineteenth century, Fatal Women of Romanticism offers a compelling and timely argument for the importance of women's literature to an understanding of the cultural history of the Romantic Period in Britain.

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Ashley Tauchert, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine

Ashley Tauchert, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine.  New York: Palgrave, 2002. ix + 169pp. $52.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-96346-6).

Reviewed by
Harriet Devine Jump
Edge Hill College

Is there anything new to say about Mary Wollstonecraft? Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine offers a sophisticated theoretical approach, based on Luce Irigaray's philosophy of sexual difference and subjectivity.

In her introduction, Ashley Tauchert rightly identifies "three distinct waves of interest" (4) in Wollstonecraft's life and works since her death. First-wave feminists--nineteenth century campaigners for women's rights--claimed her as a founding mother in their struggle for women's suffrage; the second wave, academic feminists of the 1970s, reclaimed her works and thought from the shadows; and the third wave ("symptomatic of the identity crisis of millennial feminism" [5]) has shifted the focus from celebration to identifying the flaws and inconsistencies in her feminism. Tauchert offers a refashioning of Wollstonecraft, emerging from a consideration of Irigaray's model of Western culture as replicating masculinist subjectivity and thus forcing those women who wish to write intelligibly into a crypto-masculinist subjectivity. She proposes a new category for women's writing, the Athenic mode, in which masculinist forms are disrupted by "figures of excess, lack, and hysteria . . . gestures towards a lost, and mourned, female embodiment" (8). She argues that Wollstonecraft's texts document a struggle between this mode and Matrilineal subjectivity, but believes that her later works point to a resolution of the struggle.

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Sheila A. Spector, "Glorious Incomprehensible": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Language & "Wonders Divine": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Myth

Sheila A. Spector, "Glorious Incomprehensible": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Language. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001.  x + 202pp.  Illus: 50 b&w and 4 color.  $46.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8387-5469-4).
Sheila A. Spector, "Wonders Divine": The Development of Blake's Kabbalistic Myth. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2001.  213pp. Illus.: 54 b&w and 4 color.  $59.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8387-5468-6).

Reviewed by
Mark S. Lussier
Arizona State University

N.B.: In this review, the former work is abbreviated as GI, and the latter work is abbreviated as WD.

After a period of seeming dearth in Blake studies, where individual studies of the poet/prophet were rare while collective studies of Romanticism focused on broad movements like colonialism, historicism, and imperialism abounded, the last ten years have seen an explosion of both single studies dedicated to particular aspects of Blake's visionary agenda and essay collections presenting scholarly analyses across a broad spectrum of concerns. This re-turn trend toward single author studies actually delights me, since I've always preferred, as a reader, to participate fully in the critical struggle between the unruly artist and the striving critic that shapes the very background radiation to most memorable studies of Blake. With the appearance of Sheila Spector's double-volume examination of the Kabbalistic dimensions of Blake's linguistic and mythic efforts, the ground of future discussions of the poet's divine vision has shifted radically, since any motivated study of the mythic and mystic dimensions of the major epics would now be required to address this complex mapping of the evolution of "a stable core of fourfold symbols that, remaining fairly close to their kabbalistic prototypes, provide a basis for the later alterations" (WD 107) of the myth after the Lambeth period.

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Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800–1808

Richard E. Matlak, Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808.  Newark, NJ: University of Delaware Press, 2003.  201pp. $43.50 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87413-815-9).

Reviewed by
John L. Mahoney
Boston College

Richard Matlak's Deep Distresses: William Wordsworth, John Wordsworth, Sir George Beaumont, 1800-1808 is a notable study of a key episode in Wordsworthiana, the death of the poet's mariner brother John in the wreck of his ship, the Earl of Abergavenny. It is also a fascinating series of persuasive speculations that connect the accident with Sir George Beaumont's painting of Peel Castle in a Storm and Wordsworth's great poem Elegiac Stanzas, Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm. Matlak, with "long part-time experience with both military and commercial operations" (11) and an impressive command of the required maritime history, offers a psychological or psychobiographical approach to a range of key questions: What drew John Wordsworth to assume command of the Abergavenny and engage William and Dorothy enough to offer financial support? Why did Beaumont paint two oils of the wreck? Why was Wordsworth so engaged by the painting that he felt the need to write his poem and to correspond with Beaumont? And what conclusion can be drawn about John's much discussed behavior at the time of the wreck that took his life?

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Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction

Charles Mahoney, Romantics and Renegades: The Poetics of Political Reaction.  New York:
Palgrave, 2003.  x + 266pp. $90.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-96849-2).

Reviewed by
Robert K. Lapp
Mount Allison University

Skip over the title of this book to glance at the table of contents, where the key terms "Hazlitt" and "Apostasy" point directly toward its major strengths. "Repeatedly taking its bearings from Hazlitt's critical interventions of the 1810s" (2), this book makes a substantial contribution to Hazlitt studies by reinforcing a trend toward the positive revaluation of his Regency writings, in particular his relentless exposure of the political tergiversations of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey. More than this, Mahoney advances our understanding of the intersection of literary and political discourse during the Regency by focussing on Hazlitt's master-term "apostasy," discerning in it a far more resonant figure than its negative connotations might suggest. By "pressuring" the term's "obliquely impacted etymological resonances" (3), and by applying these to a series of nuanced and illuminating close readings, Mahoney discovers that apostasy, in the writings of romantic authors, comes to name something more than a mere "standing-off" or a "standing-away" from a previously held political or religious principle. Instead, "it repeatedly figures a standing so precarious as finally to be indistinguishable from a falling--and not an isolated fall at that, but an always-falling which can be seen to occur with reference not merely to political principle, but, more unpredictably, literary language" (2). Readers alert to the deconstructive turn will detect in this "always-falling" the familiar vertigo of "an uncontainable falling characteristic of figurative language" in general, and thus an inevitable swerve away from historical particularity toward the risky claim that "romantic apostasy designates less a postrevolutionary historical phenomenon than an abiding crisis in literary signification" (12). For now, however, let us set this point aside, and instead hasten to note that Mahoney balances his figural analysis with "detailed historical assessments of English literary and political culture from the revolutionary decade of the 1790s through the reactionary years of the Regency" (4). In this context, "romantic apostasy" comes more convincingly to name "a particularly romantic anxiety concerning the precarious relation between literary language and ideology," especially "those features of [such] language which seemingly precipitate a falling in with power" (5).

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