Romantic Circles Reviews

Edoardo Zuccato, Coleridge in Italy

Edoardo Zuccato, Coleridge in Italy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. xix + 256pp. $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-16572-2).

Reviewed by
Morton D. Paley
University of California, Berkeley

This erudite and valuable study should really have been called Coleridge and Italy, for it does not attempt to re-chronicle Coleridge's time south of the Alps but instead breaks new ground in studying Coleridge's intellectual relation to Italian poetry, art, philology, and philosophy. Contesting the view that among foreign cultures Germany alone was significant for Coleridge, Zuccato shows that Italy ran a surprisingly strong second when all the aspects of its importance to him are considered. He argues that while Byron and Shelley reversed the values of the British view of Italy, they did so within the traditional binary system, with the "pagan" South now positively valorized. Coleridge's Italy, in contrast, was "Christian, Platonic, sublime." The subject matter itself is divided into "internal" and "external" history, referring to "the influence Italian culture exerted in Coleridge's intellectual life" and "Coleridge's place in the history of Anglo-Italian literary relationships."

Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832

Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 23. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xii + 263 pp. $59.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-56357-7).

Reviewed by
David A. Kent
Centennial College, Toronto

Gary Dyer's British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832 is the twenty-third volume in the "Cambridge Studies in Romanticism," a series devoted to expanding the scope of inquiry into British Romanticism by considering matters of gender, politics, criticism, and culture. Only a few years ago, the phrase Romantic satire might have been considered an oxymoron instead of a description of a substantial body of literature. However, because this study of satiric writing in the Romantic period follows recent books by Steven Jones (Shelley's Satire) and Marcus Woods (Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790–1822), Dyer's work marks yet another step in giving adequate attention to the "astonishing" amount of satiric writing published between 1789 and 1832.

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.

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).

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.

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. xii + 238pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8122-3393-X).

Reviewed by
Julie A. Carlson
University of California, Santa Barbara

Those of us who attend developments in romantic drama and theater are happy to greet the appearance of Catherine Burrough's Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. It advances this field in important respects by both focusing extensively on Baillie and providing some of the historical and theoretical contexts that help us to appreciate the power of Baillie's work. The lead playwright of her age and considered by some of her peers to be the best playwright since Shakespeare, Baillie pretty much had fallen from view until roughly five years ago, when she became a rising star on conference and publishing circuits in romantic studies. A few scholars—especially Margaret Carhart and Joseph Donohue—had argued long before then for the importance of Baillie's writings, but their comments fell on ears unreceptive to the drama of romantic theater or the women writing in the period. An appreciative audience for both now thrives, thanks to the many scholars whose work Burroughs generously acknowledges. It is some measure of the rapid popularity of both fields that people have been clamouring for a book on Baillie in the last years.

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).

Alexander S. Gourlay, ed., Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant

Alexander S. Gourlay, ed., Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant. Locust Hill
Literary Studies, no. 33.  West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 2002.  xviii + 396pp.  Illus.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-93395-196-5).

Reviewed by
James T. Harris
University of South Carolina

A book dedicated to the distinguished legacy of John E. Grant in Blake studies should rigorously challenge traditional and established ways of understanding Blake.  It should also provide readers with innovative approaches to his oeuvre.  Furthermore, it should raise questions that may remain unanswered for now and yet point to fruitful paths for other students and scholars of Blake. Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant exceeds these expectations.  Several contributors--Catherine L. McClenahan, Morton D. Paley, and Richard J. Squibbs--present groundbreaking essays on topics that have received little or no critical attention, while others, Michael Ferber, Alexander S. Gourlay, and G. A. Rosso, offer chapters that demand reconsiderations of Blake and his art.  This collection contains thirteen unique and provocative essays that engage the reader at every turn.

Philip Shaw, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination

Philip Shaw, Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002.  xvi + 260 pp. $69.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-99435-3).

Reviewed by
Charles Rzepka
Boston University

Philip Shaw's Waterloo and the Romantic Imagination combines detailed and extensive research into cultural, scientific, political, and artistic responses to the deciding engagement of the Napoleonic Wars with a challenging, and largely persuasive, reading of its often paradoxical impact on the major writers of the romantic movement.  Employing a Lacanian mode of cultural analysis, Shaw succeeds in up-ending traditional apocalyptic views of Waterloo as a unifying, and unified, historical watershed in the rise of Great Britain as a modern nation state.  As he is at pains to show, far from serving to consolidate the victors' national identity, Napoleon's final defeat tested "ideas of nationhood, authority and the relations between violence and identity" in a more profound manner than the War itself ever could have done (x).

David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy

David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy. Literature and Philosophy Series. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.  xviii + 309pp.  $59.00. (ISBN 0-271-02051-2).

Reviewed by
Anya Taylor
John Jay College of Criminal Justice - CUNY

The Challenge of Coleridge aims to demonstrate the overlap between hermeneutics and ethics, to show how reading deeply may lead to acting morally, how reading and respecting the otherness of a written text resembles hearing and respecting the otherness of an individual person. The book hopes to encourage a new way of teaching the humanities, by "placing the texts of the past and the present into a conversation in which the attention of both partners is focused, albeit from different historical horizons, on important issues of mutual concern" and thus to remove the humanities from "the criteria of technological production" by which university administrators often evaluate their worth (xiii). Even as it promotes the idea of conversations and dialogues on issues, the book engages in such conversations, ranging widely over living and dead philosophers. As Haney ventures into his vast terrain, he is guided by "Gadamer's notion of a transhistorical conversation that is more comprehensive than the horizon of either the modern interpreter or the historical text, a concept which . . . can provide an important alternative to the currently dominant ideological interpretations of history" (xii). Those of us who teach the humanities enter the field of this book with great hope that ethics, morality, and the conscience will be clearly applied to actions as well as interactive words to deepen our teaching of texts and perhaps even our engagements with actual persons. Chapter headings such as "Knowledge, Being, and Hermeneutics," "Oneself as Another: Coleridgean Subjectivity," and "Love, Otherness, and the Absolute Self" promise opportunities for meaningful contemplation. The recollection of Haney's fine "Aesthetics and Ethics in Gadamer, Levinas, and Romanticism: Problems of Phronesis and Techne" (PMLA 114.1 1999, 32-45) adds to the anticipation.

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