Romantic Circles Reviews

Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce

Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 232 pages. $80.00 (ISBN10: 1-4039-6925-6)

Reviewed by
David M. Baulch
University of West Florida

A book entitled Erotic Mary Robinson or Erotic Byron would not be all that surprising. By contrast, Anya Taylor’s Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce is immediately unsettling—and interesting—precisely because tradition has constructed Samuel Taylor Coleridge as one of the least erotic beings imaginable. Canonizing Coleridge alongside “Dry Bob” Southey, Byron’s Don Juan set the terms for reception, contrasting the success of Coleridge’s metaphysical interests with the failure of young Juan’s attempts to sublimate erotic attachments through abstruse contemplations. Slightly less than two centuries of subsequent critical treatment have done little to challenge the orthodoxy of Byron’s irreverence. While Anthony John Harding’s Coleridge and the Idea of Love: Aspects of Relationship in Coleridge’s Thought and Writing (1974) accords a centrality to love in its broadest possible sense as a moral/relational metaphysic, and Raimonda Modiano’s Coleridge and the Concept of Nature (1985) recognizes love as an important element in Coleridge’s complex and shifting engagements with aesthetic theory, Anya Taylor’s remarkable book asserts that Coleridge, throughout his life, was positively sexy and charmingly flirtatious. In short, Erotic Coleridge argues that the vicissitudes of Coleridge’s life, the complexities of his thought, and the protean character of his literary achievement need to be seen alongside his consistent interest in women.

Stanley Plumly, Posthumous Keats

Stanley Plumly, Posthumous Keats. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008. Hdbk, $27.95 (ISBN-10: 0393065731); Ppbk, 2009, $17.95 (ISBN-10: 0393337723).

Reviewed by
Susan J. Wolfson
Princeton University

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” That may be, as Keats’s ironizing odist insists, all we know on earth, and all we need to know, but the tautology is as enigmatic as it is alluring. And so the dust jacket of Stanley Plumly’s extraordinary biography reads, in small print at the top, a personal biography, then, more largely declared, Posthumous Keats. But the title page within inverts the order: Posthumous Keats, a personal biography. Which came first, the personalizing of a biography that, by generic agreement, is supposed to be about the other person, the biographized? Or Posthumous Keats, an epithet that feels like a personal biography, even though the poet-biographer outlives poet-Keats, who dies not even a third of the way into his twenty-sixth year, by decades--more than twice and half Keats’s mortal span?

William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Authorship, Commerce and the Public, eds. Clery, Franklin, Garside. Press, Politics and the Public Sphere, eds. Barker and Burrows. Women's Writing, eds. Justice and Tinker.

William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period. Cambridge University Press, 2004. xxix + 765pp., 765 pp., £90, $150.00 (Pbk.,; 2007; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-81006-7). (paperback edition), 796 pp., $43.99.
Authorship, Commerce and the Public: Scenes of Writing, 1750-1850. Eds. E. J. Clery, Caroline Franklin, and Peter Garside. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. xi + 242pp. $95.00. (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 9-780-333-96455-2).
Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820. Eds. Hannah Barker and Simon Burrows. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. ix + 263pp. $99.00 (Pbk., 2007: ISBN-13: 9-780-521-03714-3).
Women’s Writing and the Circulation of Ideas: Manuscript Publication in England, 1550-1800. Eds. George L. Justice and Nathan Tinker. Cambridge University Press, 2002. x + 245pp. $90.00 (ISBN-13: 9780521808569).

Reviewed by
Michelle Levy
Simon Fraser University

In the last decade, historians of the book have held forth the possibility that material culture might provide us with a compelling account of the historical uniqueness and special tenor of Romantic-era literary culture. By examining the dramatic rise in print publication that began in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, the Romantic period may be more easily distinguished both from what came before (the more stable rate of print production that prevailed through most of the eighteenth century) and what came after (the even larger rise in print production and emergence of a truly mass reading public in the Victorian era, enabled by new forms of mechanical reproduction—iron presses powered by steam, industrial paper-making, stereotyping, and lithography). The four books under review demonstrate the potentially transformative effect of a rigorous empiricism on literary studies, as it seeks to supplement and even supersede the more anecdotal and impressionistic material histories that preceded them.

Eric Wilson, Romantic Turbulence: Chaos, Ecology and American Space

Eric Wilson, Romantic Turbulence: Chaos, Ecology and American Space. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. xxii. + 169 pp. $49. 95 (Hdbk; ISBN 0-312-22882-1).

Reviewed by
John Parham
Thames Valley University, UK

Eric Wilson’s Romantic Turbulence is a helpful addition to ecocritical work, offering not only a new perspective on American Romanticism but, more generally, a sophisticated, dialectical understanding of the ecology articulated out of that tradition.

Wilson’s primary argument is founded upon a detailed acquaintance with both contemporary ecological science and critical cultural theory. Drawing from these currents of thought, the conceptual paradigm that undergirds this book is a new organicism of “agitated processes,” which eschews the (still) prevailing notions in ecological science of balance or harmony (4). Wilson defines this as a conception of nature shaped by antagonistic forces of chaos and order, the interaction of which equates with life. Without order nature “would dissolve into a formless mass,” without chance “the second law of thermodynamics would run the universe down to heat death,” an interesting argument he develops from C. S. Pierce and Prigogine and Stengers (142). This paradigm of dialectical ecology is not new, even to ecocriticism. It dominates recent, second generation work such as Greg Garrard’s Ecocriticism (2004), and the attempt to establish a trajectory of ecological thinking around the Romantics is also a familiar one. What is distinctive, however, is the combination of the two and, in this, the book does what all good historical ecocriticism ought to do: it legitimates ecological thinking as part of a longer, alternative tradition in western literature, culture and philosophy that exists, and has value, independently of concerns about (say) global warming.

Paul Hamilton, Metaromanticism: Aesthetics, Literature, Theory

Paul Hamilton, Metaromanticism: Aesthetics, Literature, Theory (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). viii+316 pp (Softcover; ISBN: 0-226-31480-4).

Reviewed by
Colin Jager
Rutgers University

In a 2003 review on this site, Mary Favret identified a new paradigm for romantic historicism: “A might-have-been, could-have-been, evermore-about-to-be historiography is … emerging as the Romanticism of our own turn of the century,” she wrote. Favret was reviewing William Galperin’s The Historical Austen; she grouped that book with Jerome Christensen’s Romanticism at the End of History and James Chandler’s England in 1819. What all of these books shared, according to Favret, was an abiding interest in the political possibilities that adhere to a history of lost chances, foreclosed opportunities, and near misses—those moments, in other words, when romantic texts seem to gesture toward alternative kinds of social organization that never quite come into focus. Now we can add Paul Hamilton’s Metaromanticism to Favret’s list.

John Thelwall's 'The Peripatetic', ed. Judith Thompson

John Thelwall’s ‘The Peripatetic’. Ed. Judith Thompson. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2001. 447pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8143-28882-2).

Reviewed by
Michael Scrivener
Wayne State University

Since the original 1793 edition, Thelwall’s Peripatetic had been reissued twice before Judith Thompson’s new edition, in the facsimile edition that was a part of the 1978 Garland “Romantic Context” series edited by Donald H. Reiman, and in a 1984 microfilm facsimile reprint (The Eighteenth Century series, reel 923). Recognized as a correspondent with Coleridge in the 1790s and as a poetic influence on Wordsworth, Thelwall is finally receiving the attention he deserves after long neglect thanks in part to E. P. Thompson’s work on his politics, Nicholas Roe’s work on his connection with Coleridge and Wordsworth, and especially Gregory Claeys’s edition of Thelwall’s political writing, and also in part to the reconfiguration of Romantic studies that has been going on for several decades. Thelwall’s extraordinary Peripatetic is worthy of a modern edition for which Judith Thompson (no relation to E. P.) has written a thoroughly lucid introduction of some fifty pages and has provided valuable explanatory notes, appendices, and an index.

Anthony Jarrells, Britain's Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature

Anthony Jarrells, Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. Ix + 229 pp. $80.00 (Hdbk; 1-4039-4107-6).

Reviewed by
C. Durning Carroll

Anthony S. Jarrells’s book, Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions: 1688 and the Romantic Reform of Literature, argues that the Glorious Revolution served for the British of the eighteenth century as a model for how to prevent the sort of bloody revolution that was to happen a century later in France. For Jarrells, it was the peculiar ability of writing (and the way writing was ultimately shaped into “literature” during Britain’s long eighteenth century) to configure the wishes and hopes of ordinary people that kept England from France’s passionate zealotry. Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions suggests a dialog between non-fictional writing—more ideological because it aimed explicitly to persuade—and the imaginative genres of poetry, fiction and drama, whose political and ideological aims were absent, or at least were rendered covert through fictionalization. This conversation between imaginative and persuasive writing, and the way both worked together to meet the needs of the people, regulated Britain’s revolutionary impulses. Jarrells explains that during the eighteenth century “not only was the literary narrowed to exclude, in large part, moral philosophy, historiography, and political economy, but this narrowed focus also helped to narrow the range of opinion in the larger world beyond letters” (98). Jarrells’s central thesis is that the narrowed focus of literature brought about by non-fictional writing helped depoliticize literature and refocus it on the individual.

Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing

Andrew Bennett, Wordsworth Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. xi + 249pp; illus. $101.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 052187419X; ISBN-13: 978-0521874199)

Reviewed by
Brian Bates
University of Denver

In Wordsworth Writing, Andrew Bennett challenges several pervasive myths about Wordsworth, revisits the most significant cruxes of twentieth-century Wordsworth criticism, and sheds fresh light on Wordsworth’s poetic practice. Bennett carries out this three-pronged revision by questioning the assumption behind many studies of Wordsworth’s life and poetry: that Wordsworth composed poetry without actually writing. Wordsworth has long been considered a poet who composed aloud while walking outdoors, but Bennett contends that this view of Wordsworth as a spontaneous poet of nature misrepresents how he wrote the majority of his poetry. Instead, Bennett demonstrates that Wordsworth’s concern with the process of writing—from thinking about writing, to inscribing words on the page, false starts, writing blocks, and re-writing—defined his poetic identity, choice of subject matter, and passion for poetry.

Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism

Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 318pp. ISBN-13: 9780521879118 (Hdbk.), $103.99

Reviewed by
Matthew VanWinkle
Ohio University

Adam Potkay’s ambitious study provides a deep background for a word of particular interest to Romantic era writers, a word that since has fallen into relative disfavor. By tracing instances of joy through a range of religious and literary texts, Potkay seeks to establish two constants in its variable history. The first is that joy, as distinct from words or concepts nearly synonymous, bears a close relationship to narrative. The second is that joy is inextricably involved with questions of ethics. Given how rapidly he surveys two and a half millennia of cultural history in the West, Potkay cannot always give each of these claims equal or consistent attention. Even so, he develops these claims persuasively, supporting them with a richness of detail and a clarity that still recognizes complexity. The result is a thoughtful and a bracing book that suggests both the need for and the appeal of further scholarly interest in its subject.

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.