Romantic Circles Reviews

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).

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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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).