Romantic Circles Reviews

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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).

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.

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.

Clara Tuite, Romantic Austen: Sexual Politics and the Literary Canon

Clara Tuite, Romantic Austen: Sexual Politics and the Literary Canon. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 49.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. xiii + 242 pp.  Illus.: 4 halftones.  $60.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-80859-6).

Reviewed by
Devoney Looser
University of Missouri-Columbia

Debates about whether or not Austen is "Romantic" have raged for decades, so it is surprising that Clara Tuite's forceful book is the first to address the subject.  Tuite's argument, that Austen's writings are steeped in some of the ideologies of Romanticism, is certainly accurate.  It should seem odd to label Austen an Augustan or Regency author, either removed from her own day and age or placed in a literary category all her own. Tuite's book might provoke arguments about which ideologies Austen's texts display, but Romantic Austen provides the groundwork on which future scholars who consider the matter will need to build.

Those who expect to see comparison to the "big six" and their relationship to Austen's oeuvre will be either disappointed or surprised. Though there are a handful of references to Wordsworth and Coleridge, the names Shelley, Keats, Byron, and Blake do not appear herein.  The Romantic to whom Tuite repeatedly compares Austen is Edmund Burke; the term she most often associates with both figures is "organicism" (11).  As Tuite puts it, "it is possible to identify Austen with a kind of Burkean position that venerates the country ideal and attempts the 'renovation' of the paternal aristocratic order" as the natural order (170).  Likening Austen to Burke does not tell the whole story for Tuite. What complicates Austen's debt to Burke is "feminocentrism," a feature that shows Austen's "commitment to upward mobility for women" and that makes her a kind of "Tory feminist" (95; 170). Austen manifests a greater liberal and professional investment in writing than does Hannah More or Jane West, according to Tuite; Austen also exhibits a greater sense of the "aesthetic as an autonomous category" (171). Tuite's study explores "the relationship between aristocratic apologia and female social mobility" in Austen's writings (155).

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).