Short Reviews

RC Reviews is a collection of 700-800 word reviews on the most recent scholarship relating to British Romanticism, its authors, history, and ideas.

Bonaparte, Felicia, The Poetics of Poesis: The Making of Nineteenth-Century English Fiction (University of Virginia Press, 2015). 336 pp. (Hdbk., $49.50; ISBN 9780813937328)

James Lello

St Catharine’s College, Cambridge

What is meant by the conspicuous proximity of the twin desiderata announced in the title of the book under review: “Poetics” and “Poesis”? How might they relate to nineteenth-century English fiction?

Bonaparte argues that to see the nineteenth-century novel as continuing the tradition of realism is erroneous: “The view that the nineteenth-century novel was and wished to be ‘realistic’ has less to do with the form of that fiction and far more with our own assumptions.” Because of the apparent crisis in religion during the nineteenth century, writers instead had to “make the world anew,” either through a practice of mythic symbolism or George Eliot’s advocacy of “the idealistic in the real.” Names, etymologies, genres: all these become ways of “embodying” ideas in narrative and developing a practice of “symbolic signification.” “Poesis,” taken etymologically here, refers to “making” in just...

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Paulin, Roger, The Life of August Wilhelm Schlegel: Cosmopolitan of Art and Poetry (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2016), 662 pp. (Pbk. £29.95; ISBN 978-1-909254-95-4; PDF version free at www.openbookpublishers.com//download/book/452)

Nicholas Halmi

University of Oxford

August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767–1845) has long languished in the shadow of his younger brother Friedrich, whose essays and aphorisms of 1797–1800 helped defined the literary program of early German Romanticism. Though in his lifetime August Wilhelm was the better known and more celebrated of the two brothers—he boasted justly that his Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature were read from “Cadiz to Edinburgh, Stockholm and St. Petersburg”—his reputation never recovered from the devastating caricature of him by his former student Heinrich Heine in The Romantic School (1835). This is not the only reason, however, that no comprehensive biography of Schlegel has appeared in any language till now: his interests were remarkably varied (e.g., classical philology, medieval German philology, classical and German prosody, contemporary German literature, Shakespeare, Calderón, the history of drama, Provençal poetry, Italian...

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Akel, Emily, Benjamin Disraeli and John Murray: The Politician, the Publisher, and the Representative (Liverpool University Press, 2016). xiv + 206 pp. (Hdbk., £85.00).

Robert O’Kell

University of Manitoba

The subject of this book, the publisher John Murray’s attempt in 1825–26 to start a newspaper that would rival The Times, is a fascinating story of great ambitions, plots and counterplots, mysteries, betrayals, calamitous failure, and slanderous disclosures. No wonder that it has been taken up many times. Samuel Smiles in A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891), Andrew Lang in The Life and Letters of John Gibson Lockhart (1897), and W. F. Monypenny in Volume I of The Life of Benjamin Disraeli (6 vols., with George Earle Buckle, 1910–20) all discussed the attempt to found The Representative at some length. And more recently, Disraeli’s other biographers—B. R. Jerman (1960), Robert Blake (1966), Sarah Bradford (1982), Stanley Weintraub (1993), Jane Ridley (1995), and Robert O’Kell (2013)—have all provided succinct analyses of the matter. 

Regina Akel’s account is...

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Laura Mandell, Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). 240 pp., 4 b&w and 14 color illus. (Hdbk., $90.00; ISBN 9781118274552).

Lauren Schachter

University of Chicago

I read a digital edition of Laura Mandell’s 2015 Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age, so her advertisement’s request that any reviews of it be “sew[n] or staple[d] . . . into the cover” gave me pause, not only because it would be difficult for me to comply, but also because this difficulty illustrates the transitional medial environment that interests Mandell (xiii). Each chapter of her self-described manifesto examines “something one can do with a book” (writing, reading, critiquing) through the lens of “the change from coterie to mass-print to digital culture” (xiii). Moving skilfully across historical periods and topics from language philosophy to psychoanalysis to pedagogy, Breaking the Book advocates for a self-critical examination of book culture with the goal of carrying the best of the print humanities forward into “a brave new digital world” (xii). Since we have too often been blind...

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Rohrbach, Emily, Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (Fordham University Press, 2015). xi +185 pp. (Hdbk., $85.00; ISBN: 978-0823267965; Paperback, $9.99; ISBN: 978-0823267972).

Lauren Neefe

Georgia Institute of Technology

“We are in a mist,” Keats writes in the letter of 1818 to J. H. Reynolds, giving Emily Rohrbach the primary point of reference for the title of her first monograph, Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (2015). Keats claims that  “We are now in that state—We feel the ‘burden of the Mystery’” (qtd. in Rohrbach 1). This encumbered state is, Rohrbach observes, precisely not the condition of imaginative insight Wordsworth describes in Book XIII of The Prelude (1805) when, during the ascent of Mount Snowden, he finds himself suddenly above the mist, “which meek and silent, rested at my feet” (qtd. in Rohrbach 4). The mist, in which Keats finds himself and Reynolds, resonates in the uncertainty of mystery, the condition of negative capability. It resounds as well in a play on “missed.” The elusive, Rohrbach reminds us, predicates the modern...

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Romanticism and Philosophy: Thinking with Literature, eds. Sophie Laniel-Musitelli and Thomas Constantinesco (New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 264, £90 (Hdbk., 978113880550700).

Bysshe Inigo Coffey
PhD Student at University of Exeter

It is not only ideas that have their histories with phalanxes of detractors and champions, but, as Ewan James Jones has recently put it, “verse form too contains a complex history of allegiance and contestation.” Consider the eighteenth century’s riotous debates on rhyme with the Reformation still in the air, or William Keach’s contention that the so-called Cockney school’s return to the (not-so-closed) couplet was necessary after Wordsworth became just too synonymous with blank verse for a renovated liberalism to use it. The political, religious, and historical assertions of poetic form are often obvious, but might not poetry offer its own kind of thinking too?                    

The editors of Romanticism and Philosophy: Thinking with Literature, Sophie Laniel-Musitelli and Thomas Constantinesco, explain that the book is predominately concerned with what Simon Jarvis calls “verse-thinking”—namely...

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Markus Iseli, Thomas De Quincey and the Cognitive Unconscious (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). x + 248 pp. (Hdbk. $90; ISBN 9781137501080; E-book $69.99).

Alex Freer
Trinity College, Cambridge

What is the value of the conjunction in “literature and science”? Various answers have emerged over two decades of studies in Romanticism: the history of science provides context for writers and their writing; the study of literature contributes to that history; more ambitiously, literary critical and scientific research might directly inform one another. This last avenue is taken by Markus Iseli’s study of Thomas De Quincey. By focusing on what he calls the cognitive unconscious, Iseli signals his opposition to the substantial psychoanalytic engagement with De Quincey, favouring an account of unconsciousness provided by contemporary cognitive science. The book argues that, for De Quincey, unconscious and “subconscious” processes are rational in aim and material in origin.

De Quincey’s unconscious has long been considered a “precursor” to psychoanalytical accounts. Iseli rightly objects that psychoanalytical...

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Harris, Katherine D., Forget Me Not: The Rise of the British Literary Annual, 1823-1835 (Athens: Ohio UP, 2015). xiv + 395 pp. (Hardcover, $70.00, ISBN 9780821421369; E-book $55.99).

Nicholas Mason
Brigham Young University

As we pass the quarter-century mark of the current wave of interest in book and media history, one might expect a flood of new titles to have appeared on what may very well be the premier multi-media genre of the British nineteenth century: the literary annual. Yet, despite groundbreaking work on the subject by Lee Erickson, Lorraine Kooistra, Patrick Vincent, Kathryn Ledbetter and Terence Hoagwood, and others, the authoritative studies on the annuals craze of the 1820s and 1830s have largely remained books first published nearly a century ago. Of course, scholars of the late-Romantic work of such authors as Wordsworth, Hemans, Clare, Landon, and Hogg have long grappled with how these writers adjusted to a literary marketplace increasingly driven by lyrics and tales commissioned specifically for the annuals. But, when it comes to the history of the genre as a whole, there are still...

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Marc Redfield, Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America (Fordham University Press, 2015). 272 pp., 8 B&W illus. (Hdbk., $95.00; ISBN: 9780823268665; Paperback, $29.95; ISBN 9780823268672).

Taylor Schey
Macalester College

More than thirty years after his death, Paul de Man continues to strike a cultural nerve. The 2014 publication of Evelyn Barish’s biography The Double Life of Paul de Man generated a surprisingly large number of reviews in major media venues such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and New Republic. Many of these reviews took the opportunity to denounce the theoretical writings of de Man as well as his person; one in particular not only attacked the scholar (violently defacing an image of his face with words such as “...

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Byron’s Ghosts: The Spectral, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural, ed. Gavin Hopps (Liverpool University Press, 2013). 246 pp. (Hdbk., $99.95; ISBN 9781846319709).

Chris Washington
Francis Marion University

There is a spectre haunting Byron studies. And oddly, and paradoxically, enough, as Gavin Hopps claims in his introduction to this volume of essays, this spectre is materialism, which, as Hopps also asserts, has long haunted romanticism itself. Byron’s Ghosts, then, as the collection’s title indicates, attempts to restore attention, contra materialist studies, to the various ghosts, spectres, spirits, and other numinous presence-absences that pervade Byron’s work.

The first essay, Bernard Beatty’s, thoroughly canvases Byron’s oeuvre to track the various ghosts that populate it, giving us a graveyard tour of these literary hobgoblins. Beatty’s essay provides a valuable map (and calculus, since by his reckoning ghosts appear in fifty percent of Byron’s work [33]) even while it makes concrete distinctions the other essays will challenge. He claims, for instance, that, for Byron, ghosts have once been alive whereas...

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