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.

Mulhallen, Jacqueline. Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary (London: Pluto Press, 2015). 176 pp. (Cloth, $80.00, ISBN 9780745334622; Paperback, $20.00, ISBN 9780745334615).

Philip Connell

Selwyn College, University of Cambridge

In the Preface to Julian and Maddalo, a thinly-veiled portrait of Shelley and Byron’s intellectual friendship and philosophical differences, Shelley describes his own fictionalized character in the following terms: ‘Julian is an Englishman of good family, passionately attached to those philosophical notions which assert the power of man over his own mind, and the immense improvements of which, by the extinction of certain moral superstitions, human society may be yet susceptible. Without concealing the evil in the world, he is forever speculating how good may be made superior. He is a complete infidel, and a scoffer at all things reputed holy […]. Julian, in spite of his heterodox opinions, is conjectured by his friends to possess some good qualities. How far this is possible, the pious reader will determine. Julian is rather serious.’ Jacqueline Mulhallen’s excellent short biographical account of Shelley...

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Ruston, Sharon. Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Literature, Science, and Medicine of the 1790s (New York: Palgrave, 2013). 232 pp. 218. (Hdbk., $90.00, ISBN 9781137264299).

Travis Chi Wing Lau

University of Pennsylvania

Since her first book, Shelley and Vitality (2005), Sharon Ruston has modeled innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship that intervenes in both the history of science and medicine, as well as Romanticism. Her newest book begins with the observation that scholars in Romanticism have long failed to recognize the scientific origins of ‘Romanticism’ itself. As opposed to merely contextualizing the Romantic period in terms of certain developments in science and medicine, Ruston argues that scientific and medical writing actually produced and underpins “what we now, anachronistically, call ‘Romanticism’” (9). In line with recent scholarship attempting to reframe Romanticism beyond it being a period of “anti-science” or a break in the long-standing Enlightenment progress narrative, Ruston calls for us “to rethink the relationship between the Enlightenment and Romanticism,” in which the former persists powerfully into the...

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Yasmin Solomonescu, John Thelwall and the Materialist Imagination (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), xii + 226. (Hdbk, $90; ISBN 978-1-137-42613-0)

Noel Jackson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Yasmin Solomonescu’s John Thelwall and the Materialist Imagination has as its cover image one of the better-known plates from William Blake’s For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise.  Captioned “I want! I want!,” the illustration shows a human figure taking the first step onto an impossibly long ladder extending (presumably) to the moon while an earthbound couple looks on. It is an arresting image for the cover of a book about the figure whom an anti-Jacobin periodical derisively named “Mister Surgeon Thelwall,” and whom Francis Jeffrey later labeled “The Champion of Materialism.” More than an eye-catching device, the image emblematically represents the subject and subject-matter of Solomonescu’s book, which confronts and reevaluates some of the long-standing characterizations of Thelwall’s materialism.

Solomonescu’s focus in the title on Thelwall’s “materialist imagination” trains attention on...

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Ewan Jones, Coleridge and the Philosophy of Poetic Form (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). 254 pp. (Hbk. £60; ISBN 9781107068445).

Nicholas Halmi

University of Oxford

Critics of Coleridge have long been divided into two basic camps: one that treats him primarily as a poet and literary critic and the other, rather smaller, that treats him primarily as a philosophical and theological thinker. The former typically regards Coleridge’s philosophical writings, which occupied him for most of his last seventeen years, as at best an irrelevance or at worst an unfortunate distraction from his true calling as a poet. The latter, while not denying Coleridge’s poetic achievement, has always had a more challenging task because it has to contend not only with the traditional suspicion, in the anglophone world, of anything smacking of “German metaphysics,” but equally with the self-undermining tendencies manifested in Coleridge’s plagiarisms and unsystematic treatment of philosophical issues. Can Coleridge be claimed as a philosophical writer without special pleading?

            This question can be...

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Michael Eberle-Sinatra. Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene: A Reception History of his Major Works, 1805-1828. (Routledge Studies in Romanticism, 2013). 175pp., (Hdbk. $184.00, ISBN 978-0-415-31676-7; paperback $48.95, ISBN 978-0-415-86002-4).

Christine Woody

University of Pennsylvania

In this meticulously researched book (now available in paperback), Eberle-Sinatra deepens our understanding of Leigh Hunt’s work during the first half of his career. Leigh Hunt and the London Literary Scene unites the reception history of Hunt’s poems with an examination of his earlier theatrical criticism, extending rather than challenging our growing critical understanding of Hunt. Eberle-Sinatra’s central claim is for Hunt’s positive influence on different genres in the Romantic period. He works assiduously to make and explore connections between Hunt and key Romantic figures, moving us beyond Hunt’s mentorship of Keats to explore the links between Wordsworth’s linguistic project and Hunt’s own and the impact (largely negative) of Hunt’s friendship with Byron on his reception.

The first chapter is devoted to Hunt’s theatre criticism before the Examiner. Eberle-Sinatra argues for the uniqueness of...

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John Bugg. Five Long Winters: The Trials of British Romanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013). 264 pgs. (Cloth ISBN: 9780804785105; Digital ISBN: 9780804787307; $60.)

Lauren Neefe

Georgia Institute of Technology

Just out from Oxford University Press is John Bugg’s edition of radical publisher Joseph Johnson’s correspondence. It’s the first such edition, and it secures Bugg’s status as a major critical voice on the Godwin circle. In this year of remembering Geoffrey Hartman’s modes of reading, however, Bugg’s first monograph calls to mind the late critic’s now-fifty-year-old claim about interpreting form: “There are many ways to transcend formalism, but the worst is not to study forms” (556). Five Long Winters is one of the best.

            The allusion to Tintern Abbey in the title sounds like the village mastiff its author’s ambition. That sense of purpose resounds as loudly at the immediate assertion of his primary claim, followed by its consequence, in the first two sentences of the...

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Elizabeth A. Bohls, Slavery and the Politics of Place: Representing the Colonial Caribbean, 1770-1833, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-107-07934-2

Peter Hulme

Emeritus Professor

University of Essex

The literature of Romanticism ran parallel to the British movements for the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery itself.  What Elizabeth Bohls calls “the capacious genre of travel writing” (3) provided several of the key texts that fuelled these debates, most of them centred on the West Indies.  These books, by John Gabriel Stedman, William Beckford, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Edward Long, Bryan Edwards, Marcus Rainsford, Olaudah Equiano, Janet Schaw, Maria Nugent, and Mary Prince, provide the material for Slavery and the Politics of Place.  The books are well-known, at least to Caribbeanists, but the fine-grained analyses offered here are welcome additions to the scholarship on Romanticism, slavery, and travel writing.

As always in travel writing, description of place plays an important part, so it’s no surprise to see the language of the picturesque featuring so strongly in all the books...

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William Wordsworth in Context, edited by Andrew Bennett (Cambridge University Press, 2015) 360 pp. (Hbk ISBN: 9781107028418)

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The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth, edited by Richard Gravil and Daniel Robinson. (Oxford University Press, 2015) 896 pp. (Hbk ISBN: 9780199662128)

Reviews of
Andrew Bennett, William Wordsworth in Context
Richard Gravil and Daniel Robinson, The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth

G. Kim Blank
University of Victoria

William Wordsworth (is there a better name for an English poet?) has not gone away. Not that at least a few of his own contemporaries might have wished that his own words—“the good die first,” from his yawning 1814 Excursion—might be turned upon him. They then might have been left with a less unresolved, lingering figure over whom to brood. Wordsworth, instead, trundled more than a decade into the Victorian era.

Born in 1770, Wordsworth did seem to be (or become) something of a pretentious fuddy-duddy, and he did so before the age of fifty, with more than thirty years still on his clock, and with his best work about a decade behind him. John Keats, ever studious of his great, elder contemporary while he courses his own rapid...

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Rachel Schulkins, Keats, Modesty and Masturbation (Ashgate, 2014). 190 pp. (Hdbk., $149.95; ISBN: 9781472418791).

Brian Rejack
Illinois State University

One can’t help but feel slightly immodest when carrying around a book titled Keats, Modesty and Masturbation. While engaged in reading the book in question, this humble reviewer unabashedly displayed it on his coffee table, which resulted in a non-academic friend regarding it—and by extension, its reader—skeptically, perhaps even accusatorily (the response: “yes, of course this is the kind of thing we do in academia!”). But fear not, gentle readers; Rachel Schulkins’s book will not betray your delicate sensibilities. What it will do is educate you on a significant aspect of the history of sexuality in the Romantic period and offer readings of Keats’s romances (and some shorter poems) which challenge and productively expand the scholarship on Keats and gender.

To begin, the term “masturbation” during the Romantic period denotes something not quite as specific as it does today. Instead of referring primarily to “...

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Anahid Nersessian, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment (Harvard University Press, 2015). 280 pp. (Hdbk., $39.95; ISBN 9780674434578).

Carmen Faye Mathes
University of British Columbia

In the 22 June 2015 podcast in which comedian Mark Maron graciously guided Barack Obama through paces both nimble and hedging, the political legacy that less than a month before had been labeled by Harper’s Magazine as “What Went Wrong” was none-too-subtly recast as progress. “Sometimes,” said Obama, “the task of government is to make incremental improvements, or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now, suddenly, we’re in a very different place than we were.” This rhetoric of adjustment speaks of a historical moment especially conversant with the arguments contained in Anahid Nersessian’s first book, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment. Hopeful without being credulous, Nersessian’s project is to redefine utopia as “limited” and thus to reroute that notion’s...

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