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.

Barbara K. Seeber. Jane Austen and Animals (Ashgate, 2013). 162 pp. (Hdbk. and ebook, $99.95; ISBN: 978-1-4094-5604-9).

Jonas Cope
California State University, Sacramento

Jane Austen and Animals is a thoughtful and lucid book. That it never loses sight of its object—tracing connections between the domination of the nonhuman world and the domination of women in the juvenilia, letters and novels of Jane Austen—may be both a merit and a weakness. On the one hand the book is well researched and remarkably consistent. On the other its argument can seem somewhat unadventurous and occasionally formulaic: the “bad” characters in Austen who exploit animals and natural resources usually exploit women; the “good” ones who are sensitive to the environment are also more sexually egalitarian. The point is not that the argument is not convincing—it is—but that even while it makes a solid case the reader longs for a few more intellectual twists and turns along the way.

Seeber’s book marks the “first full-length study of animals in Austen’s writing” (11). Its main goal is to decenter the...


Gavin Budge, Romanticism, Medicine and the Natural Supernatural: Transcendent Vision and Bodily Spectres, 1789-1852 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 304 pp. (Hdbk., $105.00; ISBN 9780230238466).

Neşe Devenot
University of Puget Sound

Gavin Budge introduces his study as an exploration of the “spectral aspects” of nineteenth-century literature: instances where visionary experiences collide with the latest medical theories about embodied perception. In so doing, his project is aligned with an expanding critical corpus situating Romanticism’s legacy of transcendence within the material body rather than in attempts to escape it. Instead of reducing visionary experiences to mere bodily epiphenomena, however, Budge argues for a “dual epistemological perspective” constitutive of Romantic poetics as such—a “natural supernaturalism” that situates perception in productive tension between bodily materiality and the immateriality of mind.

Budge explains his project’s unusual chronological scope from 1789 to 1852 as charting a legacy that connects Romantic interest in the “natural supernatural” to its successors in the Victorian era. He situates this legacy within the...


Kirstin Collins Hanley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Pedagogy, and the Practice of Feminism. (Routledge, New York: 2013). 188 pp. (Hdbk., $145; ISBN 9780415893350).  

Katherine Gustafson
Indiana University Northwest

In Mary Wollstonecraft, Pedagogy, and the Practice of Feminism, Kirstin Collins Hanley rereads Wollstonecraft’s corpus to argue that Wollstonecraft’s pedagogical beliefs are central to her reformist agenda. In so doing, Hanley ventures down a well-trod scholarly path. For at least three decades, feminist historians have demonstrated that educational literature provided Romantic-era female authors like Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Smith, Maria Edgeworth, and others with a respected outlet for publication while enabling them to construct positive heroines and advocate for women’s education. While Hanley acknowledges her indebtedness to scholars like Laurie Langbauer (5-6), Mary Poovey (6), and Mitzi Myers (8), her book offers fresh and important insights into Wollstonecraft’s most famous works, as well as her least explored ones. As she insists, Wollstonecraft’s entire corpus reflects the Dissenting educational...


David Sigler, Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism: Gender and Psychoanalysis 1753-1835 (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). 279 pp. (Cloth, $100.00 CAD; Paperback $34.95 CAD; ISBN 978-0-7735-4510-6).

Jim Rovira
Tiffin University

David Sigler’s Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism: Gender and Psychoanalysis 1753-1835 is an engaging study that significantly extends current scholarship in Romanticism and psychoanalysis beyond Romantic-era poetry to fiction, focusing primarily on non-canonical works but also discussing some canonical works of this period. It develops Joel Faflak’s argument in Romantic Psychoanalysis: The Burden of the Mystery (SUNY Press, 2009) that Romantic-era literature did not merely anticipate psychoanalysis, as has been shown for decades, but was in fact “a form of psychoanalytic thought in its own right” (Sigler 5). “Psychoanalysis” in Sigler’s study refers primarily to Lacan and, only secondarily, Freud, so that this monograph consists of a number of chapters employing Lacan in close readings of the literature under consideration to illuminate its psychoanalytic structure and commitments. Sigler argues that the literature of...


Jeremy Davies. Bodily Pain in Romantic Literature. New York & London: Routledge, 2014. 169 pp. (Hdbk., $140.00; ISBN 9780415842914).

Travis Chi Wing Lau
University of Pennsylvania

Through four single-author case studies (Jeremy Bentham, the Marquis de Sade, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelley), Jeremy Davies considers the interrelationship between pain and literary production in Romantic writing. Intervening in both pain studies and Romanticism, his book smartly reconsiders the Romantic period not as a bizarre break in a teleological narrative of Enlightenment progress but as a crucial period where we might historicize shifting conceptions of pain outside of the frameworks of an increasingly professionalized medical establishment. For Davies, pain represents a valuable historical topos that can enable us to “see some Romantic-period thinkers in a new light” (xiii).

One of the book’s most useful chapters is the first, which offers a concise yet comprehensive review of contemporary pain studies. While simultaneously justifying pain as an object of historical inquiry,...


Colin Jager, Unquiet Things: Secularism in the Romantic Age (U of Pennsylvania Press, 2014). 344 pp. (Hdbk. and ebook, $75.00; cloth ISBN 978-0-8122-4664-3, ebook ISBN 978-0-8122-9040-0).

Daniel Larson
University of Colorado Boulder

Secularism is not first and foremost about religion,” Colin Jager emphasizes early in Unquiet Things; more than its antipode, religion, secularism is concerned with “power—its consolidation and streamlining, its dispersal and diffusion” (7, emphasis original). Still, as Jager notes, one of the aims of secularism is to circumscribe religion, to confine it within a safe hermeneutic space. Unquiet Things spans secularism’s violent roots in the English Reformation to an imagined future after the secular/sacred binary, engaging the various subject positions, philosophical and linguistic constraints, and political structures that arise particularly in “romantic-era writers [who] were among the first to confront the secular world” (246). Drawing his primary metaphor from Coleridge’s “Frost At Midnight,” Jager likens the articulation of...


Jerome McGann. A New Republic of Letters: Memory and Scholarship in the Age of Digital Reproduction (Harvard University Press, Cambridge: 2014). 256 pp. (Hdbk., $39.95; ISBN 9780674728691).

Brian Rejack
Illinois State University

Perhaps unsurprisingly, on display in Jerome McGann’s A New Republic of Letters are several of the scholarly preoccupations central to his work over the last three decades or so of his illustrious career (among them: literature and history of the nineteenth century, digital humanities, textual studies, scholarly editing). That said, this book by no means feels stale. Quite the opposite—there is a sense of urgency and novelty accompanying assertions that one may recognize from earlier works like The Textual Condition (1991) or Radiant Textuality (2001). The territory might be familiar, but the trail through it is freshly blazed and entirely necessary. McGann’s primary argument is that we need to rethink our scholarly methods in light of the large-scale digital reproduction occurring in the current century if we have any desire to maintain scholarship’s role in curating cultural memory. As McGann recognized...


Nancy Yousef, Romantic Intimacy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013). 192 pp. (Hdbk. or digital, $55.00; cloth ISBN: 9780804786096, digital ISBN: 9780804788274).

Aaron Ottinger
University of Washington

In 2010, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted Marina Abramović’s performance, The Artist is Present. For seventy-five days, Abramović sat in a chair while a succeeding rotation of museumgoers sat parallel to the artist and gazed into her face. Some patrons stared at Abramović for hours at a time; meanwhile, no words were exchanged. How can we characterize this strange encounter between artist and audience?

Nancy Yousef classifies the above relational experience as a modern version of Romantic Intimacy, after the title of her second book. In this important study of affect, Yousef demonstrates how our present-day understanding of intimacy in artworks and especially in psychoanalytic practice follows from Romantic-era writers like William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Romantic intimacy, defined paradoxically as what is “most private [and] most shared” (119), modified the...


Dometa Wiegand Brothers. The Romantic Imagination and Astronomy:  On All Sides Infinity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). 216 pp. (Hdbk. and ebook, $90.00; cloth ISBN 9781137474339, ebook ISBN 9781137474346).

Kurtis Hessel
University of Colorado Boulder

The chiaroscuro framing of Joseph Wright of Derby’s A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery (ca. 1766), blending darkness and scientific revelation, captures the split nature of eighteenth-century astronomical fascination. The man of science guides an enthralled audience across a model of the solar system. From a lamp representing the sun in the orrery’s center, light spills through its cage of iron orbits onto the surrounding faces. Beyond the audience, once this light exceeds human attentiveness, it exhausts itself in shadows. So has our scrutiny long bound us to our universe, and it to us. This science of brilliance and obscurity at once inspires the empiricist to turn to his notebook, and the child to gape in wonder. As the nineteenth century progressed, that wonder proliferated publicly. Londoners in the spring of 1817 had their choice of two giant orreries to view, “The Eidouranion” and “The Grand Transparent...


Martin Priestman, The Poetry of Erasmus Darwin: Enlightened Spaces, Romantic Times. Ashgate, 2013. xiv + 310 pp.

Ross Wilson
University of Cambridge

Perhaps it is not such a bad posthumous fate to be chiefly known as the grandfather of someone much more renowned – not as bad, that is, as being known only as the son or daughter of a more feted progenitor from beneath whose shadow it proves impossible to emerge. Erasmus Darwin died some seven years before the birth of Charles, who was to become, amongst so much else, his grandfather’s somewhat less than hagiographic biographer: ‘It is curious,’ he remarked, with notable restraint, ‘how largely my grandfather […] anticipated [Lamarck’s] erroneous views’; and even more withering is the observation that ‘no one of the present generation reads, as it appears, a single line of [his poetry]’. Overshadowed by his grandson’s achievements and fallen from poetic favour, Erasmus Darwin was long considered as at best an influence on much more celebrated figures, including Charles, but also on poets such as Coleridge and...



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