Posts in category "Vol. 01 No. 3"

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Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation

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Teresa A. Goddu, Gothic America: Narrative, History, and Nation (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). x + 224pp. $45.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-231-10816-8). $16.50 (Pap; ISBN: 0-231-10817-6).

Reviewed by
Dennis Berthold
Texas A&M University

In Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and Literary Imagination (Harvard University Press, 1992), Toni Morrison calls for greater attention to the place of race and slavery in classic American literature: "The contemplation of this black presence is central to any understanding of our national literature and should not be permitted to hover at the margins of the literary imagination" (5). Teresa Goddu's book answers that call by grounding nineteenth-century American gothicism in the history and politics of American racialism. In America, Goddu argues, the gothic stands as an elaborate code for slavery, race, and oppression, including the oppression by the new capitalist marketplace and its consequence, rampant literary commercialism. Goddu's fundamental aim is to historicize the gothic, to situate it within a particular social and political milieu and show how "American gothic literature criticizes America's national myth of new-world innocence by voicing the cultural contradictions that undermine the nation's claim to purity and equality" (10). By rendering Julia Kristeva's notion of the "abject" (or "horror of being") into concrete, historical narratives, American gothic tales expose the American nightmare even as they mask it with the modes of popular fiction and fantasy. Goddu moves the gothic from the margins to the center of American literary history, and to the already considerable literature studying the gothic's psychological role adds an argument for its social function.

Separate chapters focus on St. Jean de Crèvecoeur's famous description of the caged slave in Letters from an American Farmer (1782), Charles Brockden Brown's metaphors of a diseased economy in Arthur Mervyn (1800), John Neal's images of Indian-Anglo savagery in Logan (1822), Edgar Allan Poe's overt racialization of the gothic in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), Nathaniel Hawthorne's and Louisa May Alcott's contrasting adaptations of the gothic to a marketplace dominated by sentimental literature in The Blithedale Romance (1852) and Alcott's ghost stories, and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) and Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) and their differing appropriations of gothic devices to provide "haunting" memories of slavery. Throughout, Goddu corrects earlier critics who either ignored race or marginalized it, along with the gothic. Her best example is Poe, whom F. O. Matthiessen and others treated as a Southern regionalist in order to isolate the racialism that, Goddu believes, was central to American literary nationalism. Less persuasively, she finds Neal's exclusion from the canon proof that "The Indian and the gothic imagery—'dark and gloomy mythologies'—associated with him are viewed as antagonistic to American literature's prospects and principles" (72). Rather than producing regeneration through violence, as Richard Slotkin argues, the gothic reveals American innocence as a thin veil hiding the ineluctable corruption and degeneracy at the new nation's heart. Only by denying the gothic's presence and power could critics construct an American canon consonant with American ideals.

Most broadly, Goddu's book takes its place in the renascent historicism in American studies to counter the tradition of psychological and formalist critics who focused on American literature as "a world elsewhere," in Richard Poirier's phrase, a world that had more to do with individual eccentricities and bizarre fantasies than social realities, a world of art rather than life, of self rather than society, of personality rather than politics. The whole tradition of contrasting the American "romance" to the British "novel" rests on this analysis, and contributes powerfully to the hoary myth of American exceptionalism. American critics, by identifying the gothic with the romance, have defused the gothic's powerful symbolic unmasking of racial atrocity and commercial dehumanization. Goddu draws on the work of Joan Dayan, Dana Nelson, and an astonishing range of other contemporary critics to counter gothicists like Leslie Fiedler who privileged the psychological over the political and largely ignored social realities.

Even though the racial argument frames the discussion, I found this the least original part of the book. Coding "gothic" as "racial," so that the "power of blackness," for example, connotes fears of slave revolt, risks a linguistic circularity that evades the very historical conditions it seeks to expose. If every instance of "black," "dark," "shade," or even "slave" inexorably connotes American chattel slavery, racial themes (let alone gothicism) become so omnipresent that we forget that many Americans were truly blind to race, and much popular literature deliberately sought to escape social realities (try to find racial themes in Joseph Rodman Drake's "The Culprit Fay," one of the most popular poems of the 1830s). Such willful denial of social realities (both in the literature and the critical tradition that canonized it) strikes me as at least as culturally significant as the overt depictions of racial oppression that have characterized American literature from the beginning, for instance William Bradford's description of the Pequot massacre in his history Of Plimoth Plantation (1620–1647), or Philip Freneau's vividly gothic anti-slavery poem "To Sir Toby" (1792), neither of which Goddu mentions. Yet these and many similar works are staples in American literary anthologies precisely because they dramatically illustrate the dark side of American culture. Substituting metaphors and generic codings for direct discourse valuably extends racial themes in literature, but it risks robbing them of their political urgency and historical force.

More provocative for me are Goddu's linkages of gothic with the emergent capitalistic marketplace, particularly in her subtle and double-edged readings of the Hawthorne-Alcott texts. Making good use of biographical and cultural context, Goddu prefaces this discussion with a brilliant but too-brief analysis of female statuary, finding in such sentimentalized works as Hiram Powers's The Greek Slave (1844) an eroticized and commodified feminine that opposed the domestic ideal of the "angel in the house." As a medium that unveils femininity only to enclose it within the male gaze and an unfeeling commercialism, such statues embody the same paradoxes as Hawthorne's veiled ladies, who participate in the marketplace only if they are (disingenuously) separated from it by a theatrical veil. As a gothic device, the veil signifies the "magical world of the marketplace" and becomes a key image contrasting Hawthorne's failure with Alcott's success in satisfying their audience's demands for sentimental fiction (119). Although Goddu perpetuates the overemphasis on Hawthorne's reaction to the "mob of scribbling women," she draws a telling contrast between male and female authors' abilities to accommodate the shifting tastes of the reading public.

Curiously, Goddu's approach reinforces American exceptionalism by treating slavery, racialism, and capitalism as strictly American phenomena, an exclusionary practice that implicitly argues for a "gothic" that develops independently of British (or other) generic and social practices. American writers knew better. Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (1851) locates class oppression in seventeenth-century Puritan New England, a century before The Castle of Otranto (1765), and Herman Melville unmasks Spanish, African, and Roman Catholic complicity in slavery in "Benito Cereno" (1855–56). The romance tradition that Goddu and other new historicists have criticized for the last twenty years, politically blind as it sometimes was, demonstrated the power of genres to cross cultures and transmute social reality into defamiliarized forms. Moreover, romance foregrounds the subjectively shaping power of language, not only in fictional narratives, but in historical discourse as well. Sophisticated romance theorists like Edgar Dryden and Emily Budick Miller have shown how all history depends on textuality, and as such is fraught with subjectivity and instability. Goddu acknowledges the reciprocal relationship of event and narrative when she says that "history invents the gothic, and in turn the gothic reinvents history" (132). Yet when she goes on to speak of a "gothic event" (146), she implies an essential quality to the gothic that infuses acts themselves, regardless of how they are represented. When is violence simply bloody and horrible and revolting, and not "gothic"? If the answer is "never," then too many distinctions have been lost, which may satisfy the demands of poststructuralist theory but trivializes literary analysis. For this reason, I wish Goddu had said more about "Benito Cereno," for by layering fiction over legal document over autobiography over experience, Melville's story recognizes the constructedness of both the act and its representation and questions the efficacy of all modes of perception.

Gothic America contains a long and valuable bibliography, testimony to Goddu's wide reading in the field and her ready familiarity with contemporary theory. Typically Goddu cites earlier critics primarily to discredit them, without acknowledging, as one might expect of an historicist, their embeddedness in cultural politics. The early progressivist critic V. L. Parrington, for example, is cited on Poe's irrationality, and the popular biographer Montrose Moses on Poe's regionalism, when no knowledgeable Poe scholar has taken either Parrington or Moses seriously for years. Goddu chastises more formidable critics like Leslie Fiedler for placing too little stress on race, but fails to acknowledge Fiedler's enormous contribution to the advancement of Native American and Jewish American literature. As in her frequent complaints that Americanists have neglected the gothic (while she neglects to cite Jane Lundblad's early work on Hawthorne's gothic devices), these instances occur frequently enough to make one suspect she has, in places, erected a straw man.

This is, nevertheless, a valuable work. Goddu raises the question of whether an American gothic could have existed without a "Gothic America," that is, an America riddled with the contradictions of slavery and nascent market capitalism; in so doing, she also raises the larger historicist question, what are the necessary (rather than defining) social, political, and cultural conditions of the gothic? Addressing these issues might help us better understand the pervasive appeal of a Stephen King or Anne Rice in our own time, and might thereby offer insights (however disconcerting) into the state of our own conflicted culture. Goddu's study demonstrates one way of doing this, and might be profitably followed in further analyses of the interdependence of culture and form.

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Robert Crawford, ed., Robert Burns and Cultural Authority

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Robert Crawford, ed., Robert Burns and Cultural Authority. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997. xiii + 242 pp. $29.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-87745-578-3).

Reviewed by
Ian Duncan
University of Oregon

First things first: Burns is a great poet, as technically accomplished, interesting, ambitious and historically consequential as anyone else writing verse in the British Isles in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It's worth stating the case baldly, since standard versions of English literary history (including most of those still current) have failed to give any plausible account of Burns's achievement or cultural place. "Romanticism," a term non-synchronous and non-homologous between English and Scottish developments, is only part of the problem. Burns wrote in Scots, a vulgar drawback; more subtly, he eschewed what later criticism decreed to be the major poetic genres; this was what Arnold meant when he put Burns down for lacking "high seriousness." Burns's work, writes the editor of the present volume, "is the most alert and renovating literary channel of vernacular culture produced anywhere in the English-speaking world of the eighteenth century" (1). It is also poetry of formidable intellectual energy and sophistication.

Fortunately this new collection of essays provides a vivid, convincing, up-to-date account of that work, illuminated through a range of different contexts. Robert Burns and Cultural Authority is based on a series of lectures given during the recent (1996) bicentennial year; something must have clicked, or jelled, in the proceedings, since the quality of contributions is uniformly high. The editor, Robert Crawford, is himself a distinguished poet as well as critic, and he has enlisted fellow poet-critics Douglas Dunn and Seamus Heaney and novelist A. L. Kennedy among the contributors, along with a varied group of academic scholars—one Burns expert, Carol McGuirk, and specialists in eighteenth-century Scottish literature, Scottish song, Romantic politics, Scottish Modernism, and so forth. The topic of "cultural authority" turns out to be spacious enough to accommodate three main approaches: analyses of Burns's technical and ideological practice, surveys of Burns's relation to major cultural themes (sex, religion, politics), and accounts of Burns's reputation, and vicissitudes as a mythical or symbolic figure, in the two centuries following his death.

Douglas Dunn's essay on "Burns's Native Metric," possibly the best thing in the book, shows that Burns's prosody bears an extraordinary density of cultural allusion, encoding a determinate nationalist agenda. Taking up a range of distinctively indigenous metres, from Scots Renaissance models to his recent precursors in the vernacular revival, Burns effectively reinvented the metrical repertoire of a modern Scottish poetry. Dunn reminds us of the salience of a technically adept close formal analysis for the illumination of historical and ideological themes. The contribution by Robert Crawford, on Burns's links with his main (and worse neglected) Scots precursor Robert Fergusson, explores the common culture of masculine sociability—in local freemasons' and fencible clubs and similar organizations—that incubated so many literary careers in eighteenth-century Scotland. Male literacy was institutionally, militantly steeped in drink and bawdy from the get-go. Crawford gives a brilliant account of Burns's most familiar poem, "Tam O'Shanter," as a mapping of the social and psychic spaces of masculine pleasure and phobia.

A. L. Kennedy's essay on Burns and sexuality tries to loosen the poet's writings (letters as well as verse) from the grim phallic monument into which his reputation has hardened; she arrives at a rueful, humane recognition of the ways, overdetermined but not perhaps predestined, in which writing is conditioned by the ideological investments of readers as well as writers. In "Burns and God" Susan Manning traces Burns's quarrel with religion with admirable deftness and sensitivity to register, although one of the hobgoblins of Burns criticism, the location of the poet's authentic voice, slips in and out of the argument. Marilyn Butler offers what is perhaps the most succinct and useful account of a complex topic, Burns's politics, to have been written, and I predict its frequent reappearance in course reading packets. Her essay was written before it could take account of the recent discovery in Scotland of a hitherto overlooked corpus of Burns's Radical writings, which looks likely to revise our sense of the matter, although perhaps it is too early to tell.

Carol McGuirk's "Nineteenth-Century American Constructions of Robert Burns and Scotland" offers an exemplary account of the remaking of the figure of the poet both by other poets and in the broader domains of middle-class journalism and popular culture. In "Authenticating Robert Burns," Nicholas Roe makes the intriguing claim that Burns was able to "resist" his own posthumous apotheosis as a self-destructive genius "by pre-empting it" (161): the argument is perhaps over-optimistic about the rhetorical efficacy of "self-awareness" as a mechanism of resistance, at any rate outside the bounds of an elite readership. It may remain true that the popular canonization of Burns relies on the fact that no-one actually reads the poems—at least in the ways that we, professional readers, understand reading to take place. Andrew Nash's essay, tracing the ways in which the Victorian sentimental account of Burns rested on the promotion to canonical eminence of a single poem, "The Cotter's Saturday Night," rather misses the opportunity to read that poem against the grain of its sentimentalizations: "patriot," in the last stanza, surely carried an ambiguous if not subversive political charge at the end of the eighteenth century.

Robert Burns and Cultural Authority is an unusually rich and interesting collection—apart from anything else, surely one of the most useful books on Burns to have been published. Anyone curious about why the poet matters cannot do better than start here.

1. Editors' Note: This collection of essays first appeared in January 1997, and for those in the U.K. it is still available from its original publisher, Edinburgh University Press (£25.00, Hdbk: 0-7846-0740-7).

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Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu

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Romanticism: The CD-ROM. edited by David Miall and Duncan Wu. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997. Single-user version, £395/$600US; network version, £1,250/$1,950US (ISBN: 0-631-19944-6).

Reviewed by
Charles Snodgrass & Jeffrey N. Cox
Texas A&M University

New technologies are coming to the aid of the study of Romanticism. E-mail keeps scholars around the world in contact as do on-line discussion groups such as the NASSR-Listserv. Websites — such as Romantic Circles itself — provide a gathering point for scholarly information and a meeting point for scholarly exchange. Now, with the issuance of Romanticism: The CD-ROM, created by David Miall and Duncan Wu and issued by Basil Blackwell, scholars and students have another useful tool at hand for the exploration of the literature and culture of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

When one starts the Romanticism: The CD-ROM program, one is first presented with the "Home" page that also serves as an initial table of contents and a navigation tool for the components of the hypertext. We are first going to be concerned with the texts, which can be accessed by clicking the "Texts" button above that summons up an alphabetical list of primary literary authors, the "Index" button which offers a complete list of documents and most images, or the "People" button which moves to a set of short biographical notices that are linked to texts. The other features of the hypertext—contextual material, maps, an examination of the "Gothic"—are also available from this page as are the help, search, and other navigation functions to be discussed later.

The hypertext anthology reproduces Romanticism: An Anthology, edited by Duncan Wu and published by Basil Blackwell in 1994; that is, it provides the first Wu edition, not the second edition offered in 1998 which has a different selection of texts and expanded critical apparatus. The hypertext anthology has the virtues and the drawbacks, then, of the first Wu edition. There are many things to praise in Wu's anthology. One can only admire the return to manuscript and early printed sources; one is glad to have many texts offered in their entirety rather than in snippets. There are generous offerings from the six canonical poets. For example, the entire 1798 Lyrical Ballads is reproduced; Anne K. Mellor's and Richard E. Matlak's British Literature 1780–1830 (Harcourt Brace, 1996) offers about half of the poems. Wu provides complete texts of Songs of Innocence and Experience and of the Thirteen-Book Prelude, edited from the manuscripts, while Mellor and Matlak offer most but not all of Blake's Songs and the Two-Part Prelude of 1799 together with long excerpts from the 1850 version. (It is interesting to note that Wu's second edition now includes the Two-Part Prelude together with selections from the Five-Book Prelude, the Thirteen-Book Prelude, and the Fourteen-Book Prelude.) While one may have a favorite, say, Byron or Coleridge poem not included in the Wu selection, he enables any instructor to cover the canonical poets well.

He has also provided useful selections from a number of "minor" writers from the period from Thomas Warton and William Cowper through George Crabbe and George Dyer to Leigh Hunt and Bryan Waller Procter; one can at least gesture towards some of the literary currents flowing around and through Romanticism, with the selection suggesting that Romanticism begins as early as Warton and extends at least as late as Tennyson, represented by "Mariana" (1830). One could, for example, compare Warton's and Bowles's work on the sonnet with Wordsworth's; again, one could talk about the "Cockney School," going beyond Keats to include Hunt, John Taylor, Hazlitt, Haydon, and Procter as well as looking at an extract from "Z.'s" Cockney School attacks. One is glad to see George Crabbe, Walter Savage Landor, and Thomas Moore included. While we do not find anything as striking as Jerome McGann's recovery of the "Della Cruscans" in his Romantic Period Verse (Oxford, 1993), the anthology does allow one to show students that the literary scene during the period was more complex than a focus on the traditional six male writers would suggest.

The anthology is less successful in providing an opportunity for exploring the wealth of writing done by women during the period. Charlotte Smith, for example, is represented by two sonnets, whereas in the Mellor and Matlak anthology we get a gathering of sonnets, all of the important Emigrants, "Beachy Head," and one of the "Fables." Again, Anna Laetitia Barbauld receives 9 pages, where Mellor and Matlak give her 27 and include the fascinating Eighteen Hundred and Eleven missing in Wu. Wu includes a page from Baillie's "Introductory Discourse" but no play. Jane Austen, Lucy Aikin, Jane Taylor, and Mary Prince—all in Mellor and Matlak—do not appear in the anthology at all. (One should also note that, as in the case of Mary Prince, the Mellor and Matlak anthology does provide a superior gathering of texts surrounding the issues of slavery, abolition and emancipation.) Wu, to be fair, does include a number of women not included in Mellor and Matlak: Mary Alcock, Barbara Hoole, Charlotte Bury, Mary Mathilda Betham, Charlotte Dacre, Mary Tighe, Lady Caroline Lamb, Caroline Anne Bowles, Louisa Costello, Elizabeth Barrett, and Caroline Norton. The problem is that most of these women are represented by at best a handful of poems, with many having only a single poem included (and one should also note that many of these women are dropped from the new Wu edition as if in recognition that these brief selections were inadequate). If the anthology is to contribute to "a drastic revision of the literary canon" of Romanticism, as the introduction claims, then we need more than a poem or two here and there. We will never be able to teach Smith, for example, as occupying the same literary space as Wordsworth when she is reduced to two sonnets, and he is given over 300 pages. We cannot see how his Prelude, so central to Wu's anthology, is presaged by Smith's own blank verse meditation on the French Revolution, nature, and self-consciousness, when the Emigrants is not included.

The hypertext anthology also reproduces the editorial apparatus surrounding the poems, as in the case of Charlotte Smith sonnet, "To the South Downs". Smith is introduced in two sentences. The headnotes to the authors are, in fact, one of the weaker aspects of the anthology; Wordsworth himself only receives two brief paragraphs. These are not really adequate for a text that is to be used in undergraduate surveys of the period, and Wu has recognized this in the second edition of the anthology by expanding the headnotes and adding lists of "Further Reading" for each author. Within the hypertext, the "People" section offers somewhat expanded entries (Charlotte Smith, e.g., though in the hypertext these entries are not linked to the poetry), but there is nothing comparable to the introductions in Mellor and Matlak, let alone the full interpretive essays offered in David Perkins's English Romantic Anthology (2nd ed., Harcourt Brace, 1995).

The hypertext notes replicate those in the print edition. The light annotation is probably a good thing for undergraduates, who often are wearied by having to glance constantly to the bottom of the page. One can, of course, find things that should be annotated—Wu himself in the new edition has supplied Smith's own note to "Aruna" as "The River Arun"—and one might have thought that the hypertext format would have offered some possibilities for further annotation that would not have distracted readers. One of our major reservations about the CD-ROM is that the anthology is not linked strongly enough to the surrounding materials.

The inclusion of images is an advantage no anthology can match. It is good to see that, whereas the print anthology naturally enough reproduces only the text of Blake's poem, the hypertext provides a goodly number of reproductions of Blake's illuminated texts. There are also a number of cases where places mentioned in poems are linked to illustrations, though this is more likely to the case with well-known poems (i.e., "Tintern Abbey" or "Mont Blanc") than with other works that might just as well have been enhanced by illustrations. A strong selling point of Romanticism: The CD-ROM is its Art Index, containing 1,233 scanned images—stored in .pcx file format—and offering students a rare glimpse into the prodigiously varied portraits, landscapes, political cartoons, and historical paintings of the romantic period. There are also a number of color photographs of historical sites and/or landscapes included, but be aware that these photographs are not listed in the Art Index, so exploring the "Rompics" folder/directory will be necessary to discern them. Of course, most images, e.g., author portraits, are linked to corresponding texts. Artist and lender credits, and image dimensions (in centimeters), appear either with the image or in the Art Index. One real strength of Romanticism: The CD-ROM rests with these supporting illustrations and contextual materials.

The first set of contextual materials are offered under the rubric of Gothic, though once one clicks that location one learns it is "Gothic Fiction" that is to be examined here; while one could argue that the poetry anthology already offers some examples of Gothicism in verse, one might have included within the two million words of the hypertext an example of the incredibly popular Gothic drama. In any event, the Gothic novel is given a prominent place here. The Overview of the CD-ROM states that "Romantic writing, for the purposes of this anthology, is defined to include poetry, prose (essays of various kinds and informal writings such as letters), and the Gothic fiction that was being written at the same time." The texts of the novels are not included, but for most of the novels a detailed plot summary is offered. Contemporary reviews of the novels are a very valuable addition, as are the background materials included for some texts. We find here the legal cases used in Godwin's Caleb Williams and the scientific source material used by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein. There are also images of, for example, places used in Radcliffe's novels, of Walpole's Strawberry Hill, and of Gillray's satire of Lewis's Tales of Wonder. There are also some general guides for the study of Gothic literature. While the texts themselves are not here, this section offers a fine example of the use of hypertext to create an environment within which students can learn. There is a great deal of material for them to draw upon in the study of gothic fiction.

The Contexts section proper opens with another index page. Among the information included here is a year by year chronology from 1780–1834. One can, of course, quibble about what is left out of any such listing—for example, in 1816, we are told a fair amount about P. B. Shelley's movements, but we are not told that he meets Leigh Hunt and through him John Keats in the Fall of that year. The chronology provides links to the texts mentioned, but the texts do not link back to the chronology. The documentary selections are organized by topic: "Historical" (primarily commentaries on the French Revolution or the slave trade), "Social" (a short selection of legal commentary), "Education," "Gender" (including Polwhele's Unsex'd Females and excerpts from The Female Revolutionary Plutarch), "Theory: Literary and Aesthetic," "The Arts: Literature, Theatre, Fine Art, Architecture," "Science," and "Medicine." This section of the CD-ROM clearly offers a much larger gathering of texts than can be had in any anthology. It is thus a major contribution to the teaching of Romanticism, for it will enable students quickly and easily to access a large, varied body of material; it will save teachers from constructing elaborate xerox packets or creating large reserve lists at the library. Still, there are some drawbacks. A decision was clearly made not to supplement selections already made in the anthology: for example, we get some brief excerpts from Paine's Rights of Man in the "Texts" section, so he is excluded from the "Contexts" entries on the French Revolution, with the result that we get a much fuller extract from, say, Mackintosh's Vindiciae Gallicae than from The Rights of Man; again, the "Gender" section does not supplement the skimpy selections from Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman found in the anthology section of the hypertext. The linking between texts is also not always as robust as one might wish.

The Geography section also offers some very useful materials: there are hypertext maps and chronologies together with a generous sampling of travel and exploration literature. The maps are a particularly welcome teaching tool, with the London map, for example, enabling the teacher not only to show students where, say, Keats lived but also to call up images of Hampstead and environs or to show what the theaters he went to looked like or to offer images of the Elgin Marbles he so admired. It should be noted that here, as elsewhere, the contextual materials are most strongly linked to the six canonical writers. We get maps showing the travels of Wordsworth or Shelley but not, say, Hunt or Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan. Again, the chronologies offered are for Byron, Coleridge, Keats, Napoleon, Shelley, and Wordsworth; there are "timelines" for Mary Shelley and William Godwin offered in the "Gothic" section of the hypertext but they are not linked to these chronologies.

Another feature of Romanticism: The CD-ROM is the creative potential offered through Projects, whether in a student-teacher or group work setting. While the CD-ROM itself contains no pre-configured projects, this Projects section "contains advice to students on pursuing research questions, collaborating with other students, and presenting reports," as the accompanying instruction booklet indicates, thereby increasing the program's value as a teaching tool. Miall and Wu suggest the following varieties of diagrams which may be used as teaching and presentation tools:

* Trees
* Webs
* Cycles
* Matrices
* Flow Charts
* Time Lines
* Maps
* Venn Diagrams

Students may use diagrams such as these, exported and then printed sections of texts, and images to create materials for presentation. Some images of completed student projects are included as samples.

Tours is one of the most attractive features of the CD-ROM. This feature operates much like a slide show or PowerPoint® presentation, taking viewers through a sequence of pre-selected texts, contexts, and/or images.

By clicking on Tours on the Home page, you can pre-configure Tours or run existing ones. Once in the Tours area, clicking "Run Tours" will activate the Tours Function dialogue box; clicking "Create" will, in turn, activate the "Create Tours Form" dialogue box, offering two categories: 1) "Current History," and 2) "User Queries." For example, if a user or set of users (an entire class) will be searching for interrelated documents and images on, say, "Imagination," clicking the "User Queries" will keep an internal log of which hyperlinks are accessed from the beginning of that Tour creation. An added feature of a "User Queries" Tour is the option of delaying the number of seconds during which a stop should be viewed, enabling an instructor to vary time for perusal or discussion of a given text or image. Such a feature could be used for a quick review of a previous class meeting's material or for a demonstration of how (virtually) no two Tours through Romanticism: The CD-ROM will be the same. "Current History" may be utilized for the creation of an instructor's Tour for class presentation, linking through a thematically or chronologically organized set of texts, contexts, and/or images.

The Annotate feature, while ostensibly more single-user-compatible in that it allows for one's personal annotations of texts (only), can be used in conjunction with the Tours function. Simply clicking the "Annotate" button at the top of any text screen activates the "Reader's Notes (Annotation)" dialogue box which allows for saving or deleting an annotation. Once an annotation has been saved, the program's built-in HyperWriter indicates an annotation to a given text by inserting a check-mark in the blue active menu titlebar, as illustrated here; clicking this tick-mark will activate the annotation. If an instructor, for instance, has constructed a Tour for class presentation, notes on a particular text can be accessed while reading it during the Tour. Annotate, in effect, could function as a dependent set of hyperlink marginalia, as it were, for an entire class during a Tour. A user may also "Export" an annotation to a text (.txt) file for later printing so that a series of annotations might serve as brief lecture notes during a guided Tour. Unfortunately, because Annotate functions with texts only, annotating the 1,200+ images is unavailable in this CD-ROM release. However, Annotate is one of the more attractive features of the program's.

Whereas the tours give the user the ability to create slide show-like presentations, Bookmarks allow a user to create a set of predefined hyperlinks that serve as instant text locators. Clicking on the "Bookmarks" button at the top of any text page will enable a user to add quickly the current location as a returnable link in the "Bookmarks" dialogue box. (Names of bookmarks are limited to 19 characters.) Images cannot be bookmarked, but the locations of their respective textual hyperlinks can be.

There are two other utilities built-in to the program: Search and Link Map. The former functions essentially the same as a web-browser's Find command and offers four searching options as illustrated. The Search function is not active for the main indices of Contexts, Gothic, and Geography, but it is in all other text locations and the Contexts section's "Chronology: 1780-1834."

The Link Map utilitiy is intended to provide "a built in map of the links available from the current document," akin to viewing a web page's Pagesource or html information in a web-browser in order to determine the existing links. We discovered that while providing another welcomed feature in the program, the Link Map is not as user-friendly as it might be. That is, instead of displaying the titles of texts linked for students or users more familiar with romantic period titles, the "Local Map" of the Link Map function displays a directory of relevantly linked files according to the program's hyperlink language. Rather than "Note 1," for example, a Link Map may display "(No Name Given)(2)". If one cannot readily discern the link(s), then the utility of the Link Map is somewhat diminished if the user must click about to find the desired link(s).

Romanticism: The CD-ROM does not run on a MacIntosh/Apple® platform. System Requirements are as follows:

* PC with 386Mhz processor minimum (486 or Pentium® recommended)
* Windows® 3.x (Windows® 95/98 recommended)
* 4Mb of RAM (8Mb+ recommended)
* CD-ROM drive (4x+ recommended), mouse & SVGA Monitor
* 360Mb hard drive space for full installation (1.27Mb for compact installation)

As a teaching tool and library resource, it is recommended that the CD-ROM be installed and implemented over a LAN (Local Area Network). The licensing of the network version of the program permits up to "100 concurrent users" (cf. network pricing). However, the PC-compatible nature of the CD-ROM will preclude a networked environment where an institution's computer lab is a MacIntosh/Apple®-dedicated environment. Nonetheless, the CD-ROM's overall concept and design provides optimal performance in a networked setting.

Blackwell's also offers a FREE DEMO VERSION of the program that comes on a 3.5" PC-compatible diskette (1.28Mb). As this demo is "Romanticism: The CD-ROM Sampler Disk," its contents are limited and includes the following:

* From Texts: Thelwall
* From Gothic: Hogg, Reviews
* From Contexts (Historical): Thelwall, Defence
* From Contexts (The Arts): Art Index
* From Geography: Shelleys: I. Visits to Switzerland of 1814 & 1816

You may contact Blackwell for the demo or download it from David Miall's site.

Romanticism: The CD-ROM is a valuable addition to the range of teaching materials available to romanticists. It provides a visual library few of us will have. It includes contextual material that few students would see without extraordinary effort either on their part or on that of the teacher. In addition, all of this is linked to one of the more popular romantic anthologies currently available. Romanticism: The CD-ROM provides a good example of what the new electronic technologies will enable us to do in improving the tools for teaching Romanticism. While we have expressed various reservations about this hypertext anthology, we are still very glad to see it available. There is, however, one final problem facing the widespread use of this valuable tool, and that is its cost. As a recent discussion on the NASSR-List indicated, Romanticism: The CD-ROM is priced beyond not only individual faculty members but often beyond the budgets of departments and even libraries. While we understand the arguments that were made for the price, we still feel that the hypertext anthology would sell many more copies—and thus, presumably, result in higher profits—if it were priced more reasonably.

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Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent

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Nicholas Roe, John Keats and the Culture of Dissent. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. xviii + 315. $75.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-19-818396-8). $24.95 (Pap; ISBN: 0-19-818629-0).

Reviewed by
Anne Janowitz
University of Warwick

Nicholas Roe's John Keats and the Culture of Dissent is a substantial contribution to the on-going debate about Keats's politics. As Roe notes in his discussion, Jerome McGann's 1979 article, "Keats and the Historical Method in Literary Criticism" (Modern Language Notes 94 [988–1032]), and Marjorie Levinson's subsequent Keats's Life of Allegory: the Origins of a Style (Oxford Univeristy Press, 1988) developed a historico-political reading of Keats's poetics in the context of class culture and politics. But it was the discussion of Keatsian stylistics presented by William Keach in a 1986 Studies in Romanticism forum on "Keats and Politics" that may well be a more crucial inspiration for Roe's thorough and wide-ranging study of the elements that together add up to the political-poetics of the "Cockney School." For the main investigation of Roe's study is how "Z"'s Blackwood's articles shaped a set of erroneous critical commonplaces about Keats (which, Roe wryly argues, underpin the greater part of twentieth-century Keats criticism, including the ostensibly demystificatory approach), but also, paradoxically, accurately responded to the force of a coherent political grouping. But if Roe shows us how we came to have a version of Keats that has until recently dominated the critical tradition, he also opens up the questions of Keats's own literary and political inheritance by looking closely at his formation in the culture of Dissent. So Roe is able to place Keats within a consistent narrative of the trajectory of the liberal intellectual tradition from the 1780s through the 1820s.

The conceptual center of the study is the assertion that "Cockney School" poetics is deeply indebted to the cultural milieu of Dissent. I think the title of the study is slightly misleading in that Roe doesn't appear to be interested in tracing the history or literary ramifications of Dissenting religious doctrine or principle within the reformist and radical politics of the period; rather, he is concerned with the impact of Dissent on the formation of secular liberalism. But by linking the circles of 1790s Dissent with those of the post-1815 liberal London intellectual scene, Roe offers access to a more accurate recognition of how 1790s radical generation (and their teachers and mentors, such as Mrs. Barbauld, who were radicalized in the 1790s) influenced the political poetics of the younger romantics. By articulating the links between the Dissenting and the "Cockney" sets, Roe also makes it clearer how Keats belongs to the historical and geographical groupings within London poetic and political radicalism that have been investigated in recent years by scholars such as David Worrall (Radical Culture: Discourse Resistance and Surveillance [Wayne State University Press, 1992]), Marcus Wood (Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790–1822 [Oxford University Press, 1994]), and Kevin Gilmartin (Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in Early Nineteenth-Century England [Cambridge University Press, 1996]). Roe's volume convinces one of Keats's secure place in a version of the romantic canon that narrates the complex formation of liberalism.

The major scholarly contribution of the book involves the presentation of the world of the Enfield School and the influence of Charles Cowden Clarke on Keats's formation. Recent attention to the issue of education (e.g., Alan Richardson's Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Reading as a Social Practice, 1780–1832 [Cambridge University Press, 1994]) has made the meaning of romantic conceptions of childhood more understandable through study of those institutions which generated the social model of childhood, and Roe's presentation of the life and concerns of Enfield is a significant addition to that discussion. Roe places Enfield in an intellectual network of impressive proportions and makes it clear why Tory critics would later have found an easy target in a product of the Enfield educational method. And the importance of Charles Cowden Clarke both as an influence on Keats and as a complicated conduit towards Hunt is impressively articulated. But here I felt that Roe owed us more information and speculation about how the religious politics of Dissent influenced Keats; and if they did not, why.

Roe is an impressive literary historian. By focusing on how the Enfield circle was socially linked to the Dissenting radicalism of those in Cambridge and before them to the Warrington Academy, we get both a fuller feel for not only the manner in which Dissenting intellectual life was disseminated into a growing articulation of liberalism, but as well for the links between Keats and the generation before him. Roe's attention to George Dyer (about whom he has also written in the very useful article, "Radical George: Dyer in the 1790's," Charles Lamb Bulletin, n.s. 49 [1985],17–46.) may help bring that poet and poetical theorist into more recognition, and though Roe doesn't develop this point in his study, it seems likely that Keats was himself influenced by Dyer's democratic theories of lyricism. Roe's work of making a central intellectual place for Charles Cowden Clarke proves to complicate Keats's relationship to Hunt in particularly interesting ways, allowing us to see Keats as more independently minded and with a fuller complement of already formed opinions and positions than our myths of his youth have allowed.

Roe brings together many of strands of recent critical attention, and works them into a fabric that we can now really see as a "Cockney School" poetics: the liberal politics of classicism is very nicely discussed in a chapter on "Cosmopolitics"; the important links between liberalism and contemporary medicine are brilliantly presented in a chapter on "The Pharmapolitical Poet," which acknowledges the work of Hermione de Alemeida (Romantic Medicine and John Keats [Oxford University Press, 1991]) and others, but brings close attention to bear on the importance to Keats's intellectual formation of the Guy's teacher and surgeon, Astley Cooper. Cooper, a friend of John Thewall, had gone to France with him in 1792. Roe wants to make Thelwall a prefiguration of Keats, which doesn't quite work, but the evocation of an ambiance which includes medicine, Dissent, and radical politics is brilliantly conveyed. Keats as student of medicine is now more clearly fused into his life as a student of ideas and politics.

Roe's contributions to literary history are unmistakable: I found his literary interpretations somewhat less rewarding. There are some forced readings of poems, aiming to show rather too direct a connection between the intellectual milieu and its preoccupations and the particular trope or affective representation at hand. But in his discussion of the "green" Keats, and of the way Keats worked up the myth of Robin Hood and the politics of greenery, Roe is wonderful to read. Here he shows how intellectual history and poetic interpretation can work together to defamiliarise and so renew our understanding of the human structure of the romantic landscape. The chapters "'Soft Humanity Put on': The Poetry and Politics of Sociality 1789–1818" and "Songs from the Woods; or Outlaw Lyrics" together give a powerful reading of the tradition of radical vernal sociability, linking oppositional politics, the vernal, and the antiquarian. Roe gives all this a precise psycho-geographical location in relation to metropolitan poetics, conveying the atmosphere of London and its suburbs, with a valuable discussion of the very political meaning of the idea of the suburbia itself. Roe shows how "Z"'s "Cockney School" articles make an argument about suburbia and liberalism which offers a distorted mirror to Keats's working up of vernal imagery. Together with Christopher Hill's essays on "Robin Hood" this material should be part of any course on "green poetics."

I greatly admire Roe's accomplishment in this volume. He shows how "Z"'s derogatory naming of Keats's poetic milieu as the "Cockney School" can as well be understood as the "Culture of Dissent," as Roe calls it. He has given us new information about Keats's world and about the overlapping circles of metropolitan sociability in the romantic period. He has shown, by following through the daily to-ings and fro-ings of the chief actors, how permeable were the boundaries between medicine, poetics, and politics.

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William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation

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William D. Brewer, The Shelley-Byron Conversation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994. xiv + 189pp. $42.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8130-1300-3).

Reviewed by
Jonathan Gross
DePaul University

William Brewer's The Shelley-Byron Conversation is an elegantly written account of the moments of influence and intertextuality that occurred between Byron and Shelley during the six years in which they engaged in their diabolical conversations. Brewer's book differs from Robinson's Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (1976) and Stephen Behrendt's Shelley and His Audiences (University of Nebraska Press, 1989) in seeing a "conversation" between Byron and Shelley rather than a debate "between Shelley's meliorism and Byron's pessimism" (Preface). One point of Brewer's study is that the Shelley-Byron conversation was exploratory in nature. By the time Byron wrote The Island and Shelley wrote The Triumph of Life, they had not only learned from each other, but seemed to be experimenting with positions antithetical to the views they held when they first met. The Island is Byron's most Shelleyan poem, and The Triumph of Life is Shelley's most pessimistic work.

In his first chapter, entitled "Shelley, Byron, and Their Conversations," Brewer follows Reiman in noting that Shelley not only encouraged Byron to appreciate Wordsworth, but also introduced his own notions of "the autonomy of the human spirit" (8) as reflected in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto 3, "Sonnet on Chillon," and Manfred. Byron's influence on Shelley is less clear. Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" was the only major work actually written when Byron was present, for Shelley had difficulty composing in Byron's presence (17). Yet Shelley's "Sonnet to Byron," which Byron never saw, reflects the impact the older poet had on Shelley.

In his second chapter, Brewer notes how Shelley and Byron successfully deflected the competition between them as rival poets by focusing on Wordsworth's verse and on their mutual interest in theories of catastrophism. Brewer sees traces of Wordsworth's pantheism in Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Canto 3, "[Epistle to Augusta]," and "The Dream," and in Shelley's "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" and "Mont Blanc," all of which were written in 1816 (24). Where Robinson argued that Byron followed Shelley in developing "hero and heroine as double representations of a single personality,"1 Brewer notes stylistic resemblances between Shelley's Alastor and Byron's "Darkness" and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, 3 (25–27). He then takes up theories of catastrophism, arguing that Shelley and Byron were influenced by their conversations about the theory of natural history as documented in Georges Buffon's Histoire naturelle, James Parkinson's Organic Remains, and the writings of George Cuvier. Brewer effectively explores the political implications of Byron's and Shelley's attraction to scientific theories "which represent the universe as dynamic and revolutionary rather than static and reactionary in nature" (35).

In his third chapter, Brewer highlights similarities between Julian and Maddalo and The Prisoner of Chillon (47): "it is almost as if in The Prisoner of Chillon Byron takes on Julian's point of view, that 'much may be endured / Of what degrades and crushes us'" (183–84), while Shelley's Maniac embodies Maddalo's conviction of man's basic weakness (46–47). Byron's and Shelley's prisoners are solipsists who cannot "accept the very freedom they profess to love" (48). Brewer also sees stylistic similarities between Peter Bell the Third, The Witch of Atlas, and Don Juan, though he admits that "Byron may never have seen the posthumously published Witch [of Atlas]" (55). I finished this chapter more struck by Shelley's borrowings from Byron than vice versa, in particular Shelley's use of Byron's "conversational style" in such poems as Peter Bell the Third and The Witch of Atlas (52–55). Brewer succeeds in highlighting thematic similarities that other critics have not noted, and he does so in a style free of jargon and pretension.

In "The Cenci and Sad Reality," Brewer explores the results of Shelley's conversation with Byron in his tragedy, The Cenci (1819). Byron was not very complimentary regarding Shelley's play. He described the subject as "essentially undramatic" and preferred the Greek playwrights to Shelley's use of Shakespeare as a model (57). Shelley returned the favor, informing Mary Shelley that Byron "affects to patronize a system of criticism fit only for the production of mediocrity" (57). Nevertheless, Brewer is able to document a number of ongoing allusions and echoes between Shelley's The Cenci and Byron's "Prometheus" (60), and between The Cenci and "Darkness." Both Shelley and Byron were influenced by "Coleridge's presentation of human nature as an intertwined combination of good and evil" (62), yet in The Cenci Shelley takes the Byronic hero "to its final logical absurdity" (65). Brewer's comparisons between the thematic concerns of The Cenci and Marino Faliero are less successful. I found it hard to see similarities between Beatrice's choice of "being repeatedly raped by her demonic father" and killing him, and the Doge's choice "between violent rebellion and submission to tyrants who transform his people into 'mere machines, / To serve the nobles' . . . pleasure'" (1.2.302–3) (75). Beatrice's options seem much more limited—more personally and physically threatening—for the Doge is the leader, even if only the nominal head, of the government to which he only feels he is submitting.

In an excellent chapter on Sardanapalus, Brewer notes that the hero's "literary knowledge and wittiness is that of a nineteenth-century Englishman rather than an ancient Assyrian: he alludes to Herodotus, Childe Harold, Canto 1; and Biographia Literaria, and plays on the similarity between 'King' and 'kine' (Act 5, 480-87)" (Brewer 80). Jerome Christensen has pointed out the importance of anachronism in this play,2 but Brewer successfully illustrates how Byron's use of Horace's "middle style" in this work continues his conversation with Shelley in Julian and Maddalo. Brewer suggests interesting similarities between Sardanapalus and Epipsychidion: "As the speaker of Epipsychidion seeks to take his loved one to his 'pleasure-house' (491) to be the 'lady of the solitude' (514), so Sardanapalus wishes he could throw away his crown 'And share a cottage on the Caucasus' (1.2.452) alone with Myrrha, 'and wear no crowns but those of flowers' (1.2.453)" (Brewer 84).

Brewer's sixth chapter is entitled "The Diabolical Discourse of Shelley and Byron." Both Byron, in The Deformed Transformed, and Shelley, in his translation of scenes from Faust, found themselves responding imaginatively to Goethe's Mephistopheles. Byron represented a "coldly intellectual Lucifer" in Cain, a "haughty, aristocratic Satan" in The Vision of Judgment, and "the Mephistophelian Stranger/Caesar of The Deformed Transformed" (101). Shelley's "diabolical beings" are represented in Peter Bell the Third, in his fragmentary prologue to Hellas (indebted to Goethe's prologue to Faust), and in his essay, On the Devil, and Devils (101). Brewer then compares Shelley's futurism as expressed in Queen Mab and Prometheus Unbound with Byron's "virtual despair" (104) in Cain. "While Shelley and Byron's outlooks for the future differed, they seemed to agree that the real threat to modern man comes not from a devil with horns and a forked tail but from the nihilistic despair a limited rationalism such as Lucifer's can inspire" (107). Brewer notes how Shelley's obsession with Goethe's Faust represents, in some ways, a response to Byron's Mephistophelian example.

In an interesting chapter on The Triumph of Life, Brewer considers this poem "in the context of Shelley's relationship with Byron, whose presence in Pisa both stimulated and disturbed him, and also with regard to his and Byron's shared interest in Faust" (110). Brewer takes issue with the assumption that The Triumph of Life reflects Shelley's optimistic, melioristic views and agrees with Robinson (222-5) that The Triumph of Life was written by a man who had "come to question his own poetic gift, and who appears to have abandoned his once cherished notion of man's power to shape his own world" (116). Brewer draws some interesting connections between the treatment of martyrs in The Prophecy of Dante and The Triumph of Life, and between Prometheus Unbound and Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. He ranges comfortably through the corpus of each poet, finding phrases and lines of poetry that suggest how Shelley's and Byron's ideas came to resemble each other.

Brewer's eighth chapter title ("Byron Puffs the Snake") refers to Trelawney's account of Byron's refusal to "puff" Shelley's reputation in Byron's own poetry written after Shelley's death (Robinson 233). Brewer convincingly challenges Trelawney's unflattering portrait of Byron by arguing that The Island is Byron's "most Shelleyan poem" (131), a true elegy to his friend. In doing so, he extends Robinson's fundamental insight that Byron's The Island echoes Shelley's Epipsychidion, The Revolt of Islam, Prometheus Unbound, and Lines Written Among the Euganean Hills (Robinson, 239). According to Brewer, Byron came to recognize the limitations of the Byronic hero and in The Island he offers a critique of this figure, showing how "a potential Corsair (Torquil) turns into a Shelleyan hero and achieves the kind of paradise the narrator of Epipsychidion desperately longs for" (132).

In The Shelley-Byron Conversation, Brewer faults Robinson for seeing the relationship between Byron and Shelley as antagonistic, yet he also sees a "poetic competition" between these poets, especially during their years in Italy shortly before Shelley's death (15). Ultimately, I found the stylistic resemblances Brewer traces in Byron's and Shelley's verse to be more interesting than his dispute with Robinson over whether to categorize their association as a "conversation" or a "fight", though Robinson does at times overstate Shelley's antagonistic relationship with Byron (Robinson 212-217).3 The real benefit of Brewer's work, however, is that it encourages us to attend to the poems themselves and to do so in a way that is free of posturing and pedantry. For this reason, The Shelley-Byron Conversation is both lucid and a pleasure to read.

I have only one, minor quibble with this work. Brewer's treatment of The Liberal, a periodical Byron, Shelley, and Hunt planned to edit together in Pisa, is confined to a few lines in Appendix B (with no reference to William Marshall's study4) and it is not made clear how the poets' discussions about so "sordid" (Brewer 157) a subject as money—Byron was more reluctant to support Leigh Hunt than Shelley—affected their "conversation" with each other. Yet Byron's and Shelley's differing responses to Leigh Hunt as friend, poet, and fellow-traveller in 1822 is surely as significant as their response to Wordsworth's verse in 1816. Their reaction to Hunt and to each others' company can be documented in their letters, moreover, whereas our knowledge of their conversation regarding Wordsworth is almost entirely limited to what they said to each other on a boat in a lake in 1816 (Brewer 8). How might including The Liberal as a point of reference alter Brewer's thesis about the Shelley-Byron conversation? Scholars interested in the relations between Shelley and Byron will also want to consult Marion Kingston Stocking's two-volume edition of Claire Clairmont's letters, published after Brewer's book, to further consider how Clairmont's pregnancy affected the Shelley-Byron conversation, from Clairmont's perspective.5

Brewer's focus on the Shelley-Byron conversation as it is reflected in their poetry is nevertheless extremely valuable and will be very useful to teachers of undergraduate and graduate surveys who wish to place both writers in juxtaposition to one another through a focus on primary texts. Brewer's book does not replace Robinson's study, which still contains much valuable information and is "meticulously researched" (2) as Brewer notes, but it does present an alternative reading of the relationship between these two poets based on the evidence of their verse.


1. Charles Robinson, Shelley and Byron: The Snake and The Eagle Wreathed in Fight (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), p. 43.

2. Jerome Christensen, Lord Byron's Strength (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).

3. See Leslie Marchand, Byron: A Portrait (Chicago: University of Chicago P, 1971), 377. For a view in line with Brewer's (though not well supported), see Phyllis Grosskurth, Byron: The Flawed Angel (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 407.

4. William Marshall, Byron, Shelley, Hunt and "The Liberal" (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1960).

5. Claire Clairmont, The Clairmont Correspondence: Letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont, and Fanny Imlay Godwin, 2 vols., edited by Marion Kingston Stocking (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).

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Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Cultural Minority and the Forms of Transmission

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Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Cultural Minority and the Forms of Transmission. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 25. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xiv + 295pp. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-57236-3).

Reviewed by
Paul Youngquist
Penn State University, University Park

Before there was Wordsworth, before the bright and dying Keats, before even Blake came pugnaciously along, for me there was De Quincey. I learned of him early from a guy who was some years my senior. He was a diabetic and had an easy way with needles, poking himself with enviable nonchalance. He looked gnarled and limber—like a stick that just won't snap, no matter how hard you bend it. He gave me two tips that made college a little more interesting than it would have been otherwise. First, drink the best wine you can afford. That usually kept me from the party crowd, the Thunderbird, and a fair amount of foolishness. Second, read De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater. He even lent me his own old copy (the first one's always free). To say it made an impression would be putting it mildly. I read it night after night, a little at a time, not knowing exactly what I was reading, but transfixed. Here was a very strange way of writing: clear and oblique, concrete and complicated, logical and florid. It was a trip. And it got me to thinking that there might be more to literature than Truth and Beauty, then the apparent prerequisites of Great Writing. De Quincey bothered me, put a little glitch into the literature system that my major was wiring up. I'd like to believe that thanks to him, and to that old hipster who first tipped me off, I acquired a feel for other literary oddballs: Blake, Carroll, Burroughs, Dick, to name a few. At any rate, De Quincey remains for me something other than literature, perhaps other to it, at least as it's institutionally construed.

My experience of De Quincey differs from the one Margaret Russett describes in De Quincey's Romanticism: Cultural Minority and the Forms of Transmission. For her De Quincey is the creature—and the creator—of a literary canon that reproduces a constitutive difference between majors and minors. He's a triple-A essayist to Wordsworth's big-league lyricism, a self-styled second-stringer whose claim to literary fame results directly from his "minority." As Russett understands it, that status reveals much about the production and cultural function of canonical Romantic writing. Unlike the wholly marginal writer, whose recovery proves that she didn't see much play in the production of that canon, the minor writer remains part of the show, "never 'forgotten' and in no danger of becoming so" (6). He occupies the "negative pole" of a dialectic of production that scripts Romantic writing as either "major" or "minor" and evaluates accordingly. So to be minor, as in De Quincey's case, is at least to be not major; minority arises in the image of a greatness it negatively defines.

Such is the force of this dialectic of production that it comes to characterize the whole cultural project of canon formation. Russett's real interest is less in De Quincey per se than in "the production of signature Romantic themes, motifs, and rhetorical effects at the contested and undecidably distorting site of transmission" (8). Minority is thus not so much a literary fact as a cultural function—Russett's "transmission"—that authorizes certain themes, motifs, and effects over others. As such it arises out of neither reading nor interpretation but rather the material conditions of its "institutional locus" (9). Drawing extensively upon the work of Pierre Bourdieu and John Guillory, Russett shows how such conditions make the Romantic canon possible. Its members owe their authority to "the transformed materiality of the institutional habitus: that is, the rarefied literacy, or 'sociolect,' that registers the traces of social stratification" (9). Literary reputation mimics material interest, which is why Russett directs attention away from the ostensible achievement of canonical Romantic writing and toward its circulation as cultural capital. The minor writer best exemplifies this effect precisely because his reputation remains qualified. He's in the canon, but only just, betraying the ideological force of the dialectic that produces it. Hence the urgency of what Russett calls her "largest abstract claim: that the Romantic cult of solitary genius misrecognizes what is in fact a corporate mode of production that the minor's 'genius for instrumentality' both underwrites and unveils" (10). Thanks to his closer proximity to the material conditions of Romantic writing, the minor writer proves its cultural capital to consist mostly of bad bills. A major leaguer like Wordsworth may get the bigger signing bonus, but it falls to De Quincey to cash it in.

And by Russett's account he frequently finds himself short-changed. The bulk of De Quincey's Romanticism examines the various ways that De Quincey's minority supplements and troubles the idealism that colors much Romantic writing, even his own. Russett's "method" is appropriately varied. She approaches De Quincey's writing by multiple paths, some of them little traveled, living up to her claim that the "book is about reading Wordsworth, repeating Coleridge, writing for magazines, and competing for popularity at least as much as it is about interpreting De Quincey" (8). And it's a good thing too; interpreting De Quincey has become something of a growth industry lately. Russett's is the fifth book-length monograph on the Opium Eater to appear since John Barrell's psychopathology of empire, The Infection of Thomas De Quincey (Yale University Press, 1991). What sets Russett's study apart from those others is its concentrated attention to what I'd call the economic unconscious of Romantic writing. While in some cases that unconscious is material and in others affective, Russett shows consistently how it configures De Quincey's minority to troubling ends.

The trouble starts when De Quincey, at the tender age of fourteen, discovers in Wordsworth the very solace that Wordsworth promises his readers. It's not that the promise itself is hollow; Wordsworth makes it in good faith. But by closely reading De Quincey's earliest correspondence with his idol, Russett suggests that what Wordsworth found in nature, De Quincey found in Wordsworth's writing about nature. He took the sign for the thing, falling headlong into the abyss of writing. De Quincey becomes the first post-structuralist reader of the Wordsworthian sublime. Much as he may want to live in nature's embrace, he succumbs instead to the allure of books, gothicizing Wordsworth's natural piety by the measure of its textuality. The result is a life of citation: "nothing ever happened to De Quincey that he had not read about first" (16). Hence the masochistic character of his relationship with Wordsworth, who becomes a figure for the loss of relationship with his promised presence. Russett follows this textualized family romance through its strangest episode, Wordsworth's attempt to enter the field of contemporary political debate with his pamphlet, The Convention of Cintra (1809). To expedite publication, De Quincey agreed to act as press agent in London, allowing Wordsworth to remain at Grasmere to finish writing it. Russett argues two complementary points: first, that Wordsworth attempted to unite the voice of the people with the language of his pamphlet; and second, that De Quincey's material labor on his behalf revealed the impossibility of the attempt. Where De Quincey meant to correct errors, he multiplied them; where he tried to improve punctuation, he only muddled it, coming ultimately "to personify material resistance to the philosophic mind" and to wreck "history's revenge on idealism" (87). Wordsworth's call for a politics of transcendence was thwarted by the material resistance of writing itself, the typography and proofs and cancellations that it fell to De Quincey to (mis)manage.

Russett's best chapter follows, in which she explores magazine writing as an emergent genre of Romantic minority. Here more than anywhere else Russett addresses the truly material conditions of minor writing, familiar enough to those who know the field, but worth rehearsing anyhow. After all, De Quincey made his name and living writing for Blackwood's, The London, and Tait's. And a slender living it was. Russett describes the de facto contract that bound authors to editors, the resulting proliferation of pseudonymous columns, the minimalist remuneration, on the average, of ten guineas per sheet of sixteen pages. De Quincey's literary labor, even for the fame it initially gained him, is a zero-sum game: long on cultural capital (self-proclaimed "scholar" that he was) and short on either cash or the accouterment of commercial success. There is always, however, the sheer exuberance of writing. The necessity of pseudonymity, enervating the force of the proper name, makes magazine writing a space of artistic possibility, masquerade, deceit. It converts "the loss of the proper" into a "pseudo-dialectic of transgression and discovery" (101). The result is that a kind of literary counter-culture comes to characterize the magazines, a "corporate culture" of minor writing in which fictive "personae work to consolidate subjectivities from the abime of magazine text and intertext" (119). The distance between Grasmere and London, if De Quincey's magazine writing is any index, is about the same as that between Searle and Derrida.

The remainder of Russett's book thematizes De Quincey's minority, first with a fresh turn on The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, and finally with a dim take on the later reminiscences of Wordsworth. The former is helpful for its reading of that least read of De Quincey's works, The Logic of Political Economy. Russett focuses upon De Quincey's notion of "affirmative value," in his words "the intrinsic worth of [an] article in your individual estimate for your individual purpose" (140). The ostensible point here is to return consumption to an economics concerned primarily with production, but De Quincey's larger aim is to unify economics and aesthetics. Affirmative value makes aesthetic judgment a mode of economic activity, thereby compromising the autonomy Kant would reserve for such cognition. For De Quincey, "disinterested judgment will always be modeled on market exchange" (150). Russett then turns to the economics of opium consumption with a reading of the Confessions that tracks its betrayals of market exchange in an aestheticized narcosis. For all the promise of his economic speculations, it would appear that De Quincey falls victim to demon opium, and Russett to a rather conventional moralizing against it. Thus the visionary architecture of De Quincey's dreams is only "a vision of grandeur tinged with vulgarity" that "exemplifies luxury taste or commodity fetishism while at the same time suggesting their very opposite: it is not, of course, materially transferable nor available to be bought at any price" (169).

Russett usually avoids this kind of easy allegorizing. But having succumbed, she makes the most of it, concluding her discussion of the minor De Quincey with an assessment of his Lake Reminiscences that makes him every father's nightmare. Preferring the biographical sketch, a minor magazine idiom, to serious biography, De Quincey trades on personal memories of his life with Wordsworth, not all of which are savory. In regard to Wordsworth's daughter Catherine, a particular favorite of De Quincey's who died at only three, they seem peculiarly incriminating. In his strangely emphatic attachment to the child—Russett calls it an "affair"—De Quincey works out his ambivalence toward Wordsworth in an equation that links minority with deviance: "Lucy is to Catherine as lyric is to narrative, as the abstract love of poetry is to child molestation" (212). Indeed. Little wonder, then, that in Lake Reminiscences "the impassioned biographer devolves into a pornographer" (221). Minor writing betrays the pretensions of idealism, even at the cost of pedophilia.

Extravagances aside, Russett's book is a smart, illuminating examination of the role minor writing plays in the production of the Romantic canon. De Quincey's minority vis-a-vis Wordsworth is no objective measure of relative value but a condition of canon formation, the negative pole of a dialectic that produces Romantic writing, major and minor. Russett calls it "a point in the constellation of authorship"; "neither foil nor mirror, the minor produces majority" (221). Her description of this process is shrewd, observant, and inventive. And if I have reservations, they concern less her argument or analysis, than the assumptions that ground both. Must minor writing arise as an epiphenomenon of dialectic? I am sobered by the possibility that Russett's last salvo hits home, that minority is ultimately "an allegory of our own elaborated practice" (246). Perhaps the dialectic of canon production is as much our own doing as the Romantics'. If so, then Russett's analysis describes less a historical logic than a critical habit, albeit one that has set the terms for Romantic studies for the last twenty years. I'm not contesting the productivity of minor writing; I'm wondering whether dialectic regulates it. If so, then the minor writerz lives under the sentence of negation, since as Russett puts it, "the minor, an author to the second power, objectifies the lack within the imaginary totality of the 'creative' or 'primary' work" (226). To my mind that's a baleful fate, but a false one, wholly contradicted by the tip of the old hipster who first turned me on to De Quincey. There's a whole culture out there that knows De Quincey without reference to Wordsworth or Romantic writing. At least some of his work lives apart from the institutional conditions of transmission that Russett describes. I'm willing to accept that for the academy dialectic regulates the production of minor writing. But not for everyone, everywhere. There are all kinds of cultural capital, some of them little known to literary criticism. That Russett suspects as much seems the point of a strange and pallid debate she conducts at the beginning and end of her book with Deleuze and Guattari, whose sense of "minor literature" seems tailor-made for a writer like De Quincey. Russett rejects it, however, apparently out of fears of aestheticism, that bugaboo of political criticism. The possibility that minor writing can rupture the language of majority, reterritorialize it, "reach a continuum of intensities that are valuable only in themselves," seems to me political in the extreme, about as far as you can get from Kant's aesthetic contemplation.[1] But such a fractious minority would indeed be irreducible to dialectic and might just cast the likes of De Quincey out ahead of a major writer like Wordsworth. But no. Russett's analysis does little to disturb the canon except to show how it operates, apparently forever. For my money De Quincey's writing goes further, into "a world of pure intensities where all forms come undone" (13), as my old friend knew and as a passage such as the following from the Confessions might suggest: "And so often did this hideous reptile haunt my dreams that many times the very same dream was broken up in the very same way: I heard gentle voices speaking to me (I hear everything when I am sleeping), and instantly I awoke: it was broad noon, and my children were standing, hand in hand, at my bedside, come to show me their colored shoes, or new frocks, or to let me see them dressed for going out." To what intensities does De Quincey awaken? To what intensities might we?


1 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 13.

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