Romantic Novels and Their Poetry

Romantic Novels and Their Poetry

Derek Furr, Bard College MAT Program

  1. In the 1818 edition of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, the first text we encounter after the title is not Shelley's but Milton's: "Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay / To mould me man? Did I solicit thee / From darkness to promote me?—"That Paradise Lost infuses Shelley's "hideous progeny" (173) with life, that it suffuses literature of the Romantic period in general, is a commonplace; many years ago, Harold Bloom argued that knowing Paradise Lost (and Book I of the Faerie Queen) is a prerequisite for study of Romantic texts (Visionary Company xviii). But Milton's is only one of many poems that lurk in the margins of Shelley's novel, interrupt its prose, and inspire its characters. The poetics of Mary Shelley's greatest fiction develop in part through an intricate intertextuality with poetry.

  2. A similar claim can be made of many novels from the late 18th to the mid-19th centuries, from gothic fiction to works of the Brontës in the 1840s. In epigraphs and footnotes, poetry frames these narratives. Characters find it on grotto benches, recite it by firesides, write it to record their melancholy, and learn to speak by hearing it read aloud. What poetry finds its way into Romantic era narratives, and what role does it play in their development? Moreover, how do the narratives comment upon poetry and its uses?[1]

  3. To begin to address these questions, I have re-imagined the structure and readings of my ten-week course on Romanticism and Readers in ways that spiral outward from three essential novels from the heart of the period: Jane Austen's Persuasion (1818), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818), and Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819).[2] From these and a select list of additional novels, students gather an anthology of poetry that also serves as a core text for the course; in their annotations and introductory work in this anthology, they attempt to answer the essential questions listed above. In the following pages, I will consider how each of the core texts provides perspective on the relationship between Romantic novels and their poetry. I will also describe assignments that push students to make substantive claims about Romantic intertextuality as it manifests in the period's fiction.

    Frankenstein's Paradise Lost

  4. The epigraph of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus begins a layered dialogue between narrative and poetry that is typical of the romantic novel at its best. So I break from chronology and make Shelley's the first novel in Romanticism and Readers. Students tend to sympathize with the creature, who upon reading Paradise Lost, envies Adam and identifies with Satan's bitter resentment of his maker. On the title page, where the epigraph is printed immediately below "The Modern Prometheus," the creature, we assume, speaks back to his maker in the words of Adam.[3] Notwithstanding the adolescent angst of the words out of context—they resemble after all the teenager's complaint that he did not ask to be born—the epigraph immediately raises the question of Frankenstein's responsibility to his creature. But Shelley had a tighter grasp of Paradise Lost than did her hideous progeny, and the epigraph does work that is more complex than merely tapping our sympathies for the creature. Book Ten of Paradise Lost begins with a reminder of Adam's free will, that having chosen to taste the fruit, he and Eve "Incurred, what could they less, the penalty, / And manifold in sin, deserved to fall" (10: 15-16). When Adam subsequently complains that he did not ask to be created and laments that he will forever be blamed for the sufferings of humankind, he comes across as a casuist (10: 720-746). He tacitly acknowledges this when he takes on his maker's voice and engages in a debate with himself about whether his resentment is justifiable (10: 58 -770). In short, the soliloquy from which Shelley's epigraph is extracted checks our sympathies for Adam and suggests that Frankenstein's creature will be guilty of similar self-pity and casuistry, with similarly disastrous results.[4]

  5. While even Frankenstein is persuaded that there is "some justice in his [the creature's] argument" for a companion, some of the creature's reasoning is as suspicious as Adam's (99). Consider, for example, the creature's claim that "If I have no ties and no affections, hatred and vice must be my portion; the love of another will destroy the cause of my crimes, and I shall become a thing, of whose existence every one will be ignorant" (100). While we are clearly meant to sympathize with the creature's desire for companionship, here the creature denies his culpability in choosing "hatred and vice." They are, he suggests, the necessary consequences of abject loneliness.[5] Adam makes similar claims about his choosing to eat the fruit, and his qualified acceptance of blame for his fall is infamous:

    This woman whom thou madest to be my help,
    And gavest me as thy perfect gift, so good,
    So fit, so acceptable, so divine,
    That from her hand I could expect no ill,
    And what she did, whatever in it self,
    Her doing seemed to justify the deed;
    She gave me of the tree, and I did eat. (10: 137-143)
    I would argue that Mary Shelley begins her novel with Book Ten of Paradise Lost in order to anticipate our sympathies with the creature's plight, but also to suggest that those sympathies must be qualified. Adamic creature and Promethean maker share a Satanic propensity for moral equivocation that, in the world of Frankenstein, breaks familial bonds and disrupts civil society.
  6. While Shelley puts these lines from Paradise Lost up front, I would consider them in detail only after students have completed volume two of Frankenstein and have therefore read the creature's closing arguments with his creator. Students should then read Paradise Lost, Book Ten, and respond to the following prompts at the beginning of the next class:

    1. Assume that the creature speaks the epigraph and respond to his questions.
    2. Look back at Paradise Lost, Book Ten, and choose a different epigraph for the novel. Explain your choice.

    Without commentary, several students should read aloud their responses to the first prompt. Some will have written in their own voices, some in the voice of Frankenstein, some in that of the creature. This naturally opens up conversation around the second prompt, which pushes students further into Paradise Lost and towards understanding one of its functions in the novel.

  7. Follow-up to this activity is the first "poetry collection" of the course. Students search Frankenstein for poetry excerpts or allusions, choose one and bring a copy of the full text of the poem to class along with a journal entry in which they speculate on the role of the excerpt in the narrative. The Norton edition of the novel makes the search easy, and while students would naturally turn to the Internet to find full texts of their chosen poems, it is important to establish standards of quality by suggesting reliable sites. I recommend that students take their texts from college and university electronic archives or the English Poetry Database, and I suggest that there is still value in walking to the library to review a scholarly print edition of a poet's work. Poems from this assignment become part of the class' Romanticism and Readers anthology, and the best journal reflections serve as annotations. See the attached syllabus for a detailed description of the anthology and the assignment. See also the attached "Handlist of Novel Poems for Romanticism and Readers."

    Anne Elliot's Giaour

  8. Having taken it upon herself to counsel her new acquaintance, Captain Benwick, in the "duty and benefit of struggling against affliction" (Austen 108), Anne Elliot of Austen's Persuasion is surprised, even alarmed, by Benwick's impassioned monologue on Byron and Scott:

    For, though shy, he [Benwick] did not seem reserved; it had rather the appearance of feelings glad to burst their usual restraints; and having talked of poetry, the richness of the present age, and gone through a brief comparison of opinion as to the first-rate poets, trying to ascertain whether Marmion or The Lady of the Lake were to be preferred, and how ranked the Giaour and The Bride of Abydos; and moreover, how the Giaour was to be pronounced, he shewed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry; and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry, to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly, were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly. (108)
    Anne goes on to recommend several works "calculated to rouse and fortify the mind" (109), antidotes to Benwick's Romantic overdose, although she is able later to laugh at the irony of her being the one to offer such a prescription. She is, after all, suffering from a comparable case of melancholy in her longings for Captain Wentworth.
  9. The passage offers us Austen's wit at its best. Like Anne, she seems dubious of the excesses of high Romantic sensibility. Tenderest songs, impassioned descriptions, hopeless agony, tremulous feelings . . . the adjectives suggest that Benwick is more than a little overwrought. But Anne's delicate reserve is equally comical. What would it mean, we might ask, to "safely enjoy" poetry? Although Austen gently satirizes these two, she asks us to recognize Benwick's good nature and Anne's self-awareness. After all, Benwick readily accepts Anne's recommendations for his reform, and Anne is a perceptive judge of her own character.

  10. As Adela Pinch has argued in her study of emotion and allusion, Strange Fits of Passion, Persuasion is "a book that is interested in people's indebtedness to books, in the capacities of books to provide consolation, and in the adequacy of books to consciousness" (138). Benwick's list of favorite texts and Anne's response therefore provide a critical point of entry for understanding the relationship between Persuasion and Romanticism—specifically, between the novel and the popular verse romance of the 1810s. Familiarity with some of Benwick's favorites is important, but before my Romanticism course, students have rarely read the poems. So at this point in Persuasion, I ask students to take these two readers, Anne and Benwick, as their guides in order to adduce a few provisional claims about the "first-rate poets" (108) whom Benwick admires. For example, based on Benwick's enthusiasm, we might assume that Scott and Byron write of deeply troubled characters: broken hearts, hopeless agony, minds destroyed by wretchedness. Their poetry, it would seem, promotes an earnest, emotional response, such that Benwick looks desperately as though he wishes to be understood by Anne. The morality of their work is questionable, at least to Anne and perhaps to Austen. In class, students and I list these claims as a framework for their reading of Scott and Byron. They choose between Walter Scott's Marmion or Lord Byron's The Giaour, included in the Romanticism and Readers anthology, and come to the next class prepared to believe and doubt the claims.[6]

  11. This exercise is reminiscent of Elbow and Belanoff's "believing and doubting" writing workshop assignment, in which students comment on a text first as if they believe everything it says, and then as if they doubt it (Elbow 41-44). The believing and doubting exercise functions to point out the differences between Austen and Byron's aesthetic, while also moving students beyond the facile conclusion that Austen is not a Romantic. In an essay on Persuasion and the Turkish Tales, Peter Knox-Shaw demonstrates the many roles that Byron's work plays in Austen's narrative; he notes that Anne and Benwick share the Giaour's melancholic devotion to a former love, traces the implications of the allusion to The Corsair when Louisa falls at Lyme, and argues that Austen's prose is at times self-consciously Byronic.[7] As he suggests, "a mind destroyed by wretchedness" is evidently a reference to Byron's brooding Giaour (Byron 48-49). Such an epithet could not be applied to Anne without significant qualification. But as students discover in the process of doubting Anne's circumspect treatment of Benwick's Byronism, the distinction between the Giaour's anger and Anne's anxiety is a matter of degree. The return of Captain Wentworth, whom Anne regretfully rejected and still loves, is a "trial to Anne's nerves" (Austen 56), and students should consider how she might have read such lines as these from The Giaour:

    But in that instant, o'er his soul,
    Winters of Memory seemed to roll,
    And gather in that drop of time
    A life of pain, an age of crime.
    O'er him who loves, or hates, or fears,
    Such moment pours the grief of years;
    What felt he then, at once opprest
    By all that most distracts the breast? (261-268)
    Without confronting Captain Wentworth directly, in the manner of a Benwick or a Giaour, Anne nonetheless strives throughout Persuasion to communicate what "most distracts the breast." We can imagine that Anne's countenance is no less gray and aggrieved when she watches Wentworth flirt with Louisa Musgrove at Lyme. No character in Persuasion would find himself boastfully confessing nihilism as the Giaour does on his deathbed, but Anne and Benwick both have found something of themselves in Byron's tale.
  12. Reading The Giaour or Marmion in the midst of Persuasion provides opportunity to consider the role of drama in the romantic narrative. Students often complain that very little happens in an Austen novel; in Emma a piano is delivered, in Persuasion, a foolish girl falls and bumps her head. By contrast, sensationalism and melodrama are essential elements of a Scott narrative. The Battle of Flodden Field, a defeat for the Scots in 1513, is the ostensible subject of Marmion and takes up most of the final canto, but is less memorable than any of several sensational events in the poem, an inquisition and two spectral encounters among them. In fact, it is useful to ask the Marmion readers to keep a list of dramatic events in the poem. Through this simple exercise, it becomes apparent that the romance is an accumulation of narratives, some of which—the Host's Tale in Book II, for example—bear only indirectly on the central plot. Peter Brooks argues that the "desire for the end" in a narrative must be "reached only through the at least minimally complicated detour," the desire for closure being balanced by the desire for elaboration (Brooks 104). But Scott's imbedded narratives—his tales within the tale—are more properly understood as complete sensational encounters in their own right. Like the digressive verse epistles that introduce each canto and the footnotes that take us into Scottish lore, they are less relevant to the plot of Marmion than to the poem's overall purpose: to mythologize ancient Scottish history.

  13. Encountered after a digression into Marmion, Louisa Musgrove's fall and the reactions of her companions read like a parody of sensational romance. After exclaiming that Louisa was "taken up lifeless"—an intentional overstatement—Austen writes:

    There was no wound, no blood, no visible bruise; but her eyes were closed, she breathed not, her face was like death.—The horror of that moment to all who stood around! (118)
    With a series of negatives, Austen cleans up the blood before it's spilled. There is, in fact, nothing visibly wrong with Louisa, except that "she breathed not," another comical overstatement by which Austen sends up the melodrama of the scene. Significantly, Benwick and Anne, unreformed and reformed Romantic, respectively, prove the most level-headed and industrious of the group in the face of such high drama. Others faint, fumble, and call out hopelessly.
  14. Pairing Persuasion with Scott and Byron should lead finally to formal writing about the differing purposes of drama in the Romantic period narrative. Aside from the shop-worn explanation that Jane Austen wrote about the world she knew, what other reasons might explain Austen's focus on the quotidian and her suspicion of Romantic melodrama?[8] On the other hand, what besides sensation itself is the point of melodrama in Byron and Scott's verse romances? Students complete brief (800 word) essays in response these questions. The most penetrating and imaginative responses are collected in the Romanticism and Readers anthology as commentary on The Giaour and Marmion.

    In the Margins of Ivanhoe

  15. Two novels published within a year of each other could not contrast more sharply than Persuasion and Ivanhoe. Persuasion is genteel satire to Ivanhoe's maudlin melodrama. Austen holds us close to Anne Elliott's point of view and keeps our attention on her primary concerns—the love relationships among her few acquaintances—which in turn become the novel's plot; we meet several naval officers, but the wars in which they've served enter Persuasion only insofar as the camaraderie of battle forms the basis of the officers' commitment to each other. Marilyn Butler, Edward Said, William Galperin and many others have shown just how important the external world is to the meanings of Austen's novels, but as Said argues of Mansfield Park, we are inclined to examine that world more closely precisely because Austen takes care only to glance at it.[9] Walter Scott, on the other hand, continually turns our attention away from the central plot of Ivanhoe, not only through a set of subplots, but also (and more interestingly) through a complex paratextual apparatus.

  16. Scott's comments on his difference from Austen make a suggestive point of departure from Persuasion into Ivanhoe. In his journal from March 14, 1826, Scott records that he turned to Austen after finishing a novel by Lady Morgan:

    Also read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's finely written novel of Pride and Prejudice. That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early! (Journal 1: 154-155)
    Scott describes Austen as his superior in the very quality of fictional writing that would come to be the most highly valued later in the century: a refined, closely observant realism. Whether or not the privileged life of the gentry can rightly be called "ordinary" during the Romantic period, Scott allows that Austen's "commonplace" contrasts with his extraordinary, the "Big Bow-wow strain" of historical romance.
  17. For all their differences, however, the two writers share a self-conscious artifice that in Scott becomes apparent when students pay attention to the paratext. For if Austen's ironic perspective on her subjects is an effect of her careful diction and control over point of view, Scott's irony is a function of his introductions, epigraphs, and footnotes. A significant strain of Ivanhoe criticism looks carefully at the role of the paratext. In an essay on the publication history of Ivanhoe, Jane Millgate argues that Scott and his publishers had determined, "before ever a word of the novel had been written, that content, attribution, and format were to send out the same message" (798). That message, she suggests, was that the anonymous "Author of Waverley" would be taking leave of Scots history and trying his hand at chivalric romance. Having developed their text-deforming critical game IVANHOE using Scott's most popular novel, Jerome McGann and Johanna Drucker modeled their textual interventions on the commentary of Scott's fictionalized editors and historiographers—interventions by which Scott draws attention to his fiction-making.[10] Most recently, in his The Scholar's Art, McGann maintains that Scott's writing "installs neither a truth of fact nor a truth of fiction but the truth of the game of art. It is more than make-believe, it is conscious make-believe" (76). If Austen's irony allows her to move toward an ever-refined realism, Scott's paratextual games move his work "into the freedom of self-conscious romance" (78-79).

  18. This self-consciousness, manifested through paratext, links Ivanhoe to The Giaour, so I devote part of the Ivanhoe class to work with the footnotes, Scott's introduction to the Magnum Opus Ivanhoe, and the "Dedicatory Epistle" by the fictional Laurence Templeton.[11] Directed to a fusty, fictional antiquarian named Jonas Dryasdust, the "Dedicatory Epistle" is Scott's apologia for compromising historicity for the sake of imaginative romance. The tone is ironic, and Templeton is both a thin veil for Scott and one-half of a self-parody, the other half being the lampooned erudite antiquarian. With tongue in cheek, Templeton writes that in "point of justice to the multitudes who will, I trust, devour this book with avidity," he has sacrificed the "repulsive dryness of mere antiquity" to create a moving story (527). On the other hand, the author of Ivanhoe is clearly captivated by the minutiae of medieval English history, though he seems to enjoy, equally, displaying his knowledge and sending up false erudition. The copious notes that Scott added to the 1830 edition of Ivanhoe make that clear. Scott's note on slavery in chapter two of Ivanhoe offers a good case study for students to consider. First, Scott scoffs at the "severe accuracy of some critics" who have objected to his making Bois-Guilbert's slaves black (551). As a witness for his defense, he brings forward Matthew Lewis, hardly a credible defendant though Scott's equal as a master of masks and irony. At the end of the note, however, Scott brings out a second piece of evidence to defend his choice, this time from an antiquarian's interpretation of a medieval romance (552). In short, a romance is brought to the defense of a romance, another antiquarian's note becomes Scott's, and all this to suggest that Scott's choice is as accurate as a romance writer's needs to be.

  19. Among the paratextual elements in Ivanhoe, the epigraphs do the least of this ironic work. Rather, Scott draws on a common strategy in Romantic period fiction by which epigraphs serve to gloss the content of the chapter or to associate it with the work of a poet whom the author considers a kindred spirit. The most common sources for the epigraphs are Shakespeare and Scott's own poetry; Scott's contemporaries considered him an avatar of Shakespeare, and by sheer frequency, Scott's epigraphs carry forward this idea.[12] Of particular interest among the Shakespeare epigraphs are three from The Merchant of Venice, all prefacing chapters that feature Isaac and Rebecca. Isaac is a more thorough-going stereotype than Shakespeare's Shylock, in whose shadow he moves. But as Judith Lewin has pointed out in an essay on "inheritance" and Judaism in Ivanhoe, Rebecca effectively overthrows her Shakespearean precursor, Shylock's daughter Jessica: "Scott and his characters confront an intertextual inheritance that Rebecca renounces through her final divestiture. Inheritance in this figurative sense refers to the absolute power of intertext, as suggested by the enormous weight exerted by Jessica and Shylock on the characters, gestures, speeches, and allusions in Scott's text" (Lewin 28-29).[13] As independent work for the class anthology, I ask students to research one of the Merchant epigraphs, following the trail provided by the modern editor, elaborating on the context of the excerpted passage, and writing about its significance in Ivanhoe. Selected lines and responses are added to the anthology.[14]

    Beyond the Core Novels: The Monk, Jane Eyre, and Novel Poetry
  20. The final weeks of class are devoted to group projects involving two other novels in which poetry plays a significant role: Matthew Lewis'ss The Monk (1796) and Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847). Reading Lewis allows students to look back at the early decades of the Romantic period and consider a gothic precursor to Frankenstein; reading Brontë brings into the course an example of the legacies of the Romantic period novel. I briefly introduce each novel, and students elect a group. Individually, students maintain a double-entry journal during their reading of the novel that provides a point of departure for discussion. As the class schedule suggests, half of the ninth meeting is devoted to these discussions, and I circulate among the groups. During the second half of the meeting, groups make plans, carry forward research, and write in order to create two products. I want to address each of these aspects of the project, though detailed descriptions of the assignments can be found in the syllabus and handout.

  21. The first project requirement is familiar at this stage in the course and assesses students' understandings of the relationship between a Romantic novel and its poetry. Each student must collect and annotate a poem for the Romanticism and Readers anthology. The core novels from the course provide important points of reference as students work with these new, unfamiliar texts. Like Scott, Lewis heads his chapters with excerpts from poetry and drama. Lewis's opening epigraph, in fact, anticipates Scott's use of The Merchant of Venice. The chapter in which we meet Ambrosio, the priest whose cold and superficial asceticism quickly dissolves in the heat of his sexual passions, begins with the following lines, spoken by the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure:

    —Lord Angelo is precise;
    Stands at a guard with envy; scarce confesses
    That his blood flows, or that his appetite
    Is more to bread than stone. (1.3.50-53)
    The Duke has appointed Angelo temporary head of state in order both to rein in the sexual license of Vienna and to test his deputy's professed purity. Just as Scott establishes Shylock as a precursor of Isaac, so Lewis connects Ambrosio to Angelo. The forefather's sins pale by comparison to the son's, for excess is the rule of Lewis's novel.[15] In line with Ann Radcliffe and Charlotte Smith, and again anticipating Scott, Lewis fills his narrative with his own poetry, and I ask students in the Monk groups to gloss at least one of Lewis's poems. Given our earlier discussions of the De Lacy scenes of Frankenstein, "Inscription in an Hermitage" is particularly resonant. After trying in vain to mitigate the "too great severity" of the judgment he pronounced against Agnes, Ambrosio retires to a grotto, only to find the young monk Rosario brooding there (Lewis 73). Rosario muses on verses engraved in a tablet, presumably by a monk whose weariness of a sinful world has been assuaged by retirement into solitude. The poem becomes an occasion for Ambrosio to proclaim that the rationale for the cloister is protection against temptation, but that even the monastery provides a form of society, which all people need (75-77). For the hermit in solitude, he explains, "Nature loses all her charms . . . no one is near him to point out her beauties, or share in his admiration of her excellence and variety" (77). Here, the monk's argument is similar to the creature's in Frankenstein. But we know that implicit in Ambrosio's reasoning is his own struggle with temptation, that his sympathy with Agnes is based in part on his attraction to her, and that he came to the grotto for precisely the reasons outlined in the poem: solitude will presumably help him to escape his sorrows and suppress his lusts. We will soon learn, however, that Rosario is the disguised Mathilde, who easily seduces Ambrosio.
  22. The second project requirement, in which students write one text into another, borrows from the concept of textual deformation and rewriting discussed by Jerome McGann and Christian Moraru.[16] By constructing a new text out of pieces of texts from the course, students demonstrate their understanding of intertextuality. It is arguable that an expository essay comparing across texts from the course could provide a similar assessment of student understanding. But creating a new text puts into practice a key theoretical assumption of the course, best articulated by McGann, Drucker, and Nowviskie, that "the field of textuality, including all the objects we locate in that field, are [sic] in a perpetually dynamic state of formation and transformation" (IVANHOE, unpaginated). Ideally, the new text is fully collaborative, written jointly by members of the group in collaboration, as it were, with writers represented in the course. I include in the appendix a successful example of this kind of work from my course on the Bildungsroman. In "Pip Reads," students wrote Jane Eyre into Dickens's Great Expectations. At their first meeting, Miss Havisham asks Pip to "play, play, play" (Dickens 88). Students changed the phrase to "read, read, read," and had Mrs. Havisham demand that Pip read from a "dog-eared" section of her copy of Jane Eyre. The result is a clever and utterly plausible revision of Dickens's scene. Naturally, the jilted Havisham never reads past Jane's being left at the altar, and the spectre of Bertha surely haunts Havisham's looking glasses as much as she does Jane's. From a melding of the burning tower scenes in Ivanhoe and Jane Eyre, to a subtler interpolation of lines from Lewis into an expanded conversation between Anne Elliot and Captain Benwick, such intertextual play can be easily imagined using the texts from Romanticism and Readers.

  23. In Romantic era novels, poetry serves many functions. In Frankenstein and Persuasion, poetry is fundamental to character development and theme. In Ivanhoe and The Monk, it fractures the text, drawing attention to the novel's artifice. In all of the novels from the course, the presence of poetry, among other interpolated forms, suggests that the meaning of the story at hand is mediated by other texts. Although for the purposes of this essay I've focused on the "novel" aspects of the Romanticism and Readers course, the syllabus and ancillary materials will make clear that the course deals more generally with questions of textuality, reception, and interpretation. Through their writing and discussions, students interrogate how Romantic texts have been and are currently read. Dialogic in nature, the novel lends itself to such critical interrogations, in which students (and in this case, future teachers) become self-conscious participants in the ongoing construction of Romantic period texts and meanings.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. Persuasion. Ed. Janet Todd and Antje Blank. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Bate, Jonathan. Shakespeare and the English Romantic Imagination Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

Bloom, Harold. The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry. 2nd Edition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1971.

Brontë, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Margaret Smith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Brooks, Peter. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative. New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1984.

Byron, George Gordon. "The Giaour." The New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse. Ed. Jerome McGann. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. Ed. Angus Calder. New York: Penguin, 1985.

Drucker, Johanna. "Designing Ivanhoe." TEXT Technology 12.2 (2003): 19-41.

Elbow, Peter, and Belanoff, Pat. Sharing and Responding 2nd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Gamer, Michael. "Genres for the Prosecution: Pornography and the Gothic." PMLA 114.4 (October 1999). 1043-1054.

Jacobus, Mary. "Is There a Woman in This Text?" New Literary History 14.1 (Autumn 1982): 117-141.

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Lewin, Judith. "Jewish Heritage and the Secular Inheritance in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe." ANQ 19.1 (Winter 2006): 27-33.

Lewis, Matthew. The Monk. Ed. Louis F. Peck. New York: Grove, 1952.

McGann, Jerome. Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

---. The Scholar's Art. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2006,

McGann, Jerome, Johanna Drucker, and Bethany Nowviskie. "IVANHOE: Education in a New Key." Romantic Pedagogy Commons (December 2004). Unpaginated. Accessed February 2007. </pedagogies/commons/innovations/

Millgate, Jane. "Making It New: Scott, Constable, Ballantyne, and the Publication of Ivanhoe." SEL 34.4 (Autumn 1994): 795-811.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. 2nd Edition. Ed. Alastair Fowler. New York: Longman, 1998.

Moraru, Christian. Rewriting: Postmodern Narrative and Cultural Critique in the Age of Cloning. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 2001.

Newlyn, Lucy. Coleridge, Wordsworth, and the Language of Allusion. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

Pinch, Adela. Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1996.

Rajan, Tilottama. "Mary Shelley's Mathilda: Melancholy and the Political Economy of Romantcism. Studies in the Novel 26.2 (Summer 1994): 43-68.

Ricks, Christopher. Allusion to the Poets. New York: Oxford, 2002.

Scott, Walter. "Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field." The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott. Ed. J. Logie Roberston. New York: Oxford, 1913.

---. Ivanhoe. Ed. A.N. Wilson. New York: Penguin, 1986.

---. The Journal of Sir Walter. Scott Ed. David Douglas. New York: Harper Brothers, 1890.

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Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: Norton, 1996.

Tuite, Clara. "Cloistered Closets: Enlightenment Pornography, the Confessional State, Homosexual Persecution and The Monk. " Romanticism on the Net 8 (November 1997). Unpaginated. <>


[1] The role of intertextuality in Romantic period writing has been the focus of many critical studies. Christopher Ricks's Allusion to the Poets attempts to distinguish among reference, allusion, and intertextuality, and treats the work of several Romantic poets. Adela Pinch's Strange Fits of Passion: Epistemologies of Emotion, Hume to Austen includes an important chapter on quotation, in which Pinch discusses the relationship between lived experience and reading in De Quincey and Wordsworth, among others. I refer to Pinch's chapter on Persuasion above. Similar concerns are treated at length in Lucy Nelwyn's Coleridge, Wordsworth, and the Language of Allusion. Studies by Jonathan Bate, Tillotama Rajan, and Mary Jacobus, relevant to the texts from my course, are noted below.

[2] The course, originally called Historicism and Literary Study: Romanticism, is part of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at Bard College. All students have a B.A. in literature or a related field and plan to teach English in the public schools. Note that in teaching Frankenstein, I prefer the 1818 edition to the 1831 for reasons best articulated by Anne K. Mellor, "Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach," Approaches to Teaching Shelley's Frankenstein (New York: MLA, 1990), 31-37. Although I use the Norton Critical edition of the text, cited in the bibliography, students can also access the 1818 and 1831 editions with variants and commentary at

[3] The Norton edition includes a facsimile of the title page.

[4] In an essay on reader theory, psychoanalysis, and feminist interpretations of the relationship between Frankenstein and Paradise Lost, Mary Jacobus has argued that Shelley's novel is a critique of the "oedipal politics" (130) of Romanticism and, by extension, Milton's epic. See "Is There a Woman in This Text?" In a related essay on Shelley and reference, Tilottama Rajan draws on Kristeva in a psychoanalytic reading of Shelley's intertextuality, especially the relationship between Mathilda and the political writings of Percy Shelley and William Godwin. See "Mary Shelley's Mathilda: Melancholy and the Political Economy of Romanticism."

[5] Shelley's reviewers identified such suggestions as "Godwinian." See for example John Croker's review in the Quarterly Review (January 1818), reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of Frankenstein (187-190), cited below. The review is also available at

[6] My reasons for choosing these two among Benwick's list should become clear in my discussion. I use the seventh 1813 edition of the Giaour edited by Jerome McGann in the New Oxford Book of Romantic Period Verse and the 1833 Marmion from the Oxford Edition of Scott's Poetical Works, edited by J. Logie Robertson.

[7] See Knox-Shaw, Peter. "Persuasion, Byron, and the Turkish Tale."

[8] Significantly, it was Scott who established this interpretation of Austen's choice of subjects. See his review of Emma from the Quarterly Review 14 (1815): 188-201, reprinted in the Norton Critical Edition of the novel, edited by Stephen Parrish (2000).

[9] See "Jane Austen and Empire," reprinted in The Edward Said Reader, Moustafa Bayoumi and Andrew Rubin, eds. (New York: Vintage, 2000), 348-367; Marilyn Butler "Novels for the Gentry: Jane Austen and Walter Scott," in Romantics, Rebels, and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981); William Galperin, The Historical Austen (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003).

[10] See Johanna Drucker "Designing Ivanhoe." The most recent iteration of the IVANHOE game can be found at

[11] Both are included in the Penguin Classics edition of the novel.

[12] In an 1821 review of Scott's novels in the Quarterly Review, the reviewer, Nassau Senior, writes that before Scott, only Shakespeare had "ventured to bring the ludicrous into close contact with the pathetic" (231); the reviewer goes on to compare Scott favorably with Shakespeare. Writing for the Eclectic Review in 1820, an anonymous reviewer of Ivanhoe suggests that in his depictions of character, Scott rivals Shakespeare (192). In both reviews, however, the writers are careful to point out that Scott is the lesser of the two genuises. The reviews are reprinted in John O. Hayden, ed., Scott: The Critical Heritage, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970.

[13] Silvia Mergenthal has also written about the intertextual relationship of The Merchant of Venice and Ivanhoe. See "The Shadow of Shylock: Scott's Ivanhoe and Edgeworth's Harrington," in Scott in Carnival, J. H. Alexander and David Hewitt, eds. (Aberdeen: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1993), 320-331.

[14] While Scott plays only a minor role in his study, Jonathan Bate's chapter on Coleridge and "inherited language" (22), in Shakespeare and the Romantic Imagination, is particularly relevant to work on Romantic period allusion to Shakespeare.

[15] Whether this "excess" is pornographic is a subject students might wish to take up. Two recent studies can guide their thinking. See Michael Gamer, "Genres for the Prosecution," and Clara Tuite, "Cloistered Closets," cited in the bibliography.

[16] See McGann's Radiant Textuality and Moraru's Rewriting, cited in the bibliography.