Short Reviews

With this January 2021 issue, Romantic Circles Reviews and Receptions introduces new form of collective and conjunctural book review. Inspired by the spirit of conversation and exchange that animates all of our work, and that lurks secretly behind each review, we are asking scholars to reflect collaboratively on recent publications in Romanticism. These reviews are new in another sense as well. Expanding beyond the constraints of periodization, these reviews seek to create conceptual and/or historical resonances between work in Romanticism and work situated elsewhere. In particular, these reviews are meant to spark a deeper engagement between monographs in Romanticism and Black studies, Gender & Sexuality studies, Indigenous studies, and work that is situated in a contemporary context. Perhaps most significantly, these reviews aim to make academic publications that are grounded in Romanticism more useful to us today, in both academic and non-academic contexts alike. Upcoming reviews will take up Matthew Sandler’s The Black Romantic Revolution (Verso, 2020) and Peter Linebaugh’s Red Round Globe Burning Hot (UC Press, 2019), Ryan Hanley’s Beyond Slavery and Abolition: Black British Writing 1770-1830 and Fred Moten’s Stolen Life, and Kate Singer’s Romantic Vacancy: The Poetics of Gender, Affect, and Radical Speculation and Alexis Boyan, et al. Furious Feminisms: Alternative Routes on Mad Max: Fury Road.

If you would like to propose a collaborative review, please contact us at:

Frances Botkin, Thieving Three-Fingered Jack: Transatlantic Tales of a Jamaican Outlaw, 1780-2015 (Rutgers UP, 2017). 240 pp. (Paperback, $31.95 ISBN 9780813587387; Cloth, $120.00, ISBN 9780813587394; Kindle, 28.95, ISBN 9780813595733; EPUB, 31.95, ISBN 9780813587400; PDF, $31.95.ISBN 9780813587417).


Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition (U of NC P, 2000). 480 pp. (paperback, $47.50, ISBN 9780807848296; ebook $29.99, ISBN 9780807876121).


Marronage and Discomfort with the Black Rebel: a Collaborative Review

Gabriella I. Johnson, New York University 


Gregory Pierrot, University of Connecticut—Stamford


Greg: Frances Botkin’s Thieving Three-Fingered Jack is a cultural history that makes the deceptively simple but necessary argument that things are always more complex than they seem. Botkin’s careful exploration of the figure of Three-Finger’d Jack as he came to us in cultural production, but as importantly in the collective memory of Jamaican Maroons themselves, is an injunction to take portrayals (and these sit at the confluence of history and fiction, I suppose) with a grain of salt. As she unpacks how the fictions of Three-Finger’d Jack intersect with what is known of the events from English publications and Maroon accounts and history, we’re reminded that in memory (and forgetting), storytelling is indeed a practice of community-making and...


Matthew Bevis, Wordsworth’s Fun (University of Chicago Press, 2019). 303 pp. (Hdbk., $82.50, ISBN: 9780226652054)

Jeremy Noel-Tod
University of East Anglia

It’s easy to laugh at Wordsworth. Connoisseurs of parody will know J.K. Stephen’s sonnet on the poet’s ‘two voices’: one sublime, one ‘an old half-witted sheep’,

Which bleats articulate monotony,

And indicates that two and one are three,

That grass is green, lakes damp, and mountains steep

And connoisseurs of radio comedy may know Sue Limb’s The Wordsmiths at Gorsemere, ‘An Everyday Story of Towering Genius’ which rewrites the early years at Grasmere as The Goon Show. The first episode opens with Dorothy Wordsmith rhapsodising, to appropriate sound effects, about being close to nature (‘the wind in your hair, the rain on your face’), only to be interrupted by brother William: ‘But we’re indoors, Dorothy’.

The common joke is that Wordsworth is, like lakes, wet: a solemnbore. Matthew Bevis’s Wordsworth’s Fun sets out to show that the poet’s uses of humour are, in...


Joseph Drury. Novel Machines: Technology and Narrative Form in Enlightenment Britain (Oxford University Press, 2018.) 272 pp., 8 B&W illus. (Hdbk., $90.00; ISBN 9780198792383.)


Deven M. Parker

Queen Mary University of London

Joseph Drury’s Novel Machines: Technology and Narrative Form in Enlightenment Britain breaks new ground in the field of technology and literary studies not just because it offers deep historical dives into several under-researched areas of eighteenth-century technology and science—musical instruments and medicine, carriage and road design, and theatrical engineering, among many others—but even more so because it theorizes a mutually constitutive and constantly evolving relationship between technology and literary form. The argument at the book’s center is that eighteenth-century novelists sought to transform the novel into a machine that could produce knowledge about the world, much like those other Enlightenment machines, such as air pumps and automata, that scientific philosophers believed could recreate natural phenomenon in order to help them better understand it. It follows, then, that if the novel...


Andrew O. Winckles. Eighteenth-Century Women's Writing and the Methodist Media Revolution: 'Consider the Lord as Ever Present Reader' (Liverpool University Press, 2010). 288 pp. (Hdbk., $120, ISBN 9781789620184).

Elizabeth Bishop

As Andrew Winckles notes in his review of Richard Brantley’s Transatlantic Trio: Empiricism, Evangelicalism, Romanticism: Essays and Reviews, 1974-2017 for Romantic Circles Reviews & Receptions, the study of religion in British romanticism has often been a fraught endeavor. This has changed in recent years, however, as our field expands its scope while also revisiting familiar figures with a renewed curiosity. My work on Hannah More has been immeasurably edified by scholars who have reconsidered the innumerable facets and entanglements of religion and romanticism such as Winckles, Natasha Duquette, Joanna Wharton, and others.

It bears stating that Winckles’s Eighteenth-Century Women's Writing and the Methodist Media Revolution: 'Consider the Lord as Ever Present Reader'...


Keith Crook, The Imprisoned Traveler: Joseph Forsyth and Napoleon’s Italy. Lewisburg PA: Bucknell University Press, 2019. Pp. xiii+247. ISBN: 9781684481620

Diego Saglia

Università di Parma, Italy

A major product of Britain’s geo-cultural imagination, early nineteenth-century manifestations of Italia romantica were intricate knots of fact and fiction, distant observation and personal involvement, resting on a solid bedrock of age-old myths and stereotypes. Given its extent and complexity, many features of this vision of Italy remain opaque, continuously inviting critical questioning that often results in significant contributions to our understanding of what the Romantic-period imagination ‘did’ with Italy. One such is Keith Crook’s book on Joseph Forsyth and his Remarks on Antiquities, Arts and Letters during an Excursion in Italy in the Years 1802 and 1803. Building on Crook’s 2001 critical edition of Forsyth’s Remarks, this is actually two books in one. The first part is an informative, insightful and enjoyable study of Forsyth’s Remarks. It starts from a reconstruction of its...


Daniela Garofalo and David Sigler (eds.) Lacan and Romanticism (SUNY Press, 2019) 208pp. $95.
Brittany Pladek, The Poetics of Palliation: Romantic Literary Therapy, 1790–1850 (Liverpool University Press, 2019) 296pp. £90.
Seth T. Reno, Amorous Aesthetics: Intellectual Love in Romantic Poetry and Poetics, 1788–1853 (Liverpool University Press, 2019) 256pp. £90.

Alex Freer

Trinity College, Cambridge

‘Bid the wan maid the hues of health assume. / Charm with new grace, and blush with fresher bloom.’ So Charlotte Smith’s poem ‘Flora’ asks Fancy for powers to heal and create, turning from mourning and misery, ‘the crimes and follies of mankind’, seeking not only tender images but the promise of human flourishing. But does it work? Three recent books explore the question in different ways, each positing, tracing and testing the claims of romanticism on psychological life.

Some years ago, Alan Liu described romantic New Historicism as a work of mourning. From the outset, it mourned for historical reality: a reality lost to repression; traded for fraudulent aesthetic wholeness; or simply blown away like factory smoke on the breeze. Yet, Liu observed, as New Historicism matured, this tight polemic gave way to a more capacious, self-conscious form. ‘[A]ll the critic’s anger of denunciation turns into something else. It is...


Claire Connolly, editor, Irish Literature in Transition, 1780-1830 (Cambridge University Press, 2020). 456 pp. (Hdbk., $110, ISBN 9781108492980).

Rebecca Anne Barr

University of Cambridge

Irish writing of the romantic period is often neglected by literary scholars and marginalized by universities keen to entice their post-romantic students with more brand-familiar fare. As a result, pre-1900 works are frequently dismissed as being of purely historical interest. Claire Connolly’s Irish Literature in Transition, 1780-1830 is a riposte to such views. This period above all others, Connolly argues, is ‘the crucible of Irish writing in English’ (9). As Pat Coughlan has noted, Connolly’s book is ‘a gauntlet thrown down’ to political histories of Irish literature, whose approaches have long dominated Irish Studies. By prioritizing the literary, the volume challenges the historicist prejudice that literature in Ireland is merely an amanuensis of political and social change. In contrast, the works analyzed here are internationally attuned, critically self-aware, and responsive to aesthetic developments and...


Catherine Spooner, Post-Millennial Gothic: Comedy, Romance and the Rise of Happy Gothic (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). 232 pp., (Pbk., $30.92; ISBN 9781441101211).

Diana Edelman
University of North Georgia, Gainesville

In 1764, Horace Walpole famously described The Castle of Otranto as a “new species of romance,” a hybrid blend of “the ancient and the modern.” In addition to this hybridization of genres, the novel, Walpole claims, blends both the comic and the serious in a way that tends to “excite smiles.” In her latest work, Catherine Spooner demonstrates that an essential feature of twenty-first-century Gothic is this tendency to “excite smiles”: “There are a growing number of Gothic texts that are distinctly celebratory in tone, which hybridize Gothic with comedy or romance, or which convert Gothic to lifestyle. Contemporary Gothic can increasingly be described as comic, romantic, celebratory, gleeful, whimsical or even joyous” (p. 3).

While the history of Gothic criticism has tended to focus on the ways the Gothic evokes the darker side of human nature and human history, Spooner uncovers the “celebratory”...


G.A. Rosso. The Religion of Empire: Political Theology in Blake’s Prophetic System. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press, 2016. xvii+273 pp. 978-0-8142-1316-2. $69.95 hardcover, $19.95 e-book.

James Rovira

G.A. Rosso’s The Religion of Empire: Political Theology in Blake’s Prophetic Symbolism is a carefully and densely argued analysis of William Blake’s critique of the relationship between British state religion and imperial ambitions in Vala or The Four Zoas, Milton a Poem, and Jerusalem. Rosso defends the idea that Blake critiqued these interrelationships rather than succumbed to his own version of British nationalism through masterful close readings of Blake’s poetry and art focused on the character of Rahab, approaching Rahab through both Blake’s and his own readings of the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament, readings informed by twentieth-century Biblical scholarship. Because of Rosso’s approach, I would like to emphasize in this review that Rosso here studies Blake’s political theology. His work should be taken as a significant step forward in the study of Blake and religion, which at different times in the...


Anna Kornbluh The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space (The University of Chicago Press, 2019) 240 pp., 6 halftones, 5 line drawings. (Paper $27.50, ISBN: 9780226653341; Cloth $82.50, ISBN: 9780226653204).

Aaron Ottinger

Seattle University

Anna Kornbluh’s second monograph on Victorian-era literature, The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space, joins a coterie of recent studies invested in the intersection of mathematics and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature, including Alice Jenkins’s Space and the ‘March of the Mind’ (2007), Matthew Wickman’s Literature After Euclid (2016), and Andrea Henderson’s Algebraic Art (2018), among others. These texts tend to be more strictly historicist. For Kornbluh, there is little room for anything resembling a source study (169n.25), and instead she uses contemporary mathematical concepts, including set theory, limits, symbolic logic, and non-Euclidean geometry, to articulate the formalism of British, realist authors, including Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, Lewis Carrol, and Thomas Hardy.

Kornbluh’s formalism is ultimately in service of outlining social space, or what...



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