Newman, "Introduction: A History of Transatlantic Romanticism"

Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic:
Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism

Introduction: A History of Transatlantic Romanticism

Lance Newman, California State University, San Marcos

  1. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1840 that "the fame of Wordsworth is a leading fact in modern literature," calling the poet a "divine savage" and acknowledging that "Wordsworth now act[s] out of England on us...." Just as true was that Americans acted reciprocally on Wordsworth. As the poet noted in a letter to his U.S. editor, Henry Reed, the "acknowledgements which I receive from the vast continent of America are among the most grateful that reach me." He went on to exclaim: "What a vast field is there open to the English mind, acting through our noble language!" Wordsworth does strike a pose of condescension here, acting the part of the generous master. Nevertheless, it is clear that his sense of his own importance, of his significance as a public figure, is framed in relation to an international readership. He speaks to a community of readers defined not by a common nationality, but by a common culture.

  2. William Keach, in his contribution to a recent exchange on how to periodize Romanticism, argues that "all forms of merely habitual national one-sidedness (are) a serious barrier to critical advance" and that "the grounds on which we claim the continuing relevance and coherence of a ‘romantic century’ need to be transatlantic" (31). This news is both old and new. For like Wordsworth and Emerson, the British and American Romantics took their movement’s transatlanticism for granted. But despite the self-conscious internationalism of the Romantics themselves, most twentieth-century critics and cultural historians have attempted, in ways that are quite destructive of full understanding, to isolate discrete national literatures and cultures: English literature and American literature.

  3. Critical nationalism has not been a matter of simple regression. After all, "English literature" was a Romantic innovation, part of the British Empire’s invention of a deep past to authorize its newly acquired power. In Walden, Henry Thoreau describes his reverent absorption of that tradition: during his senior year at Harvard, he ignored his official studies and labored to consume Alexander Chalmers’s twenty-one-volume collection of the British poets, claiming that he read it through "without skipping" (259). The power to command such attention, the cultural authority of British literature, was such that American literature, both as an object of study and as a scholarly discipline in the U.S., was invented both in opposition to it and by analogy with it.[1] When the U.S. did eventually replace Britain as the world’s dominant imperial power, American literature came to perform the same cultural work, providing a warrant for domination. Thus, during mid-century, the business of American cultural historians was to anatomize the triumphant "American Mind," with a special focus on its "renaissance" during the Romantic century. From time to time, influence studies appeared that recalled the responsiveness to British antecedents that afflicted even the most respectably original American Romantic authors. Not surprisingly, defenders of the national canon, like Perry Miller in his "Thoreau in the Context of International Romanticism" (1961), compensated for the resulting discomfort by asserting confidently that the canonical texts of the American Renaissance were the culminating achievements of Romanticism as a whole.[2]

  4. The first sustained account of Romanticism in a transatlantic context came in Stephen Spender’s Love-Hate Relations (1974), a book that was based on a series of lectures delivered at Cambridge University in 1965 and that set out to examine an

    awareness felt particularly by writers (because it has a lot to do with living within the language of their birth) of the connection between their separate existence and their country, in its history, landscape and people. This awareness is of a life which is that of an ideal United States or England which the writer, if he is in a correct relation to it, releases in his work. Unless he does have such a relation, his work will be peripheral to that center or turned inward upon itself. (xxi)

    Spender argues that American writers formed their sense of the significance of their "patria" by "comparing their idea of European civilization with their own county’s force and vitality. They either reacted against Europe or they gravitated towards it, but the shadow image of England and Europe qualified their attitudes to their own country and state of culture" (xxvi). Spender looks to the Romantic period for the origin these "love-hate relations," arguing that while British readers were scarcely aware of American culture, the American literary community faced a "dilemma: the combination of political independence and cultural colonization" (8). As a result, that community was deeply divided between those who "regarded England and its traditions as undermining their freedom of development" (xx) and those who "saw America as deadened by its ‘materialism,’ and Europe as the center of spiritual values." These attitudes could coexist in the same person. For instance, Spender describes Emerson’s ambivalence toward his hosts during a visit to Europe: "he felt, as an American, ‘almost an invalid’ when he compared himself with the English, although he managed, at much the same time, to feel that the English were aging parents of the strong independent American children who had left them behind, on their exhausted island" (4). Spender, with his focus on national identity as the definitive analytical category, and his almost mystical way of describing authors as uniquely constitutive and representative of that identity, articulates what had been common sense through decades of old historicism. [3]

  5. Almost simultaneous with the appearance of Love-Hate Relations, Harold Bloom published The Anxiety of Influence (1973). Bloom’s study does not specifically consider transatlantic literary relations, since he conceives of literary traditions and history as a matter of supranational interactions between individual authors. Nevertheless, his notion of "poetic misprision" elevated to the level of theory Spender’s donnish comments on British oblivion and American anxiety. According to Bloom, strong poets construct fruitful misreadings of their forebears from whose influence they need to escape in order to discover their own individuality. Thus, the American Romantics were engaged in "a hidden civil war" with their British predecessors (12). This psychologistic narrative of maturation allowed for a schematic, even mechanical representation of transatlantic cultural relations. The process of American differentiation from the British tradition was isolated as the centrally important drama of the period, and came to be read as a family romance with a foregone conclusion. The study of transatlantic Romanticism was dominated for more than a decade by versions of this simple plot: influence, imitation, anxiety, rejection, and independence. The position received its most resolute, even absolute, statement in Atlantic Double-Cross: American Literature and British Influence in the Age of Emerson (1986), in which Robert Weisbuch describes what he calls the "American secret": "I believe that the American writer begins from a defensive position and that the achievements of British literature and British national life are the chief intimidations against which he, as American representative, defends himself" (ix, xii). Together, Bloom and Weisbuch, gave the weight of finality to the idea that American literature only becomes truly American, only achieves "independence" from the "burden of Britain," when its authors invent native forms capable of rendering the true character of a unique American experience.[4]

  6. A closely related but significantly divergent position was mapped out by Leon Chai’s The Romantic Foundations of the American Renaissance (1987), which articulates perhaps the most sophisticated version of the dependency and maturation hypothesis. Chai argues that "the American Renaissance [was] the final phase of a movement that begins with European Romanticism," a phase characterized by formal self-consciousness and even mannerism:

    After certain aesthetic or conceptual norms attain the level of conscious expression...they become fraught with extraordinary tensions that prevent the possibility of their perpetuation. What so often results might be described as a subjectivization of those norms, that is, their externalization into the medium of expression itself, and a simultaneous inner transformation of their content and significance. (xii)

    While Chai implies a reversed valuation of the process of transatlantic influence, like Weisbuch, he accepts the logic of national competition. And both, together with Spender and Bloom, reduce what is a complex process of mutual, but unequal, influence, into tautological narratives of individuation, either of whole cultures, or of their individual representatives.

  7. Three books, published almost simultaneously in the early 1990s, subjected what had gone before to rigorous reappraisal and set the study of transatlantic Romanticism on a definitive new tack. Perhaps the most absolute reaction against the nationalist consensus came in Richard Brantley’s Coordinates of Anglo-American Romanticism (1993). In the course of an account of the influence of "the twin pioneers of transatlantic revivalism," John Wesley and Jonathon Edwards, on the "empirical evangelical methodology" of Emerson and Carlyle, Brantley argues that "the two national literatures are one." (8, 4, 6). Moreover, he turns a Bloomian narrative of maturation on the critical tradition itself, arguing that "American literature, now having come of age, having shed the ‘adolescent’ insecurity that demanded independence from tradition, no longer needs to insist on complete separation from the literature of England. ‘Anglo-American’ literature emerges as a valid concept" (1).[5] Similarly, Stephen Fender’s Sea Changes: British Emigration and American Literature (1992) applies a post-national perspective to "the rite of passage in which the experience of emigration was inscribed," arguing that it "contributed to the formation of [American] national consciousness and the literature which reflected and conditioned it" (13). Fender describes what he calls "the discourse of anglophone emigration," showing how it "underpins the very self-definition of the United States of America" (5). At the same time, the discourse of emigration played a central role in the self-definition of Britain, for "after American independence, during the unrest that followed the Napoleonic Wars, British progressives and conservatives began to inscribe the domestic debate for and against reform within an argument about the viability of the new republic across the Atlantic, and particularly about the wisdom of emigrating there" (10).[6] Third, Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993) fruitfully complicates Brantley and Fender’s internationalism by emphasizing the central importance of the Triangle Trade as a force for cultural mixing. But in doing so Gilroy, like Brantley and Fender, overcorrects. Attempting to produce an antidote to "the tragic popularity of ideas about the integrity and purity of cultures" (7), Gilroy overemphasizes figures of hybridity, producing a utopian retrospective of the period that threatens to erase the substantial differentials of cultural power around the Atlantic Rim.[7]

  8. Two recent volumes have struck the fine balance so long needed, setting a new standard for empirical cultural analysis that is freed of nationalist distortions but closely attentive to the power of nationalism as one of the most fundamental structures of identity during the Romantic century. In Transatlantic Insurrections: British Culture and the Formation of American Literature, 1730-1860 (2001), Paul Giles produces a cultural history of the period that, on one hand, speaks to the diversity of literary expression in English along the Atlantic Rim and, on the other, recognizes just how rigidly concentric that world was, just how solidly London sat at the center of the literary universe as it was then mapped both by the English, their subjects, and their former possessions. On one hand, Giles shows how "the emergence of autonomous and separate political identities during this era can be seen as intertwined with a play of opposites, a series of reciprocal attractions and repulsions between opposing national situations" (1). Giles dwells on "figures of mirroring and twinning," showing how "British and American cultural narratives tended to heretical alternatives to each other" (2). At the same time, he is careful not to erase the period’s hierarchies of national power:

    To restore an American dimension to British literature of this period is to denaturalize it, to suggest the historical contingencies that helped formulate the dynamics of Augustan order and imperial control. Conversely, to restore a British dimension to American literature is to politicize it: to reveal its intertwinement with the discourses of heresy, blasphemy, and insurrection, rather than understanding that writing as an expression of local cultures or natural rights. (10-11) [8]

    This is the kind of sensitively historicist approach we need to understand the period’s complex and fluid co-evolution of British and American literary cultures and national identities. Transatlantic Insurrections demonstrates the transnational interdependence of national cultures, showing that it is "easier to see what American literature embraces and omits by comparing it to British literature, just as American literature from a reverse perspective manifests itself as British literature’s shadow-self, the kind of culture it might have been, but wasn’t" (195).

  9. Richard Gravil’s Romantic Dialogues: Anglo-American Continuities, 1776-1862 (2000) describes the multivalent circulation of ideas around the Atlantic rim as driven by both broad historical trends and specific local events. The American Revolution provided an important catalyst for the crystallization of early British Romanticism and remained a touchstone for its later phases: "The terms of [British] political debate in the 1790s over France, and in the 1830s over reform, were set in large measure by the lines drawn in 1776: lines that were themselves predicated on that ancient fault line in British politics between Republicans and ‘True Whigs’ on the one side, and Tories and Royalists on the other" (3). Radical optimism was quickly replaced by explanations for the apparent shortcomings of the experimental republic: "Romanticism, frequently viewed as an internal compensation for the failure of the French Revolution, is quite as much a response to the different failures of the American Revolution—its partial failure, in some respects to be a revolution, and its more lamentable failure, from an English standpoint, to bridge the Atlantic" (21). American Romanticism, then, is "a delayed variation upon the literary awakening occasioned in England by the loss of America" (21). Significantly, Gravil’s book is one of the first to focus not just on demonstrating that there is substantial transatlantic continuity in the culture of Romanticism, but also on explaining why:

    What made the impact of the Romantic poets especially powerful...was that in numerous respects the situation of idealistic Americans in 1823-1862...involved preoccupations and expectations strangely parallel to those of England in the period 1789-1819.... In America, Blake’s ‘mind-forged manacles’ and his slave-trading manacles fused together for a generation appalled by the deadlock imposed upon social progress by a Constitution that they had been brought up to regard as the epitome of political wisdom if not the work of demi-gods. The dark Satanic mills, too, were now in evidence (xiii).

    For Gravil, the flow of ideas and cultural formations around the Atlantic Rim follows the flow of modernization, and this insight grounds the spectacularly detailed historicity of his readings of the complex web of reciprocal literary influence:

    Just as Hawthorne and Dickens engage in a symbiotic exchange, with Hawthorne amply repaying his debts to Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Keats by helping to form the composite of fictional styles we know as Dickensian; and just as Emerson assists Carlyle in transforming Romantic insights into Victorian—and then Nietzschian—forms of Transcendence; so Whitman and Dickinson reshape and re-equip the lyric tradition as it essentializes itself in Tennyson, preparing the modernity of Hopkins, Eliot, and Lawrence. (xix)

    In this mode, Gravil narrates a fully developed cultural history composed of multiple episodes and vectors of ideological exchange. And while his selection of texts may remain somewhat narrowly canonical, he nevertheless synthesizes the insights of the preceding two decades of revisionist scholarship into what will long be recognized as a benchmark for the field.[9]

  10. Gravil observes rightly that a complete mapping of what he calls the "lost continent of literary exchange that our artificially divided academic community has yet to recognize and work for a generation, not for a book" (xix, xviii). This collection of nine essays, Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic: Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism, is a contribution to that project. However, Sullen Fires is bigger than the sum of its parts. These essays were produced by a cohort of scholars for whom the internationalism of literary culture is no longer a hypothesis, but an axiom. That is to say, these scholars have moved beyond demonstrating that Romanticism was transatlantic, to documenting and exploring the startling range of its transmigrations. They have moved beyond the simple notation of literary influence or ideological parallelism, and are now performing a new functional taxonomy of Romanticism from the fresh perspective of transatlantic cultural studies.[10]

  11. As a result, these essays collectively shed light on one of the most fundamental, and largely undiscussed, problems in the field of transatlantic studies, namely, why there is such pronounced parallelism between nations, but uneven chronology, in the development of Romantic habits of thought. It has been usual to describe a delay of about thirty years in the flow of ideas from England to America. But the picture is more complicated than that. After all, republicanism achieved its first full flowering during the American Revolution, then crossed the Atlantic to reinvigorate English radicalism and inspire the French Revolution. But heroism and idealism crop up first in Germany, then find their way to England, and much later to New England. Similarly, the romantic novel took shape in Scott’s hands as a literary technology for the authorization of English colonial dominion over Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Then it was imported to the New World, where first it was used by Cooper, Sedgwick, Child and others to justify the displacement of natives east of the Mississippi, but then was adapted by Hawthorne, Stowe, and others to the rhetorical needs of feminists and abolitionists. It was finally redeployed by Dickens, Thackeray, and others, who used it to represent the brutality of class oppression in industrial capitalist England. In other words, romantic genres and structures of feeling moved fluidly back and forth across the Atlantic. And there was no typical vector of national cultural development that simply began at different times in different places.

  12. The very expectation that there should be national and chronological uniformity of cultural development follows from narrowly idealist and formalist modes of analysis, from the habit of thinking about Romanticism as an episode in the history of ideas whose coherence inheres in a diagnostic set of discourses (idealism, exoticism, individualism) or aesthetic patterns (sublimity, exoticism, organicism). While it is true some thoughts and tropes were more central than others during the period, I would argue that they were central because of their substantial value to a particular class at a particular time in its development. That is, the core of Romanticism was the ideology and rhetoric of the British and American bourgeoisies as they first conquered and then began to exercise political and cultural power commensurate with their long burgeoning economic and social power. Romanticism began with a structure of feeling and a set of rhetorical strategies deployed by the emergent bourgeoisie to authorize and direct its political and economic ambitions, and it then evolved into the ongoing post-revolutionary project of underwriting that class’s wholesale restructuring of culture and society in its interests. This was the central and most powerful current. But substantial eddies and cross-currents complicate the picture. Forces loyal to the residual feudal order engaged in cultural debate, subverting, inverting, and diverting Romanticism at the margins of the new order. Likewise, new revolutionary forces and radical movements—abolition, feminism, working class organizations—immediately began to appropriate and redeploy the bourgeoisie’s ideas and arguments, directing their force against their creators in their position as a new ruling class.

  13. Moreover, the economic and political transformation that Romanticism both responded to and shaped occurred in fits and starts, and this is what accounts for uneven cultural development. In North America, where the power of the crown was attenuated by distance, the bourgeoisie and its allies were able to take power directly and completely. In the British Isles, on the other hand, a long and hard fought process of transfer and transformation produced a system in which the monarchy now functioned more in the interests of the urban mercantile, commercial, and manufacturing elite rather than the landed aristocracy. Throughout the period, Romantic ideology was adaptively and creatively deployed by cultural producers from all classes, but always in ways shaped by this irregular and unpredictable process. Romanticism, in other words, is not a cluster of ideas or forms, but a period in the history of cultural politics during which the most fundamental structuring trend, the dynamic center of gravity around which ideas and rhetorics organized themselves, was the revolutionary emergence and subsequent consolidation of capitalism in the British empire.

  14. This materialist account is meant to establish a principle of coherence for the subject of this volume of essays, transatlantic Romanticism, but it does not delimit the critical approaches to that subject taken by our nine authors, who present a variety of close readings, generic accounts, literary historical approaches, and cultural materialist analyses. In other words, rather than impose an artificial unity or foreclose particular critical options, this argument about periodization is designed to ground an expanded range of interpretive possibility, enabling discovery of the full richness of this exciting field. That range is reflected in how the essays in Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic can be organized around three central questions: what is the nature of transatlantic cultural influence, how does gender operate outside the national marriage, and what is the future of transatlantic Romantic Studies?

  15. The first three essays demonstrate the substantial variability in the transatlantic circulation of literary nationalism. Sarah Ferguson-Wagstaffe sets out to unpack what has long been no more than a "critical intuition" by examining several "points of contact" between William Blake and Walt Whitman, two poets who bracket the long Romantic century. Rather than attempt to demonstrate direct influence, she focuses on formal parallels that mark them as definitively Romantic. Both adopt the stance of the national prophetic poet and both maintain a commitment to a "revisionary poetics" that demanded a "lifelong practice of revising their previously printed works." Each poet, as a printer, was intimately familiar with the "material conditions of producing and revising a long poem" through alternating episodes of "contraction and expansion," and each produced texts in which poetic troping of this mode of production served as a metaphor for the revolutionary transformation of the nation.

  16. Sohui Lee reconstructs the literary nationalism of John Louis O’Sullivan’s Democratic Review, publisher of many of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories. At a time when American readers seemed to be in the grip of a dangerous "Anglomania," O’Sullivan argued that an authentic national literature could counteract the anti-democratic propaganda of the nation’s rapidly developing elite and strengthen the broader reading public’s dedication to Jacksonian democratic principles. Crucially, it was in sentimental terms that he called for such a literature. Domestic fiction and sentimental poetry were the best means to cultivate the moral sentiments of "human sympathy, optimism, and brotherhood" that could "connect America’s disparate classes and ethnic groups in a democratic community of feelings" that was specifically opposed to the "specter of England."

  17. This powerful combination of democratic radicalism and literary nationalism shaped the output of many Romantic writers to be sure, but others were quite skeptical. Scott Harshbarger describes how Nathaniel Hawthorne and Robert Burns reacted similarly to Scottish and American nationalists who called for the appropriation of oral-tradition folklore to create a national literature. Both authors created subversive counter-narratives which draw on "the content and technique of folk legend...illuminating with a devilish light the complex relationship between demons, demonizers, and nation-making." Burns’s "Tam O’Shanter" and Hawthorne’s "Young Goodman Brown" demonstrate how tales of the witch’s sabbat kept alive belief in a sinister Other, which could be used to forge a unifying fear and hatred. Most importantly, both texts focus satiric attention on elite manipulation of folkloric materials to create social cohesion through hatred and scapegoating.

  18. The second set of three essays in Sullen Fires explores the surprisingly complex intersections of gender and nationalism in transatlantic Romantic culture. If cultural producers interrogated and in some cases rejected nationalist appeals, consumers too demonstrated a good deal of autonomy. Cree LeFavour uses Thackeray’s Vanity Fair to open a window on the chaotic and decidedly transnational U.S. literary marketplace. Vanity Fair is a parody of the sentimental novel and it enjoyed massive popularity during the decade following its 1848 U.S. publication. LeFavour argues against the position, common to those who study "women’s nationally identified literary production," that the "antebellum literary world" was dominated by American women’s sentimental novels. Instead, she argues that "the borders between ‘genteel’ American-authored sentimental fiction, British reprints that fit into this category, those that didn’t, and American originals not fit for ‘ladies’ were constantly shifting." The way that reviewers praised the "realism" of Vanity Fair and expressed wry appreciation of transgressive characters like Becky Sharp shows that working and middle-class readers of the period were capable of real "sophistication and self-consciousness" in their consumption of "an extremely diverse range of fiction." In all, while literary nationalists attempted to forge a unified national culture in the antebellum U.S., both writers and their readers often tenaciously maintained their independence and internationalism.

  19. Jen Camden explores the cultural politics of what she calls the forgotten heroine, a little-noticed element of marriage plots that narrativize questions of national identity. Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Pioneers all feature paired female protagonists. In each case, the literal or figurative sister who demonstrates sense or reason is left out of a novelistic conclusion that rewards the reeducation of the sister characterized by sensibility or sentiment. But these forgotten heroines are not merely foils or "narrative loose ends"; they are "transgressive figures that...allow room for alternate subjectivities." Radcliffe’s Emilia, for instance, operates as part of "a pattern of narrative violation [that] teaches us to be disappointed in the tidy ending." Through Emilia, who in the end chooses the role of tutor to the children of Hippolitus and Julia, "Radcliffe authors and authorizes an alternative to marriage." Similarly, Cooper’s generous and pious Louisa "exiles herself from the marriage plot" embodying the cost of forging a unitary and aristocratic early national identity out of the disparate elements of frontier culture. Thus, while these novels concern themselves mainly with policing women’s marriage choices and containing chaotic sentiment within the orderly structure of the national family, they also stage the forgotten suffering required to consolidate a unified nation.

  20. If the figure of the forgotten heroine allowed women readers visionary escape from the domestic sphere, manly naval officers could demonstrate the power of sympathy to bind together a well-ordered republic. James Crane explores representations of male authority in maritime romances by Walter Scott and James Fenimore Cooper, showing how these two novelists engaged in a debate over the problem of political authority. Scott’s The Pirate (1821) and Cooper’s The Pilot (1823) feature "manly heroes who exercise authority through a personal charisma that operates ineffably on other men." But these figures are deployed to very different ends by the two authors. Scott celebrates paternal government, and conflates democracy with piracy, echoing the period’s conservative critique of republicanism as a step on the way to "destructive social leveling, violent anarchy, and the eventual dissolution of the protective authority of the state." Cooper on the other hand treats affective exchanges between men as sites for the production of a stable meritocratic social order based on sympathy: here "men among men faithfully recognize the merit of one another because—as good citizens—they love each other so much."

  21. The last three essays in Sullen Fires explore the rich cultural history of literary exchange between England and Latin America. In so doing, they expand the field of transatlantic Romanticism to include, as it should, the entire Atlantic Rim around which capital, people, and ideas circulated. Joselyn Almeida argues that "the Spanish American nexus that connected London, Kingston, and even Dublin with Spain, the Caribbean, South America, and Africa has been largely overlooked." And she sets out to demonstrate the workings of this nexus by reconstructing Simón Bolívar’s tremendously complex and canny self-fashioning for British and South American participants in London’s multilingual magazine culture. Alternative versions of a biographical sketch of Bolívar appeared in the January 1823 numbers of the New Monthly Magazine and Variedades. Both articles were vetted by José Blanco White, but the second acknowledges Bolívar’s 1810 visit to London, while the first suppresses this image of the great liberator’s political ties to imperial Britain. Similarly, Bolívar’s "Jamaica Letter," written in Kingston in 1815 and published in The Jamaica Quarterly and Literary Gazette in 1818, "aims to create a textual alliance between Britain and Latin America" and "uses the language of abolition as a critique of empire to gain sympathy for the Latin American cause." In short, Almeida demonstrates that transatlantic Romanticism will not have been fully constituted as a field until we recognize that because "intercultural exchanges cross linguistic borders" as easily as geographic ones, we cannot "invoke the Americas, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic, and ignore the crucial presence of Hispano-Americans, whom Romantic authors themselves acknowledged."

  22. If the case of Bolívar shows a canny manipulation of audiences at the imperial center, Andre Cardoso demonstrates how the first Brazilian novels negotiated the demands of potential readers who "avidly consumed European novels." Joaquim Manuel de Macedo’s A Moreninha shows that instead of being "an automatic attempt to copy the latest trends of European literature, the appropriation of foreign models by the early Brazilian novel was highly selective." A Moreninha narrativizes the circulation of cultural forms in its love plot, but "poking fun at the sentimental model is less a criticism of this model than a refusal to take any literary model too seriously.... The process of appropriation borrows from Europe a history for the genre of the novel, still virtually inexistent in Brazil by the time A Moreninha was published, at the same time that it neutralizes this history in presenting the Brazilian novel as a child who has not yet fully absorbed its education and is still largely free from the dictates of any tradition." Macedo represents the Brazilian novel, and Brazil itself, as spaces of simultaneous awareness and freedom "on the margins of the sea of international commerce, retaining its childlike innocence and originality, but at the same time engaging in an intensive interaction with European civilization."

  23. Finally, Rebecca Cole Heinowitz describes how Robert Southey’s long poem Madoc narrativizes the discourse of "good colonialism." This liberal defense of empire was most influentially voiced by Edmund Burke during the trial of Warren Hastings, the notoriously corrupt Governor General of India. Burke argued in terms "at once radically universalist and radically chauvinistic" that the violence of the British dominion in India, like that of the Spanish rule of America, resulted from the failure of greedy and short-sighted colonizers to see their fundamental "sameness" with the colonized. Southey’s Madoc, makes a similar liberal critique of imperialism by telling the tale of the exiled Welsh Prince Madoc and his people, refugees from the invading English, who forge an alliance with the Hoamen against oppressive Aztec warlords. After overthrowing the Aztecs, Hoamen natives and Welsh settlers amalgamate to form a utopian new society. "By asserting that the natives of Aztlan had been British from 1170 onwards, Southey could legitimate modern British intervention in the area as having a reference point historically anterior to (and morally superior to) Spain’s." By banishing the violence of conquest from the poem and staging cultural hybridization through the self-transcending union of Malinal and Madoc, Southey imaginatively replaces "the scene of desperate native betrayal by the Spanish with one of enlightened native collaboration with the British." In other words, sameness calls for benevolent rather than mercenary conquest. Once that conquest has been completed, sameness helps to explain the seemingly inevitable fate of the conquered.

  24. In America: A Prophecy, William Blake narrates the opening moments of the transatlantic Romantic century: "The Guardian Prince of Albion" stares at the blood red light of "Sullen fires across the Atlantic" where the American revolutionary army has gathered. There, Washington reminds his compatriots that "a heavy iron chain / Descends link by link from Albions cliffs across the sea to bind / Brothers & sons of America..." (5). A cataclysm of revolutionary violence follows, as it must, and Orc, the "lover of wild rebellion" (9), emerges from the dark clouds of war. Blake engraves him as a naked Adamic figure sprawled atop a moldering skeleton, looking confidently into clearing sky and singing a hymn to human liberation:

    Let the slave grinding at the mill, run out into the field:
    Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;
    Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,
    Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years;
    Rise and look out, his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
    And let his wife and children return from the opressors scourge;
    They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream.
    Singing. The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher morning
    And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
    For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease. (8)

    Orc’s revolutionary impulse is the driving force of transatlantic Romanticism. It shaped the political aspirations of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, aspirations voiced most influentially by figures like Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, William Godwin, and Mary Wollstonecraft. It also inspired the explosive insurgency of post-revolutionary movements for reform—abolition, women’s rights, native American anti-imperialism, organized labor, utopian socialism, and more—that sought to broaden the horizons of freedom once the bourgeoisie had established itself firmly in power in the transatlantic capitalist world it had created. Thus, Orc’s vision of liberation also structures the vibrant literary culture of a period marked by staggeringly inventive experimentation, with its declamatory calls for action on behalf of the oppressed, its sensitive delineations of human desire and subjectivity, its sweeping surveys of complex social orders and histories, and even its reactionary satires of revolutionary and reformist hubris. The essays in Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic: Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism draw nine transects through this exciting cultural field, nine lines of inquiry that intersect at a central point: the nation, the protagonist of both Romantic narratives of revolution and of critical narratives of Romanticism. Taken together, these essays demonstrate that transatlantic literary relations during the long Romantic century were far more intricate, far more nuanced, than a mere agon of national cultures.


1 Marietta Messmer provides a thorough and compelling genealogy of literary historiographical nationalism in the US, and argues that it is time for the revisionist "intra-American cultural pluralism" of recent decades to be supplemented by studies of "America’s transnational or global interliterary and intercultural relations" (50).

2 For a preciously stuffy statement of the mid-century nationalist position, see Robert Hertz’s "English and American Romanticism" (1965), which notes that "we characterize the Romantics of the United States as men of affirmation, optimism, and healthy vision of the certain glory which lies a little beyond. By implication, the English Romantics are brilliant but effete aristocrats rather than men of the People or great souls of quiet meditation and discovery" (81). See Russell Reising, Gerald Graff, and David R. Shumway for general accounts of the nationalistic impulses behind the disciplinary formation of American Literature.

3 Another influential summary statement of the common sense of old historicism is Tony Tanner’s essay, "Notes for a Comparison between American and European Romanticism" (1968), in one of the earliest issues of the journal of the British Association for American Studies. Tanner is mainly concerned to differentiate American practice from the known quantity of the European tradition. He observes that the Americans have an abiding sense of solitude in nature, a low regard for history, and, more surprisingly, that they do not have a "revolutionary social dimension," that is, an "energizing conviction that the poet’s imaginative visions...could vitally influence and enhance the conditions of life of their fellow men" (97).

4 Linden Peach makes a systematic argument of this position in his British Influence on the Birth of American Literature (1982).

5 Brantley expands his argument in Anglo-American Antiphony: The Late Romanticism of Tennyson and Emerson (1994) and in Experience and Faith : The Late-Romantic Imagination of Emily Dickinson (2005).

6 Two important earlier studies of reciprocity in the formation of American and British national identity are Christopher Mulvey’s Anglo-American Landscapes (1983) and Transatlantic Manners (1990), both of which use travel narratives as their main body of evidence.

7 Another way of complicating the easy tale of American Romanticism’s rebellion against Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats has been to demonstrate that Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and the rest were consciously indebted to wholly other forebears. See, for instance, Susan Manning’s two excellent studies of connections between Scottish and American literary cultures. Also see Robin Grey’s account of the importance of 17th-Century English culture to the major authors of the American Renaissance.

8 See also Giles’s exploration of the term "transnational" along with his rereading of Emerson and Thoreau in the context of early national Anglophobia in "Transnationalism and Classic American Literature." An important complementary study of the way in which British nationalism developed as part of the rise of imperialism is Saree Makdisi’s Romantic Imperialism (1998), which rereads the central Romantic poets in the context of developments in India, Africa, and the Arab world.

9 Several recent collections of essays have begun to explore the field mapped most thoroughly by Gravil. Comparative Romanticisms: Power, Gender, Subjectivity (1998), edited by Larry H. Peer and Diane Long Hoeveler provides twelve case studies of the true internationalism of the three analytical categories listed in the title. These essays make connections around the entire Atlantic Rim and beyond, with readings of American, British, German, French, Italian, and Russian texts. A second collection of essays from the discipline of comparative literature, this one focusing more narrowly on connections between the British, French, and German Romantics, is Gregory Maertz’s collection, Cultural Interactions in the Romantic Age (1998). Also important for its accounts of the internationalism of both natural history and republicanism and their literary consequences is Revolutions and Watersheds: Transatlantic Dialogues 1775-1815 (1999), edited by W. M. Verhoeven and Beth Kautz. More recently, Verhoeven has edited Revolutionary Histories: Transatlantic Cultural Nationalism, 1775-1815 (2002), an impressive volume centered on the Romantic keywords, "history" and "nation." Finally, the first half of Special Relationships: Anglo-American Affinities and Antagonisms, 1854-1936, edited by Janet Beer and Bridget Bennett offers a valuable selection of case studies in late Romanticism.

10 See the two recent collections of essays in transatlantic studies edited by Will Kaufman and Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson for a sampling of the full range of concerns, outside the Romantic period, addressed by this new discipline.

Works Cited

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