Short Reviews

RC Reviews is a collection of 700-800 word reviews on the most recent scholarship relating to British Romanticism, its authors, history, and ideas.

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...

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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...

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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...

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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”...

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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...

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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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Bethan Jenkins, Between Wales and England: Anglophone Welsh Writing of the Eighteenth Century (University of Wales Press, 2017). 248 pp. (Hdbk., £85.00, ISBN 9781786830296)

Matthew C. Jones
Northeastern University

Early in Between Wales and England: Anglophone Welsh Writing of the Eighteenth Century, Bethan Jenkins identifies the central issue that necessitates turning attention to “Anglophone Welsh writing” (that is, literature published in English by bilingual Welsh-English authors). Responding to Linda Colley’s construction of “Britishness” in her celebrated 1992 Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, Jenkins writes that “the character of Britishness is essentially English (and of a specific English region…)” (29). As the authors, work, and histories Jenkins brings together testify, contemporary Welsh figures understood this mentality’s inherent threat to their culture and language. As importantly, they likewise knew that in order to reach those who threatened them they needed to convey their anxieties in the dominant language of English. Jenkins’s engagement with Colley’s book raises a significant question: why...

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Marjorie Levinson, Thinking Through Poetry: Field Notes on the Romantic Lyric (Oxford University Press, 2018). 330 pp. (Hdbk., $82; ISBN 9780198810315).

Carmen Faye Mathes
University of Regina
 

Even before this book came to me, I’d been carrying the previously-published parts of Levinson’s study around for years in PDFs on two successive laptops, printouts in clear plastic sleeves, quotations long embedded in chapter drafts and my brain, hand-written conference notes recorded in variously colored, unlined Moleskines. I suspect that for many of us this is the case: that Thinking Through Poetry: Field Notes on the Romantic Lyric is a book unavoidably read out-of-order and with retrospect, as an “index” (Levinson’s word) of significant turns not just in the field of Romantic studies, but also in our own scholarly developments (1). Of ten chapters, the final three and the introduction are new. Of each previously published chapter, Levinson keeps the stand-alone style, asking us to retread paths of thought that likely include our own. The book is “an intellectual history conducted from within” whose...

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Yohei Igarashi, The Connected Condition: Romanticism and the Dream of Communication (Stanford University Press, 2020). 237 pp., 4 b&w illus. (Hdbk., $60.00; ISBN 9781503610040).

Andrew Burkett 
Union College

A transformative contribution to the vital subfield of Romantic media studies, Yohei Igarashi’s The Connected Condition: Romanticism and the Dream of Communication investigates the dense network of connections among a range of canonical Romantic writers and texts and the period’s heightened fantasies and anxieties concerning the modern communications order. Despite the fact that the Romantics lived and worked during the period just previous to what John Guillory has persuasively shown to be the emergence during the Victorian age of the modern media concept as the technological channel of communication, Romantic writers were keenly aware of and tuned into what Igarashi refers to as their era’s version of the “dream of communication,” or the fantasy of a “transfer of thoughts, feelings, and information between individuals made as efficient as possible, and of perfectible media that could facilitate the quickest and clearest...

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Chris Bundock and Elizabeth Effinger, eds., William Blake’s Gothic Imagination: Bodies of Horror (Manchester University Press, 2018). 312 pp., 22 b&w illus. (Hdbk., $120; ISBN 978-1-5261-2194-3).

Diana Edelman
University of North Georgia, Gainesville

Given Blake’s assertion that “Gothic is Living Form” and the clearly Gothic visual elements of Blake’s oeuvre, such as the hunched skeleton of The [First] Book of Urizen that graces the cover of this book, it is a mystery why there has yet to be a book-length study of Blake and the Gothic until now. A collection of essays, William Blake’s Gothic Imagination represents, as the editors claim, the “first sustained and focused treatment of Blake as a Gothic artist, taking ‘Gothic’ in the fullest sense of that term” (18). The chapters “offer a space for concentration on some of the intersections of Blake with the Gothic,” including its aesthetic, political, philosophical, and psychological manifestations (18). 

The book is divided into four parts: Blake’s innovations on Gothic concepts, the body, the body via the visual elements of Blake’s work, and sexuality. Grouping the chapters is a good...

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