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.

Mark Coeckelbergh New Romantic Cyborgs: Romanticism, Information Technology, and the End of the Machine (Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017). 320 pp. (£14.00, ISBN. 9780262035460).

John Gardner
Anglia Ruskin University, UK

New Romantic Cyborgs is a philosophical work about the persistence of Romantic ideals and thinking. Machine innovation increased hugely during the Romantic period, and we are now allied to new machines, like the smartphone, as ‘romantic cyborgs’. Mark Coeckelbergh argues that humanity will only get beyond romanticism, to the ‘nonmachine’, when new technologies emerge that are so integrated with humanity, they are no longer machines. This is an ideas book rather than a work that concentrates on close-readings of Romantic period texts; nonetheless, it convincingly argues that we still live in a Romantic machine age.

Coeckelbergh repeatedly states that ‘Romanticism is not necessarily hostile to science and technology.’ (97)  This is a long-established notion and Romantic Cyborgs is related to other works that unite romanticism and technology, such as: Pandemonium (1950) by Humphrey Jennings; J....

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Anna Mercer, The Collaborative Literary Relationship of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (New York and London: Routledge, 2019). 210 pp. (Hdbk., $155, ISBN 9780367277956).

A Q & A with Anna Mercer
Cardiff University and Keats House, Hampstead

By Mathelinda Nabugodi
University of Cambridge

Mathelinda Nabugodi: The book studies the Shelleys’ mutual involvement with one another’s literary writing through an examination of surviving manuscripts, evidence provided by letters and journals as well as recent editorial scholarship, especially Charles E. Robinson’s seminal work on the Frankenstein drafts. It centres on a concept of ‘collaborative literary relationship’ that encompasses giving feedback on drafts (Frankenstein), discussing ideas (The Cenci), Mary Shelley’s posthumous editions of Percy Shelley’s works, and even her ‘continued […] inner conversation’ with her husband manifested in ‘his presence in the novels’ she wrote many years after his death (p. 170). Is there any aspect of the Shelleys’ ‘literary’ lives that you would not classify as part of their collaboration...

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Timothy Michael. British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason (Johns Hopkins UP, 2016). 283 pp., (Hdbk., $ 54.95; ISBN 978-1-4214-1803-2).

Chris Washington
Francis Marion University

Seeing print before it could begin to account for the elections of Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, and Boris Johnson, to name only a few of the national nightmare figureheads right wing politics have disastrously dropped on the world like so many carelessly released bombs, Timothy Michael’s British Romanticism and the Critique of Political Reason nonetheless offers us something unique and unexpected in terms of thinking about contemporary revolutionary politicsof both the left and the regrettable right—by tracing a Kantian philosophical lineage foundational to such a politics. While I would be remiss to frame explicitly the book in terms of what the V21 Collective calls “presentism”—the “awareness that our interest in the period is motivated by certain features of our own moment”—Michael does gesture in this direction himself. He writes that Romanticism may aid us “as we make...

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Jenny Diplacidi, Gothic Incest: Gender, Sexuality and Transgression (Manchester University Press, 2018). 312 pp. (Hdbk., £80.00, ISBN 978-1-7849-9306-1).

Brittany J. Barron
Florida State University

Jenny Diplacidi’s comprehensive monograph, Gothic Incest: Gender, Sexuality and Transgression, focuses on the British Gothic’s incest convention between 1764-1848 and traces its transgressions of traditional familial and gender roles that encourage “alternative sexualities and relationships” (280). In the past, scholars have characterized Gothic incest according to the division of the Male Gothic and Female Gothic traditions. This division often prevents us from seeing the intersections between the texts of male and female authors; accordingly, Diplacidi transcends this binary and employs a more collective term of the Gothic. Diplacidi positions herself in relation to current critical conversations involving Gothic studies, including George E. Haggerty’s Queer Gothic (2006), Diane Wallace’s and Andrew Smith’s The Female Gothic: New Directions (2009), and Lorna Piatti-Farnell’s New Directions in...

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Alexander Regier, Exorbitant Enlightenment: Blake, Hamann and Anglo-German Constellations (Oxford University press, 2018). 272pp. (Hdbk, $74.00; ISBN 9780198827122)

David Simpson
University of California, Davis

Literary history has conventionally identified the influx of German thought into English as happening in the 1790s, with a spate of Gothic novels and plays and a sudden interest in the arcane initiatives of Kant and a host of other philosophers and aestheticians. Alexander Regier proposes that this moment was as much an end as a beginning. Just before the likes of Coleridge, de Quincey and Carlyle set forth to welcome German writers into English culture, less-noticed events were closing off a multilingual tradition, transmitted by way of “exorbitant” thinkers, and rendering it safe for domestic consumption. Wesley and the Methodists transformed the bilingual hymns they inherited from the Moravians into good English sentiments, erasing their origins, while the rich transnational careers of such figures as Lavater, Gessner, Lichtenberg, Fuseli and Hamann were sidelined by a new nationalism that would compose itself as part of...

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Richard C. Sha, Imagination and Science in Romanticism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018). 344 pp. (Hdbk., $59.95; ISBN 9781421425788).

Bysshe Inigo Coffey
University of Exeter

The Two Cultures? Not so much . . .  Today, literature students of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (in particular) learn happily about analogical thinking, electricity, Humphry Davy’s laughter, the twitching legs of frogs, and vitalism. The scientific turn is triumphant—a development which is, in certain respects, welcome. There are many reasons for its success: generous funding, the instant knee-jerk seriousness with which anything featuring the word ‘science’ is met, and science is, for some, in an age of cynicism, a subtle way of justifying the importance of studying literature. There is a hope that Percy Bysshe Shelley’s philistine ‘reasoners and mechanists’, derided in A Defence of Poetry, might begin to appreciate literature if it is understood as the handmaiden of science. In the worst work of this kind, poems become supplements; they are not to be worked with, but worked on.   

With refreshing...

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Dahlia Porter, Science, Form, and the Problem of Induction in British Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018). 314 pp., 13 b&w illus. (Hdbk., $99.00; ISBN 97811084189420).

Jeanne Britton
University of South Carolina

Dahlia Porter’s illuminating and expansive study argues that visual elements of Romantic era pages reflect and shape the challenge of inductive reasoning. Porter’s book identifies some of Romanticism’s less pristine forms—its generic composites and verse-prose combinations—as foundational to the long-sought reconciliation between assembled details and comprehensive generalities, between empirical data and scientific truths.  The “problem of induction” is its inevitable failure to assimilate large collections of data into singular, coherent wholes. This study focuses on manifestations of this failure in the cacophonous, varied, and, in modern editions, frequently simplified pages of Romantic-era poetry. It charts new territory in uniting book history with the study of literary form, Romantic theories of cognition, the history of science, children’s literature, and pedagogical theory.

The book’s first chapter explains the...

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Jonathan Sachs, The Poetics of Decline in British Romanticism (Cambridge University Press, 2018). 246 pp. (Hdbk., $99.99; ISBN 9781108420310).

Carmen Faye Mathes
University of Central Florida

A scene in Paul Schrader’s recent film First Reformed (2017) pits the despair of one Reverend, Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke), against the rationalizing acceptance of another, Rev. Joel Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer), who is also Toller’s boss. In crisis over the irreversible ruin-to-be that humans have made of the earth, Toller asks if God can forgive us for poisoning the world that He made. Jeffers responds, “but how can we know that this isn’t God’s plan?” and reminds Toller that this has happened once before, for forty days and forty nights. It’s no comfort, not even a cold one, and in what follows we come to understand that, while Jeffers promotes living in “the real world” (administrative tasks, finances, hiring and firing), this has nothing to do with Toller’s crisis, or God, or the warming planet. We also see how “it’s happened once before” is meant to pacify by discouraging exigency, undermining the...

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Manu Samriti Chander, Brown Romantics: Poetry and Nationalism in the Global Nineteenth Century (Bucknell University Press, 2017). 125 pp. (Hdbk., $90; ISBN 0-8387-9781-0).

Nikki Hessell
Victoria University of Wellington

What happens to Romantic literature when we attend to Brownness? This is the central, provocative claim of Manu Samriti Chander’s brilliant study of colonial writers and the legacies of Romanticism. While decolonizing and canon-expanding efforts have been underway in Romantic studies for many years, what Chander’s book offers the field is a sophisticated theoretical framework for considering the global republic of letters in the Romantic period and its afterlife. The writers Chander focuses on are, as he points out, Brown because they are marginalized, not marginalized because they are Brown. This conceptualization of Brownness opens up a potentially vast array of texts, authors, and revisionings for our field.

Chander chooses to focus on four such figures. Henry Derozio, the brilliant poet, teacher and intellectual of early nineteenth-century Bengal, might be considered one of the first international critics to...

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George Gordon, Lord Byron, Manfred (Ontario: Broadview, 2017). 138 pp. (Pbk. £14.50, ISBN. 9781554813681)

George Gordon, Lord Byron, Manfred (Ontario: Broadview, 2017). 138 pp. (Pbk. £14.50, ISBN. 9781554813681)

This Broadview edition of Manfred (1817) has something for anyone interested in Byron’s troubled mental drama, although it is mainly directed at undergraduate students who want a clean uncluttered text to add notes to, with useful supplementary material appended. The ‘Literary Contexts’ section has relevant extracts from: Paradise Lost; Gothic influences such as Horace Walpole’s The Mysterious Mother (1768); William Beckford’s Vathek (1786); Anne Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797); the first scene from Goethe’s Faust (1808); Caroline Lamb’s Glenarvon (1816); Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Percy Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound (1820). The section on ‘Byron’s Life, Writing and Work’ has parts of The Corsair (1814); Childe Harold (1816); ‘Prometheus’ (1816...

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