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:

Laura Mandell, Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015). 240 pp., 4 b&w and 14 color illus. (Hdbk., $90.00; ISBN 9781118274552).

Lauren Schachter

University of Chicago

I read a digital edition of Laura Mandell’s 2015 Breaking the Book: Print Humanities in the Digital Age, so her advertisement’s request that any reviews of it be “sew[n] or staple[d] . . . into the cover” gave me pause, not only because it would be difficult for me to comply, but also because this difficulty illustrates the transitional medial environment that interests Mandell (xiii). Each chapter of her self-described manifesto examines “something one can do with a book” (writing, reading, critiquing) through the lens of “the change from coterie to mass-print to digital culture” (xiii). Moving skilfully across historical periods and topics from language philosophy to psychoanalysis to pedagogy, Breaking the Book advocates for a self-critical examination of book culture with the goal of carrying the best of the print humanities forward into “a brave new digital world” (xii). Since we have too often been blind...


Rohrbach, Emily, Modernity's Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (Fordham University Press, 2015). xi +185 pp. (Hdbk., $85.00; ISBN: 978-0823267965; Paperback, $9.99; ISBN: 978-0823267972).

Lauren Neefe

Georgia Institute of Technology

“We are in a mist,” Keats writes in the letter of 1818 to J. H. Reynolds, giving Emily Rohrbach the primary point of reference for the title of her first monograph, Modernity’s Mist: British Romanticism and the Poetics of Anticipation (2015). Keats claims that  “We are now in that state—We feel the ‘burden of the Mystery’” (qtd. in Rohrbach 1). This encumbered state is, Rohrbach observes, precisely not the condition of imaginative insight Wordsworth describes in Book XIII of The Prelude (1805) when, during the ascent of Mount Snowden, he finds himself suddenly above the mist, “which meek and silent, rested at my feet” (qtd. in Rohrbach 4). The mist, in which Keats finds himself and Reynolds, resonates in the uncertainty of mystery, the condition of negative capability. It resounds as well in a play on “missed.” The elusive, Rohrbach reminds us, predicates the modern...


Romanticism and Philosophy: Thinking with Literature, eds. Sophie Laniel-Musitelli and Thomas Constantinesco (New York: Routledge, 2015), pp. 264, £90 (Hdbk., 978113880550700).

Bysshe Inigo Coffey
PhD Student at University of Exeter

It is not only ideas that have their histories with phalanxes of detractors and champions, but, as Ewan James Jones has recently put it, “verse form too contains a complex history of allegiance and contestation.” Consider the eighteenth century’s riotous debates on rhyme with the Reformation still in the air, or William Keach’s contention that the so-called Cockney school’s return to the (not-so-closed) couplet was necessary after Wordsworth became just too synonymous with blank verse for a renovated liberalism to use it. The political, religious, and historical assertions of poetic form are often obvious, but might not poetry offer its own kind of thinking too?                    

The editors of Romanticism and Philosophy: Thinking with Literature, Sophie Laniel-Musitelli and Thomas Constantinesco, explain that the book is predominately concerned with what Simon Jarvis calls “verse-thinking”—namely...


Markus Iseli, Thomas De Quincey and the Cognitive Unconscious (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). x + 248 pp. (Hdbk. $90; ISBN 9781137501080; E-book $69.99).

Alex Freer
Trinity College, Cambridge

What is the value of the conjunction in “literature and science”? Various answers have emerged over two decades of studies in Romanticism: the history of science provides context for writers and their writing; the study of literature contributes to that history; more ambitiously, literary critical and scientific research might directly inform one another. This last avenue is taken by Markus Iseli’s study of Thomas De Quincey. By focusing on what he calls the cognitive unconscious, Iseli signals his opposition to the substantial psychoanalytic engagement with De Quincey, favouring an account of unconsciousness provided by contemporary cognitive science. The book argues that, for De Quincey, unconscious and “subconscious” processes are rational in aim and material in origin.

De Quincey’s unconscious has long been considered a “precursor” to psychoanalytical accounts. Iseli rightly objects that psychoanalytical...


Harris, Katherine D., Forget Me Not: The Rise of the British Literary Annual, 1823-1835 (Athens: Ohio UP, 2015). xiv + 395 pp. (Hardcover, $70.00, ISBN 9780821421369; E-book $55.99).

Nicholas Mason
Brigham Young University

As we pass the quarter-century mark of the current wave of interest in book and media history, one might expect a flood of new titles to have appeared on what may very well be the premier multi-media genre of the British nineteenth century: the literary annual. Yet, despite groundbreaking work on the subject by Lee Erickson, Lorraine Kooistra, Patrick Vincent, Kathryn Ledbetter and Terence Hoagwood, and others, the authoritative studies on the annuals craze of the 1820s and 1830s have largely remained books first published nearly a century ago. Of course, scholars of the late-Romantic work of such authors as Wordsworth, Hemans, Clare, Landon, and Hogg have long grappled with how these writers adjusted to a literary marketplace increasingly driven by lyrics and tales commissioned specifically for the annuals. But, when it comes to the history of the genre as a whole, there are still...


Marc Redfield, Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America (Fordham University Press, 2015). 272 pp., 8 B&W illus. (Hdbk., $95.00; ISBN: 9780823268665; Paperback, $29.95; ISBN 9780823268672).

Taylor Schey
Macalester College

More than thirty years after his death, Paul de Man continues to strike a cultural nerve. The 2014 publication of Evelyn Barish’s biography The Double Life of Paul de Man generated a surprisingly large number of reviews in major media venues such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and New Republic. Many of these reviews took the opportunity to denounce the theoretical writings of de Man as well as his person; one in particular not only attacked the scholar (violently defacing an image of his face with words such as “...


Byron’s Ghosts: The Spectral, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural, ed. Gavin Hopps (Liverpool University Press, 2013). 246 pp. (Hdbk., $99.95; ISBN 9781846319709).

Chris Washington
Francis Marion University

There is a spectre haunting Byron studies. And oddly, and paradoxically, enough, as Gavin Hopps claims in his introduction to this volume of essays, this spectre is materialism, which, as Hopps also asserts, has long haunted romanticism itself. Byron’s Ghosts, then, as the collection’s title indicates, attempts to restore attention, contra materialist studies, to the various ghosts, spectres, spirits, and other numinous presence-absences that pervade Byron’s work.

The first essay, Bernard Beatty’s, thoroughly canvases Byron’s oeuvre to track the various ghosts that populate it, giving us a graveyard tour of these literary hobgoblins. Beatty’s essay provides a valuable map (and calculus, since by his reckoning ghosts appear in fifty percent of Byron’s work [33]) even while it makes concrete distinctions the other essays will challenge. He claims, for instance, that, for Byron, ghosts have once been alive whereas...


Mulhallen, Jacqueline. Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary (London: Pluto Press, 2015). 176 pp. (Cloth, $80.00, ISBN 9780745334622; Paperback, $20.00, ISBN 9780745334615).

Philip Connell

Selwyn College, University of Cambridge

In the Preface to Julian and Maddalo, a thinly-veiled portrait of Shelley and Byron’s intellectual friendship and philosophical differences, Shelley describes his own fictionalized character in the following terms: ‘Julian is an Englishman of good family, passionately attached to those philosophical notions which assert the power of man over his own mind, and the immense improvements of which, by the extinction of certain moral superstitions, human society may be yet susceptible. Without concealing the evil in the world, he is forever speculating how good may be made superior. He is a complete infidel, and a scoffer at all things reputed holy […]. Julian, in spite of his heterodox opinions, is conjectured by his friends to possess some good qualities. How far this is possible, the pious reader will determine. Julian is rather serious.’ Jacqueline Mulhallen’s excellent short biographical account of Shelley...


Ruston, Sharon. Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Literature, Science, and Medicine of the 1790s (New York: Palgrave, 2013). 232 pp. 218. (Hdbk., $90.00, ISBN 9781137264299).

Travis Chi Wing Lau

University of Pennsylvania

Since her first book, Shelley and Vitality (2005), Sharon Ruston has modeled innovative, interdisciplinary scholarship that intervenes in both the history of science and medicine, as well as Romanticism. Her newest book begins with the observation that scholars in Romanticism have long failed to recognize the scientific origins of ‘Romanticism’ itself. As opposed to merely contextualizing the Romantic period in terms of certain developments in science and medicine, Ruston argues that scientific and medical writing actually produced and underpins “what we now, anachronistically, call ‘Romanticism’” (9). In line with recent scholarship attempting to reframe Romanticism beyond it being a period of “anti-science” or a break in the long-standing Enlightenment progress narrative, Ruston calls for us “to rethink the relationship between the Enlightenment and Romanticism,” in which the former persists powerfully into the...


Yasmin Solomonescu, John Thelwall and the Materialist Imagination (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), xii + 226. (Hdbk, $90; ISBN 978-1-137-42613-0)

Noel Jackson

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Yasmin Solomonescu’s John Thelwall and the Materialist Imagination has as its cover image one of the better-known plates from William Blake’s For the Sexes: The Gates of Paradise.  Captioned “I want! I want!,” the illustration shows a human figure taking the first step onto an impossibly long ladder extending (presumably) to the moon while an earthbound couple looks on. It is an arresting image for the cover of a book about the figure whom an anti-Jacobin periodical derisively named “Mister Surgeon Thelwall,” and whom Francis Jeffrey later labeled “The Champion of Materialism.” More than an eye-catching device, the image emblematically represents the subject and subject-matter of Solomonescu’s book, which confronts and reevaluates some of the long-standing characterizations of Thelwall’s materialism.

Solomonescu’s focus in the title on Thelwall’s “materialist imagination” trains attention on...



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