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: lh117@nyu.edu

Elizabeth A. Bohls, Slavery and the Politics of Place: Representing the Colonial Caribbean, 1770-1833, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1-107-07934-2

Peter Hulme

Emeritus Professor

University of Essex

The literature of Romanticism ran parallel to the British movements for the abolition of the slave trade and of slavery itself.  What Elizabeth Bohls calls “the capacious genre of travel writing” (3) provided several of the key texts that fuelled these debates, most of them centred on the West Indies.  These books, by John Gabriel Stedman, William Beckford, Matthew Gregory Lewis, Edward Long, Bryan Edwards, Marcus Rainsford, Olaudah Equiano, Janet Schaw, Maria Nugent, and Mary Prince, provide the material for Slavery and the Politics of Place.  The books are well-known, at least to Caribbeanists, but the fine-grained analyses offered here are welcome additions to the scholarship on Romanticism, slavery, and travel writing.

As always in travel writing, description of place plays an important part, so it’s no surprise to see the language of the picturesque featuring so strongly in all the books...

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William Wordsworth in Context, edited by Andrew Bennett (Cambridge University Press, 2015) 360 pp. (Hbk ISBN: 9781107028418)

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The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth, edited by Richard Gravil and Daniel Robinson. (Oxford University Press, 2015) 896 pp. (Hbk ISBN: 9780199662128)

Reviews of
Andrew Bennett, William Wordsworth in Context
Richard Gravil and Daniel Robinson, The Oxford Handbook of William Wordsworth

G. Kim Blank
University of Victoria

William Wordsworth (is there a better name for an English poet?) has not gone away. Not that at least a few of his own contemporaries might have wished that his own words—“the good die first,” from his yawning 1814 Excursion—might be turned upon him. They then might have been left with a less unresolved, lingering figure over whom to brood. Wordsworth, instead, trundled more than a decade into the Victorian era.

Born in 1770, Wordsworth did seem to be (or become) something of a pretentious fuddy-duddy, and he did so before the age of fifty, with more than thirty years still on his clock, and with his best work about a decade behind him. John Keats, ever studious of his great, elder contemporary while he courses his own rapid...

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Rachel Schulkins, Keats, Modesty and Masturbation (Ashgate, 2014). 190 pp. (Hdbk., $149.95; ISBN: 9781472418791).

Brian Rejack
Illinois State University

One can’t help but feel slightly immodest when carrying around a book titled Keats, Modesty and Masturbation. While engaged in reading the book in question, this humble reviewer unabashedly displayed it on his coffee table, which resulted in a non-academic friend regarding it—and by extension, its reader—skeptically, perhaps even accusatorily (the response: “yes, of course this is the kind of thing we do in academia!”). But fear not, gentle readers; Rachel Schulkins’s book will not betray your delicate sensibilities. What it will do is educate you on a significant aspect of the history of sexuality in the Romantic period and offer readings of Keats’s romances (and some shorter poems) which challenge and productively expand the scholarship on Keats and gender.

To begin, the term “masturbation” during the Romantic period denotes something not quite as specific as it does today. Instead of referring primarily to “...

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Anahid Nersessian, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment (Harvard University Press, 2015). 280 pp. (Hdbk., $39.95; ISBN 9780674434578).

Carmen Faye Mathes
University of British Columbia

In the 22 June 2015 podcast in which comedian Mark Maron graciously guided Barack Obama through paces both nimble and hedging, the political legacy that less than a month before had been labeled by Harper’s Magazine as “What Went Wrong” was none-too-subtly recast as progress. “Sometimes,” said Obama, “the task of government is to make incremental improvements, or try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that ten years from now, suddenly, we’re in a very different place than we were.” This rhetoric of adjustment speaks of a historical moment especially conversant with the arguments contained in Anahid Nersessian’s first book, Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment. Hopeful without being credulous, Nersessian’s project is to redefine utopia as “limited” and thus to reroute that notion’s...

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Adam Roberts, Landor’s Cleanness: A Study of Walter Savage Landor (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2014). 208 pp. (Hdbk., $90.00; ISBN 9780198723271).

Bysshe Inigo Coffey

Adam Roberts’s monograph is the first serious attempt to recuperate Walter Savage Landor’s “vanishing reputation” in around fifty years. This is not an easy task.  T. S. Eliot described Landor as one of the early nineteenth century’s “very finest poets,” but unfortunately, Eliot’s lavish judgement failed to inspire any serious critical revaluation of Landor.  Roberts accepts that Landor is not “a poet of Shelleyan or Keatsian brilliance.”  His “prodigious” and uneven output—some of it, as Roberts admits, is undeniably boring—ranges from lyric, epic, drama, to the Imaginary Conversations

Also there’s the Latin to contend with.  For today’s student the centrality of Latin to Landor’s work might seem a rather formidable obstacle, but Roberts’s guidance is light, sound, and inviting.  Furthermore, any would-be reader has to deal with what Donald Davie (in a short essay on the short poems) called the “bewildering insecurity of tone” that...

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Nicholas Mason, Literary Advertising and the Shaping of British Romanticism (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). 216 pp., 26 b&w illus. (Hdbk., $49.95; ISBN 9781421409986).

Kellie Donovan-Condron
Babson College

Advertising that masquerades as news or unbiased opinion is rampant throughout twenty-first-century consumer culture, but it is hardly a new marketing tactic. Although the term “advertorial” is an early twentieth-century American coinage, Nicholas Mason convincingly argues in Literary Advertising and the Shaping of British Romanticism (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013) that the practice originated during the British Romantic Century (1750-1850). In this deeply revisionist project, Mason overturns several pieces of received cultural and literary wisdom, particularly the standard account that advertising developed in Victorian England and flourished in America. Mason’s book is an engaging, interdisciplinary study of the “shared ‘rise’ narratives of advertising and modern literature”(6) that seeks to historicize the “clash between literary idealism and market realism” (5). Born in the economic and cultural turbulence...

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Barbara K. Seeber. Jane Austen and Animals (Ashgate, 2013). 162 pp. (Hdbk. and ebook, $99.95; ISBN: 978-1-4094-5604-9).

Jonas Cope
California State University, Sacramento

Jane Austen and Animals is a thoughtful and lucid book. That it never loses sight of its object—tracing connections between the domination of the nonhuman world and the domination of women in the juvenilia, letters and novels of Jane Austen—may be both a merit and a weakness. On the one hand the book is well researched and remarkably consistent. On the other its argument can seem somewhat unadventurous and occasionally formulaic: the “bad” characters in Austen who exploit animals and natural resources usually exploit women; the “good” ones who are sensitive to the environment are also more sexually egalitarian. The point is not that the argument is not convincing—it is—but that even while it makes a solid case the reader longs for a few more intellectual twists and turns along the way.

Seeber’s book marks the “first full-length study of animals in Austen’s writing” (11). Its main goal is to decenter the...

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Gavin Budge, Romanticism, Medicine and the Natural Supernatural: Transcendent Vision and Bodily Spectres, 1789-1852 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 304 pp. (Hdbk., $105.00; ISBN 9780230238466).

Neşe Devenot
University of Puget Sound

Gavin Budge introduces his study as an exploration of the “spectral aspects” of nineteenth-century literature: instances where visionary experiences collide with the latest medical theories about embodied perception. In so doing, his project is aligned with an expanding critical corpus situating Romanticism’s legacy of transcendence within the material body rather than in attempts to escape it. Instead of reducing visionary experiences to mere bodily epiphenomena, however, Budge argues for a “dual epistemological perspective” constitutive of Romantic poetics as such—a “natural supernaturalism” that situates perception in productive tension between bodily materiality and the immateriality of mind.

Budge explains his project’s unusual chronological scope from 1789 to 1852 as charting a legacy that connects Romantic interest in the “natural supernatural” to its successors in the Victorian era. He situates this legacy within the...

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Kirstin Collins Hanley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Pedagogy, and the Practice of Feminism. (Routledge, New York: 2013). 188 pp. (Hdbk., $145; ISBN 9780415893350).  

Katherine Gustafson
Indiana University Northwest

In Mary Wollstonecraft, Pedagogy, and the Practice of Feminism, Kirstin Collins Hanley rereads Wollstonecraft’s corpus to argue that Wollstonecraft’s pedagogical beliefs are central to her reformist agenda. In so doing, Hanley ventures down a well-trod scholarly path. For at least three decades, feminist historians have demonstrated that educational literature provided Romantic-era female authors like Mary Wollstonecraft, Charlotte Smith, Maria Edgeworth, and others with a respected outlet for publication while enabling them to construct positive heroines and advocate for women’s education. While Hanley acknowledges her indebtedness to scholars like Laurie Langbauer (5-6), Mary Poovey (6), and Mitzi Myers (8), her book offers fresh and important insights into Wollstonecraft’s most famous works, as well as her least explored ones. As she insists, Wollstonecraft’s entire corpus reflects the Dissenting educational...

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David Sigler, Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism: Gender and Psychoanalysis 1753-1835 (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015). 279 pp. (Cloth, $100.00 CAD; Paperback $34.95 CAD; ISBN 978-0-7735-4510-6).

Jim Rovira
Tiffin University

David Sigler’s Sexual Enjoyment in British Romanticism: Gender and Psychoanalysis 1753-1835 is an engaging study that significantly extends current scholarship in Romanticism and psychoanalysis beyond Romantic-era poetry to fiction, focusing primarily on non-canonical works but also discussing some canonical works of this period. It develops Joel Faflak’s argument in Romantic Psychoanalysis: The Burden of the Mystery (SUNY Press, 2009) that Romantic-era literature did not merely anticipate psychoanalysis, as has been shown for decades, but was in fact “a form of psychoanalytic thought in its own right” (Sigler 5). “Psychoanalysis” in Sigler’s study refers primarily to Lacan and, only secondarily, Freud, so that this monograph consists of a number of chapters employing Lacan in close readings of the literature under consideration to illuminate its psychoanalytic structure and commitments. Sigler argues that the literature of...

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