December 1997

Edoardo Zuccato, Coleridge in Italy

Edoardo Zuccato, Coleridge in Italy. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. xix + 256pp. $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-16572-2).

Reviewed by
Morton D. Paley
University of California, Berkeley

This erudite and valuable study should really have been called Coleridge and Italy, for it does not attempt to re-chronicle Coleridge's time south of the Alps but instead breaks new ground in studying Coleridge's intellectual relation to Italian poetry, art, philology, and philosophy. Contesting the view that among foreign cultures Germany alone was significant for Coleridge, Zuccato shows that Italy ran a surprisingly strong second when all the aspects of its importance to him are considered. He argues that while Byron and Shelley reversed the values of the British view of Italy, they did so within the traditional binary system, with the "pagan" South now positively valorized. Coleridge's Italy, in contrast, was "Christian, Platonic, sublime." The subject matter itself is divided into "internal" and "external" history, referring to "the influence Italian culture exerted in Coleridge's intellectual life" and "Coleridge's place in the history of Anglo-Italian literary relationships."

Robert M. Ryan, The Romantic Reformation: Religious Politics in English Literature

Robert M. Ryan, The Romantic Reformation: Religious Politics in English Literature, 1789–1824. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xi + 292pp. $59.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-57008-5).

Reviewed by
Terence Allan Hoagwood
Texas A&M University

This well-written book is an important contribution to studies of romantic-period literature for an unusual combination of reasons. The Romantic Reformation takes for its topics two that have been widely believed to be important as long as there have been studies of romantic-period literature: the writers' treatments of religion, and the question of the writers' religious beliefs (those topics are not the same). This book makes large statements on those topics which are simultaneously very different from received views and very responsibly considered and articulated. In a threatened profession, new books sometimes exhibit a desperate novelty or appeal for interest. Rhetorically overheated books and articles refer to "passion" and "pleasure" more often than formerly. It is still useful to recall the difference between a scholar's interest in the content of an argument and a careerist's interest in sales appeal; few of us would want to resurrect uncritically Arnold's concept of "disinterestedness"—as Jerome McGann has shown, that concept was always polemical and therefore self-contradictory (Social Values and Poetic Acts [Harvard University Press, 1988], 86)—but perhaps all of us do, or can, or should reflect on the difference between scholarly argument and ulterior motives, even in a time of faculty downsizing. In contrast, then, to the sort of book which is actually an ad for its author's own career, The Romantic Reformation displays throughout an integrity of scholarly purpose and a profound respect for its subject matter, voicing honest doubt, for example, rather than histrionics or dogma. While the achieved clarity of this book's prose opens the argument to a readership outside the small circle of specialists, the honesty and restraint of its method are exemplary and even, in an age of opportunistic anxiety, moving; so are its advocacy of an open mind, and its consistent and humane sense of the social realities that (outside one's own career) are at stake.

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers

Catherine B. Burroughs, Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. xii + 238pp. $39.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8122-3393-X).

Reviewed by
Julie A. Carlson
University of California, Santa Barbara

Those of us who attend developments in romantic drama and theater are happy to greet the appearance of Catherine Burrough's Closet Stages: Joanna Baillie and the Theater Theory of British Romantic Women Writers. It advances this field in important respects by both focusing extensively on Baillie and providing some of the historical and theoretical contexts that help us to appreciate the power of Baillie's work. The lead playwright of her age and considered by some of her peers to be the best playwright since Shakespeare, Baillie pretty much had fallen from view until roughly five years ago, when she became a rising star on conference and publishing circuits in romantic studies. A few scholars—especially Margaret Carhart and Joseph Donohue—had argued long before then for the importance of Baillie's writings, but their comments fell on ears unreceptive to the drama of romantic theater or the women writing in the period. An appreciative audience for both now thrives, thanks to the many scholars whose work Burroughs generously acknowledges. It is some measure of the rapid popularity of both fields that people have been clamouring for a book on Baillie in the last years.

Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832

Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 23. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xii + 263 pp. $59.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-56357-7).

Reviewed by
David A. Kent
Centennial College, Toronto

Gary Dyer's British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789–1832 is the twenty-third volume in the "Cambridge Studies in Romanticism," a series devoted to expanding the scope of inquiry into British Romanticism by considering matters of gender, politics, criticism, and culture. Only a few years ago, the phrase Romantic satire might have been considered an oxymoron instead of a description of a substantial body of literature. However, because this study of satiric writing in the Romantic period follows recent books by Steven Jones (Shelley's Satire) and Marcus Woods (Radical Satire and Print Culture, 1790–1822), Dyer's work marks yet another step in giving adequate attention to the "astonishing" amount of satiric writing published between 1789 and 1832.

Nancy Easterlin, Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion"

Nancy Easterlin, Wordsworth and the Question of Romantic Religion. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1996. 182 pp. $33.50 (Hdbk; ISBN 0 8387 5309 4).

Reviewed by
Beth Bradburn
Boston College

Nancy Easterlin's Wordsworth and the Question of "Romantic Religion" vividly manifests both the advantages and the pitfalls of an interdisciplinary approach to literature. Easterlin addresses the question of Romantic religion by thinking about religion, and by bringing to bear the cumulative insights of the field known as psychology of religion. She argues persuasively that the psychological study of religious experience may productively rediscribe some important tensions in Romanticism; for example, she points out that it is "the paradoxical discrepancy between religion defined, on the one hand, as affective experience—state of heightened consciousness or intuition of the divine, for example—and, on the other, as organized belief systems that describes the characteristic and manifestly problematic religiousness of romanticism" (29). The tension between individual and social that seems to pervade Romanticism is, in other words, also the paradox of religion.

Theresa M. Kelley, Reinventing Allegory

Theresa Kelley, Reinventing Allegory. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, 22. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. xv + 345pp. $54.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-43207-3).

Reviewed by

Esther Schor

Princeton University

The dark horse of all the "dark conceits," allegory has not been without champions in our century. Walter Benjamin reclaimed allegory for modernism in 1928, and in the sixties Paul de Man made it the centerpiece of his own rhetoric of Romanticism. Three decades later, we have Theresa Kelley's learned and ambitious study, Reinventing Allegory, which narrates the role of allegory "in the cultural and political temper of modernity" (3). For Kelley "modernity" refers to the ascendancy of the linked values of "empiricism, realism, and plain, rational speech" in the seventeenth century and to the unsettling of Platonic, Augustinian, and "syncretic" ideologies a century earlier (2). While her narrative leaves the conventional periods of literary history (Renaissance, seventeenth century, Restoration, eighteenth century, Romanticism, and Victorianism) more or less undisturbed, her book is a sustained meditation on the vicissitudes not only of allegory, but also of modernity over five centuries.