Posts in category "Vol. 06 No. 1"

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

Frederick Burwick, Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Frederick Burwick, Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power. Romanticism in Perspective Series. New York: Palgrave, 2001.  xiii + 192 pp. $65.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-77403-5).

Reviewed by
Charles J. Rzepka
Boston University

Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power reflects the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime devoted to the works of the English Opium-Eater, whose writings Fred Burwick has recently helped co-edit for Pickering & Chatto.  Burwick's familiarity with the manuscript and published sources of De Quincey's work is impressively displayed in this book, along with a mastery of German sources and Romantic science and philosophy that will not surprise readers who have consulted his many contributions on German and English Romanticism over the years.

The book comprises seven chapters, four of which (3, 4, 5, and 6) are revised and expanded versions of published essays well worth re-reading in their present form.  However, as one might expect from the presence of so much re-issued material, not all of it fits comfortably under the rubric announced in the sub-title, "Knowledge and Power," and the fit decreases as the book proceeds.

Burwick's examination of this well-known pairing in the introduction and first chapter of his book reflects, as he puts it, his interest in "the interactions of history and autobiographical experience, which inform De Quincey's notion of consciousness and direct his reflections as a critic" (xii).  In his first chapter, "Knowledge and Power," Burwick begins with the two essays, "Letters to a Young Man whose Education has been Neglected" and "The Works of Alexander Pope," where De Quincey explicitly introduced and elaborated upon the distinction between the two concepts.  Burwick then applies the idea of "power" to the impressionistic criticism of "On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth" and the later dream sequences of the "Suspiria de Profundis" and "The English Mail-Coach" so as to elucidate De Quincey's notion of the subconscious and its relation to literary imagery and political economy.

Burwick begins by likening De Quincey's "introspective mode of 'psychological criticism'" to Freud's method of Traumdeutung, where memories (in the form of visual images) provide evidence for the symbolic interpretation of dreams (4).  However, as De Quincey suggests in the "Suspiria," where he traces the antagonistic relationship between the dreaming faculty and the material technologies of production and communication, "power" is a feature not only of mental activity, but also of the world itself as a realization of this activity.  Thus, says Burwick, "because consciousness absorbs the exterior world, it has its own political economy" (6), an economy of the mind" driven by the calculus of emotional profit and loss (9).  In the "Suspiria," particularly, Burwick detects a subtle interplay between this emotional "economy of the mind" as it was first constituted in De Quincey's earliest experiences of the household economy of his childhood home at Greenhay, near Manchester, and as it was later transformed by the "vast economic complexity" of modern commercial society that helped precipitate the opium-eater's "fall from childhood grace" (10-11).  Linking these stages of mental and political economic activity are De Quincey's literary "involutes."  Noting explicit references to the high cost of vellum, a fact of economic history, in De Quincey's use of the medieval palimpsest to illustrate the psychology of "involutes," Burwick concludes that the famous section of the "Suspiria" on the "palimpsest" of the human brain is "more than a metaphor of the mind, it is a metaphor for the power that moves through history, that defines and shapes political economy" (21).

Chapter two, "Casuistry and Eidoclasm," examines what, according to Burwick, were "the often malignant counterparts to 'Knowledge' and 'Power'" in De Quincey's writings (24).  Burwick sees the two negative techniques combined in the opium-eater's comments on Goethe's reputation as an author in his review of Carlyle's translation of Wilhelm Meister.  De Quincey's writings on Coleridge's plagiarisms, and on the personal lives of the other "Lake Poets," for Tait's Magazine in the 1830s are also examined under the headings of "Casuistry" and "Eidoclasm."  In chapter three, "Sir Walter Scott and the Literary Pirates," Burwick extends his analysis to the casuistical gymnastics and Continental hero-worship surrounding the 1824 German hoax-publication of Walladmoor, a forged "translation" of a purported Scott original, which De Quincey both unmasked and translated into English himself in 1825.  In tracing the convoluted history of this bibliographical lusus naturae, Burwick provides us with a great deal of historical information, ranging from the practices of Welsh smugglers to the ins and outs of Continental literary piracy, and offers a cogent analysis of the distinctions between De Quincey's "English" brand of irony and the "German" variety practiced by the original forger, Ewald Hering, a.k.a. "Willibald Alexis."

Chapter four, on De Quincey's well-known essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts," reprises Burwick's important article, "De Quincey and the Aesthetics of Violence," published several years ago in The Wordsworth Circle.  Given the significance of De Quincey's essay for recent work in popular cultural and crime fiction studies, as well as English and German Romantic aesthetics, it is gratifying to think that Burwick's contribution will now have access to a wider audience and assume a more permanent place on library shelves as a result of its republication here.  In this chapter, Burwick up-ends the conventional reading of De Quincey's essay as espousing "sympathy for the devil" by pointing out that, despite De Quincey's professions of interest in the mind of the murderer, it is the mind of the victim that the opium-eater chooses to foreground nearly throughout.  Furthermore, it is through this identification with the victim (or intended victim) and his or her experience of terror that the implicit links between De Quincey's argument and his critique of Kantian aesthetics, and particularly of the Kantian Sublime, can be most clearly discerned.  Specifically, De Quincey's main interest in "Murder Considered" is in debunking Kantian disinterestedness, since the compassion, pity, and terror that he excites by his focus on the victim, according to Burwick, are "neither to be prescinded nor suppressed," but are "always co-present with reason and imagination in the aesthetic experience" of murder (86).  Just for good measure, in the course of this superb exegesis Burwick directs the reader to two unpublished drafts of the essay, sets the composition record straight, and offers evidence for De Quincey's having visited Germany, twice, in the overall course of composition.

As their titles imply, the remaining three chapters, "Shakespearean Involutes," "Miltonic Overtures," and "Wordsworthian Associations," take as their focus De Quincey's relationship to three important precursors.  The Shakespeare chapter describes how De Quincey applied his theory of "involutes" to an interpretation of Shakespeare's life and works originally appearing in the seventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica in 1838.  Particularly revealing is Burwick's demonstration of the influence of this essay (reprinted in the eighth and ninth editions) on subsequent Shakespeare biographies, up to and including Peter Quennell's, in 1963.  "Miltonic Overtures" examines the influence of Paradise Lost on De Quincey's "The English Mail Coach" with special attention to the opium-eater's use of ekphrasis in contrast to its appearance in the works of contemporaries like Coleridge and Keats.  Here again, Burwick's unparalleled knowledge of manuscript fragments and sources helps to illuminate his point in unprecedented fashion.  The final chapter on De Quincey and Wordsworth situates De Quincey's essay on Wordsworth's poetry, written for Tait's in 1845, within the late-eighteenth-century tradition of "associationism" extending from Locke to Hartley.  Burwick shows that De Quincey was the first critic of Wordsworth's poetry to read it in the manner in which the poet himself, in the "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads, indicated it should be read, that is, as a "subconscious" (Burwick reminds us that De Quincey first used the term in print) representation of the poet's association of ideas "in a state of excitement."

While highly rewarding throughout, Thomas De Quincey: Knowledge and Power seems to run out of steam by the time it reaches the Wordsworth chapter, which does not measure up to the previous contributions in originality and deftness of execution.  Nevertheless, readers will benefit enormously from Fred Burwick's hard-earned insights, both critical and philosophical, into the etiology and permutations of De Quincey's key concepts.  In addition, the wealth of new and important information appearing in every chapter will make it indispensable to De Quincey scholarship for many years to come.

Volume and Issue: 

Authored by (Secondary): 

Parent Resource: 



William Wordsworth, Last Poems, 1821–1850. Edited by Jared Curtis et al.

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
William Wordsworth, Last Poems, 1821-1850. Edited by Jared Curtis, with Associate Editors Apryl Lea Denny-Ferris and Jillian Heydt-Stevenson.  The Cornell Wordsworth.   Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. lxxxv + 852 pp.   Illus.: 112 halftones.  $110.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8014-3625-7).

Reviewed by
Kurt Fosso
Lewis & Clark College

In recent years The Cornell Wordsworth series has more than realized General Editor Stephen Maxfield Parrish's vision of a multi-volume collection of the "earliest complete versions" of Wordsworth's important longer works.  The expanded series will soon comprise all of the poet's poems, from the first to this present volume's last.  In this pursuit Cornell's editors have followed the lead of the Clarendon Press's pioneering edition of the Poetical Works, in which editors Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire printed variants, including some draft texts, of the final authorized versions of Wordsworth's poems and also appended much of his unpublished juvenilia.  The Cornell Wordsworth series has, of course, gone considerably further, ambitiously attempting, as Parrish states, to "offer successive stages of a [complete] poem to show how Wordsworth's poetic strategies evolved over the years of his poetic life."1

Most significantly, the Cornell editors have sought to strip away the "layers of later revision" that "obscured the original [texts]" Wordsworth composed--texts now to be reclaimed "in the form of clean 'reading texts'" (v).  On this count, the series has understandably provoked controversy and concern.  Donald Reiman questioned the editors' premise that Wordsworth's "earlier inspiration . . . was greater (or at least more interesting) than his later judgment," and feared Cornell's publication of reading texts of early drafts would "drive out of some textbooks . . . later versions that [Wordsworth] had himself authorized and approved for publication."2  Karl Kroeber more specifically argued that Cornell's publication of reading texts of the two complete manuscript drafts of The Ruined Cottage had, more than any other recent editorial action, encouraged "the modern predilection for early versions of Wordsworth poems (now enshrined in the Cornell Wordsworth series for worship by textual primitivists)."3  And, indeed, the seventh edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature prints Cornell's MS. D reading text of The Ruined Cottage, with the questionable result that an author's rejected draft, unknown to most of his contemporaries, has been transformed into a definitive text.  It is a practice and end to which Cornell has greatly contributed, for better or worse (I would argue for the former), as have Norton's edition of the 1799, 1805, and 1850 versions of The Prelude and Clarendon's aforementioned Poetical Works, which included the MS. B draft text of The Ruined Cottage.

I doubt few of The Cornell Wordsworth Series planners envisioned one of their editors some day grappling with the elder poet's last poems, since it was the work of the early, more radical Wordsworth that the series was intended to restore.  This controversial inaugural aim is all but irrelevant to the final stage of Wordsworth's poetry.  Parrish argues that the series' goal nonetheless remains to present "the earliest finished versions of the poems, not the latest revised versions" (v).  But for these last poems the difference between an "earliest" and a "latest" version is often a slim one.  Most of the poems collected in Jared Curtis's impressive, expertly edited volume are, word for word, very near to the authorized texts in Poetical Works.  Few even of the earliest draft lines will be new to the Wordsworth scholar, the majority having been included in the apparatus criticus of that earlier edition.  Line for line, Last Poems is thus the least primitivist, "unauthorized," and controversial tome of The Cornell Wordsworth, in marked contrast to such volumes as Carol Landon and Curtis's bookend edition of the Early Poems and Fragments, 1785-1797, chronologically the series' first volume.   Wordsworth would have needed to live a good deal longer still, of course, for it to be otherwise.

This is not to say that Cornell's new volume has little to offer simply because it does not restore an earlier, lost Wordsworth.  After all, the series's editorial plan is also distinguished by its other principal aims: to provide an accurate record of all variant readings of Wordsworth's poems from the first drafts to their final or earliest posthumous publication, and to enable careful study of this textual development by providing photographic reproductions of principal manuscripts, with facing-page transcriptions, along with detailed manuscript censuses and cogent introductions describing those manuscripts as well as relevant biographical and historical details.  Like the other published volumes, Curtis's edition of Last Poems will prove, along these lines, an invaluable resource for the specialist, particularly (and most obviously) for the specialist of the poet's later writings.  It will not, I think, be popular among general readers of Wordsworth, nor will it often be found in the syllabi of graduate seminars.  For the reasons mentioned, its reading texts are unlikely to drive out any final, authorized versions of the poet's works.  I also doubt whether these late texts will, despite their new presentation, alter significantly our assessment of the later Wordsworth, except insomuch as an impressive new edition like this one will tempt scholars to read or reread poems that they may previously have overlooked or dismissed.

Like the other Cornell Wordsworth volumes, Last Poems provides a helpful introduction, reading texts (Part 1), extensive, useful notes and nonverbal variants (Part 2), photographic reproductions and facing-page transcriptions (Part 3), appendices, an index of titles and first lines--and, near the head of the volume, what must be the most extensive manuscript census of the entire series.  Totaling nearly 200 texts, this census includes manuscripts from the Dove Cottage collection, The Huntington Library, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale universities, and the Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, among others, not counting the numerous letters in which Wordsworth also included drafts.

In his preface, Curtis frankly states that the volume's contents, composed between 1821 and 1850, must be considered in terms of what has been omitted: "longer works, composed much earlier but thoroughly revised during this later period--Guilt and Sorrow, the fourteen-book Prelude, and The Borderers--[a]nd the various sonnet series and 'tours'" (xvii; emphasis added).  In other words, some of Wordsworth's finest later compositions are excluded from Last Poems: the River Duddon sonnet series, Yarrow Revisited, the tour series of 1833 and 1837, and--not for all tastes, certainly--the Ecclesiastical Sonnets.  These works will appear in Cornell's forthcoming Sonnet Series and Itinerary Poems, 1819-1850Last Poems thus presents only "a portion of the poet's output during the last three decades of his life" (xvii), and by no means necessarily the share one likely would gather together to represent the finest of his late writings--although this edition certainly contains several of the best poems of these years.  The volume's "portion" is, despite these omissions, a large one, numbering over 200 poems.  Nevertheless, one wonders whether a two-volume work, comprising all of the poet's late works, would have provided a clearer sense of this corpus and of its author's development, as well as a good deal more pleasure.  As things stand, the reader may conclude that Last Poems ought really to have been titled Miscellaneous Last Poems, which better describes its hodgepodge character, particularly since many of the edition's contents were first published in Wordsworth's Miscellaneous Sonnets.

One asset of this "last" Cornell Wordsworth volume is that it enables the reader to peruse the included works and drafts chronologically.  Another plus is certainly the inclusion of a few previously unpublished works (so far as I can determine from comparing the contents to those of de Selincourt's and William Angus Knight's editions).  Last Poems publishes the early stanzas "To A Friend" (a draft version of "Liberty") and a draft text of "Devotional Incitements."  Cornell also unearths three conservative epigrams on the Reform Movement and a draft ("Text 2") of Evening Voluntaries, along with a few scattered, more minor works, including the lines "Fairy Skill" (from the poet's cousin Dora Harrison's autograph volume) and "Sigh no more Ladies, sigh no more."  The edition provides readers as well with an opportunity to re-access the poet's final published attempts not just in the sonnet form, of which there are here abundant examples, but also in the genres of epitaph, elegy, topographical and nature poetry, and ballad--the latter including "The Russian Fugitive," "The Egyptian Maid," and "The Armenian Lady's Love," Wordsworth's responses to the popular romances penned by Byron and by Thomas Moore.  In these and other of his late poems, Wordsworth significantly continues to experiment with narrative voices that, Curtis argues, "could disturb the surface of the reader's consciousness, so that the light of perception is refracted in new and revealing ways" (4).

"The poetry of Wordsworth's later years has not ranked high in the world's opinion," Curtis states at the Introduction's close (10).  The poet's emphasis upon memory and youth, and the disparagement of his later works by the likes of Coleridge and Arnold, accounts in some measure for this low estimation.  Yet were we only to possess Wordsworth's post-1814 oeuvre, it seems probable that he would still be ranked with Byron, Hemans, Clare, and other poets of the day.  After all, included among these Last Poems are the poet's skilled and frequently moving epitaphic and eulogistic writings: "Elegiac Stanzas, 1824" for Mrs. Fermor, "Elegiac Musings" for George Beaumont, Wordsworth's epitaphs for Charles Lamb and Robert Southey, his eulogistic poems for Burns, his elegiac sonnet to his grandchild ("Son of my buried Son . . . "), and, best known, his "Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg."  By most any measure, "Musings" and "Effusion" are major works, as arguably are the Evening Voluntaries and the intriguing "Stanzas on the Power of Sound."  Also worthy of attention, even for the more casual reader, are the fine sonnets "Why should we weep or mourn, Angelic boy," "Scorn not the sonnet," and "On the Projected Kendal and Windermere Railway."  One does, of course, discern in this volume's poems the author's conservatism (notably in the above anti-Reform poems) and his deepening faith.  The edition, in fact, is bracketed by sonnets concerned with religious piety, opening with "The Decay of Piety" and winding down (fifth from the end) with "Where lies the truth? Has Man, in wisdom's creed."

The last "last" poem, likely not entirely penned by the Poet Laureate, is an "Installation Ode" to commemorate Prince Albert's installation as Chancellor of Cambridge.  This musical ode is a fitting, if staid, end to the comprehensive Cornell Wordsworth series, for it addresses, Curtis observes, the same basic theme of education treated in the poet's very first public poem, his celebratory lines for the bicentenary of Hawkshead School, which nearly leads off Landon and Curtis's edition of Early Poems and Fragments.  W. J. B. Owen said of the latter "first" volume that the various materials it collects did "not seem likely to enhance Wordsworth's reputation as a poet."4  I doubt many readers will prefer this last volume's closing installation lines even to those celebratory ones written as an exercise sixty years before, or that Last Poems will restore to favor many more of the poet's accomplished late works.  But Wordsworth scholars are nonetheless fortunate to have this edition of the poet's last poems.  All readers who explore the volume will find something, indeed much, to appreciate, not least from what the editors have accomplished in this latest installment of Cornell's ambitious enterprise.

1. Stephen Parrish, "Versioning Wordsworth: A Study in Textual Ethics," The Wordsworth Circle 28 (1997): 98-100; 98. (Back)
2. Donald H. Reiman, "The Cornell Wordsworth and the Norton Prelude," in Romantic Texts and Contexts (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987), 130-55; 135. (Back)
3. Karl Kroeber, Ecological Literary Criticism: Romantic Imagining and the Biology of Mind (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 48. (Back)
4. W. J. B. Owen, Review of Early Poems and Fragments, 1785-1787, by William Wordsworth, edited by Carol Landon and Jared Curtis, Review of English Studies ns 50 (1999): 391-93; 392. (Back)

Volume and Issue: 

Authored by (Secondary): 

Parent Resource: 



Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xii + 241pp.  $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-74936-7).

Reviewed by
Tilar J. Mazzeo
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Although much has been made of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's interest in and intellectual obligations to German Romantic figures such as Schelling and Kant and to the Jena Romantics more generally, his relationship to his older contemporary, Friedrich Schiller, has not been the subject of extended critical inquiry.  In his recent study of Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education, Michael John Kooy remedies this imbalance, offering the first sustained account of Coleridge's relationship to Schiller and while tracing the poet's evolving investment in the psychological and historical effects of Bildung, a term that encompasses both "aesthetic education" and its "cultivation."  Drawing upon extensive new research into Romantic print culture and offering lucid insights into subtle philosophical distinctions, Kooy charts the contours of a sustained intellectual engagement and offers Coleridge's readers a fresh perspective on his early German translations, his attitudes toward female education and genius, and his privileging of clerical history.

Kooy suggests that Coleridge's relationship to the writing of Schiller has been obscured for several reasons.  On the one hand, Kooy identifies and refutes the "unexamined presumption" (4) that, because Coleridge does not call attention to Schiller as a source, there was no substantial interest or influence.   In fact, Coleridge not only owned copies of Schiller's Muse's Almanac (1797), Poems (1800, 1803; 2 vols.), and Shorter Works in Prose (1792-1802; 2 vols.)--a collection representing the majority of the philosopher's corpus--but he also had access to any number of contemporary periodicals publishing works of German literary interest for an engaged British reading public.  Perhaps most importantly, Kooy shows that Coleridge was at least loosely affiliated with a circle of English Germanophiles, which included intimates such as Thomas Beddoes, William Taylor, and Henry Crabb Robinson, all of whom were writing reviews and completing German translations for these periodical journals.  Kooy suggests that Coleridge's fraught relationship to his other German sources has made critics wary of engaging his intellectual debts to Schiller, especially in the Biographia Literaria.  Although "Coleridge clearly did not rely on Schiller textually in the same way as he did on the Schlegels or on Schelling," Kooy proposes that there has been a "nervous fixation on sources" and that "we have become unaccustomed, even unwilling, to think of Coleridge's relationship with the other thinkers except in terms of either slavish dependence or absolute ignorance" (96).  As a result, Kooy maintains that important aspects of both Coleridge's compositional method and his investment in the social role of aesthetics have been elided.

The first four chapters of Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education focus on how Schiller influenced the context of Coleridge's early writings and literary efforts, particularly his initial interest in drama.  Kooy argues that, although Coleridge and Schiller did not meet personally during the 1798-99 trip to Germany, there are several reasons to suspect that Coleridge had identified intellectually and politically with Schiller by the time Coleridge undertook his tour.  Most significantly, Kooy reminds his readers that Schiller was well-known in Britain during the 1790s because of his republican dramas such as The Robbers (English, 1792), a text that Coleridge recorded having read in 1794.  However, although Coleridge was familiar with Schiller from these theatrical and political contexts, Schiller's "psychological accuracy" (26) in these plays emerges as the most resonant influence.  Notably, and perhaps inevitably, this psychological interest shaped Coleridge's early interest in dramatic forms.  Kooy points to the comparisons Coleridge drew between The Robbers and Wordsworth's The Borderers due to a shared mastery of sentiment, and he reads Coleridge's own Osorio (1797) drama as a text in dialogue with Schiller.  However, Kooy's main point is to offer an extended account of the translation of Schiller's three-part drama Wallenstein (1798) that Coleridge undertook in 1800.  As Kooy observes, the place of the translation in Coleridge's career "is still understudied" (38), and he argues that Coleridge's engagement with Wallenstein and with the themes of aesthetic education that it explores marks an important moment in the poet's formulation of an "educative thesis" (6).

If Coleridge was initially drawn to the psychological drama and the theatrical forms Schiller had refined, he soon came to apply these principles to verse compositions as well, and Kooy suggests that it may be possible to read in the early poems a similar investment in Weimar classicism and "aesthetic education."  Kooy makes two main points here: first, that Coleridge came to apply dramatic principles and themes of "aesthetic education" to his verse in a cross-genre engagement with Schiller; and secondly, that Coleridge became increasingly interested in the poetry of his German contemporaries after the turn of the century.  In the first instance, Kooy notes, for example, that Coleridge had directly linked Schillerean drama and his own poetic efforts when he decided to translate Wallenstein into English verse.  His reading of the early Coleridge sonnet "To the Author of 'The Robbers'" (c. 1794) likewise explores how the figure of Schiller as the frenzied and ecstatic dramatist helped to shape the more famous representations of aesthetic sublimity in works such as "Kubla Khan" and "Dejection: An Ode."  In respect to the second instance, Kooy tracks Coleridge's reading of Schiller's poetry circa 1801-04 through his fragmentary transcriptions and translations in the notebooks and provides a persuasive account of the ways in which Schiller's poems, along with verse from several other German and Italian poets, contributed to Coleridge's "ongoing study of metrics" (74).  Perhaps most importantly, Kooy traces echoes of Schiller's distichs (Poems, 1800) in "Dejection: An Ode" (71) and echoes of Schiller's review of Bürger's Poems (1789) in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads and, thus, helps to restore one of the international contexts out of which Romanticism emerged.

In the next four chapters of his study, Kooy focuses on how Coleridge's intellectual relationship to Schillerean "aesthetic education" shaped his mature works and, particularly, the theory of poetry that he put forward in works such as the On the Principles of Genial Criticism (1814), the Biographia Literaria, (1815-17), and The Friend (1809-10; 1818).  Here Kooy skillfully negotiates the terrain of Kantian and post-Kantian moral philosophy in order to demonstrate that "Schiller's 'aesthetic education' would become . . . the conceptual frame for Coleridge's 'imagination'" (107).  Revising and occasionally correcting earlier readings of both Schiller and Coleridge that have over-emphasized the ahistorical and amoral implications of Bildung or "cultivation," Kooy's thesis proposes that Coleridge, like Schiller, "sought to make aesthetic autonomy purposive by stressing the indirect relationship to moral self-determination" (98).  The argument is essentially that by cultivating the aesthetic and its experience of freedom from external (e.g., social, moral, physical) laws of determination the individual is able to understand by way of analogy his own moral freedom and its internal and ideal regulation.  In addition to tracking carefully a complex philosophical genealogy, Kooy's argument has several important implications.  Perhaps most significantly, Kooy is able to offer a new assessment of Coleridge's attitude toward didacticism.  Returning to the Romantic-period contrast between the "naïve" poetry associated with writers such as John Clare and "various women poets" and the "sentimental" poetry with which Coleridge occasionally associated his own verse, Kooy argues that the characterization of didacticism as "a kind of pitfall into which the 'sentimental' poet in particular was liable to fall . . . complicates our picture of the sort of 'high Romanticism' Coleridge and Schiller can be said to stand for" (133).  The opposition to didacticism was that it represented the reinsertion of external laws of determination into art and was, therefore, fundamentally contrary to the freedom of the moral-aesthetic experience.  However, the "sentimental" mode also stands in for the poetry of a dominant category of Romanticism that has historically been associated with the bourgeois and masculine values of the first generation.  Thus, Kooy proposes that when Coleridge argued against didactic sentimentalism, he was simultaneously suggesting "the very limitations of that dominant mode" (133).  The implication here, of course, is that Coleridge may have been--philosophically at least--open to the possibility of more inclusive and multiple paradigms for Romantic aesthetic values.

This attention to women writers and to the role of women in Coleridge's vision of "aesthetic education" perhaps warrants particular attention.  Kooy's engagement with the question of gender-bias is at once the most ambitious and the least satisfying part of this fine study.  In the twenty pages that he dedicates to the analysis of gender, Kooy deftly recovers for his readers the essentials of Schiller's argument concerning women and aesthetic education: they are naïve and, therefore, naturally moral beings, for whom the higher moral purposes of aesthetic education are at best redundant and at worst misleading, and, thus, he concludes that "[t]hough she stands as an emblem of Bildung's ambitions, the female nevertheless remains unconscious of its secret workings: she is the object of 'aesthetic education', but not its subject" (183).  Continuing his analysis of this point, Kooy observes that Coleridge's revision of Schiller tends to emphasize more explicitly the dangers of female education, to the degree that female "participation in Bildung seems not only unnecessary but immoral" (184).  This is placed in the context of the ways in which Coleridge represented and shaped the education of his own intellectually gifted daughter, Sara, and to the value Coleridge placed on the "characterless" (186) female figure in his literary criticism.  However, Kooy also wants to argue that Coleridge was more liberal than Schiller in at least one regard: by giving women a role (albeit subordinate) in the "clerisy" and in the processes of "cultivation," Coleridge imagines a public role for women that Schiller did not conceive.  Unfortunately, the limitations and possibilities of this public role are not further interrogated, and the subsequent analysis of representations of women focuses primarily on Schiller--perhaps the only instance in this study where the balance between the two authors is not maintained seamlessly.  Perhaps as a result, the conclusion is profitably suggestive but equivocal; Kooy's section summary proposes that:

The imaginative reality of what Coleridge and Schiller both judged in theoretical terms to be impossible suggests that, in spite of themselves, the reciprocity of the sexes which they had theorized need not be the exclusive advantage of the male; and that the 'Aesthetic State' could admit either sex into its ranks.  Bildung need not be--though it often has been--a prerogative of men. (191)

Precisely how either Coleridge or Schiller opened intellectual space for women remains indeterminate, and readers are left to puzzle over the apparently contradictory statements on and representations of women that Coleridge produced.

Kooy concludes this study by engaging the question of aesthetic history and by examining the role within moral education that Coleridge gave to the "National Church."  Here Kooy proposes that Coleridge distinguished between the divergent aims of economic "civilization" and aesthetic "cultivation," both of which Coleridge maintained were necessary for moral development in society.  Further, Coleridge imagined that a third party--"an institution or class of educators especially responsible for 'aesthetic education'" (167)--would be required to mediate between these opposing forces.  Offering insightful and incisive readings of Coleridge's On the Constitution of Church and State (1829) and the Lay Sermons (1816-17), Kooy shows that the poet sought to establish the "clerisy" or "National Church" in the intermediary function--and in doing so sought to establish a providential history of sorts.  This last point is particularly illuminating: Kooy argues that, as the guardians of "cultivation" or Bildung, the "clerisy" represented an important historical function for Coleridge, who "begins to conceive of history itself as Bildung writ large, as a process of 'cultivation', mediated by the figure of Logos" (201).  Thus, while Coleridge remained often privately invested over the course of his career in the writings of Schiller and in the notion of the disinterested aesthetic experience, Kooy demonstrates in Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education that this interest was part of, rather than a diversion from, his public commitments to moral and social progress.

Volume and Issue: 

Authored by (Secondary): 

Parent Resource: 



William J. P. Neish, The Speaking Eye: Byron's Aberdeen – Places, People and a Poem

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
William J. P. Neish, The Speaking Eye: Byron's Aberdeen - Places, People and a Poem. Sussex, England: Book Guild Ltd., 2001. xviii + 312pp. Illus.: 4 halftones. £10.50/$22.50 (Ppbk; ISBN: 1-85776-593-1).

Reviewed by
Ann R. Hawkins
Texas Tech University

In 1866, William Neish's great-great-grandmother received a bequest of the entire estate of John Raeburn, a childhood schoolfellow of George Gordon, Lord Byron, that included an oil portrait, several engraved portraits, manuscript copies of three poems by an Aberdeenshire poet, and a piece of Delftware tile with a motif of a sailing ship reputed to have come from the house of the Byrons (xiv).  But among those items Neish discovered a manuscript of an elegy memorializing Professor William Duncan by "Old Pupil" that was published in the Aberdeen Journal on September 6, 1815.

Neish's The Speaking Eye records his exhaustive research to discover who Professor William Duncan and the "Old Pupil" who memorialized him were.  Along the way Neish uncovers a significant amount of data about Raeburn, Duncan, Byron's schoolfellows, and the Byrons' Aberdeen neighbors.  Neish chooses to provide much of this data--even when somewhat tangential to his argument--having discovered a number of discrepancies between published information about these figures and the archival evidence.  Ultimately, Neish considers that Byron might have written the elegy, and he compares "Old Pupil['s]" phraseology with Byron's poems of the period, particularly Parisina.

Each of the book's early chapters approaches a discrete problem posed by investigating the identity of "Old Pupil."  The first chapter outlines the status of Aberdeen at the turn of the nineteenth-century.  Beginning with census data and a replica of a street map, Neish offers a sort of walking tour of Aberdeen, noting sites of intellectual, political, and social importance.  Neish also carefully notes locations that would have held strong significance for the young Byron, such as the Aberdeen Grammar School; the Tolbooth, notorious as the spot where one of Byron's ancesters murdered a kinsman; and the Wallace Tower, which Byron mentions later in letters.  Reproductions of mid-nineteenth-century street-views show the facades of buildings as they might have appeared in the 1790s.

The second chapter considers John Raeburn's personal relationship with Byron.  Raeburn may have been the anonymous "J. R." whose criticism of Byron's "Ode to Napoleon Buonoparte" appeared in the Morning Chronicle in 1814.  Additionally, Raeburn might have been an unidentified correspondent of Byron's--"J. R**"--who wrote to him in 1815 about the "Ode."   But most importantly, Raeburn is possibly the unidentified young lame boy who played with Byron in Broad Street and who accompanied Byron across the Brig o' Balgownie.   Byron's note to Don Juan Canto X, stanza 18 reveals an old folktale surrounding the bridge: that it would stand until a widow's only son and a mare's only foal crossed it.  Byron tested this folktale with a friend and a borrowed pony.   Neish traces the extant anecdotes about this episode, comparing their assertions with evidence he has uncovered and notes when an anecdote is mistaken.  This is a common rhetorical move for Neish in the book: he marshals different versions of a story, episode or even a "fact" and then compares them to discoveries in his research.   As a result, his research is a valuable corrective to nineteenth-century sources often regarded as accurate.

In carrying out this discussion, however, Neish tends to get caught up in marshalling many individual facts and details--for example, tracing John Raeburn's purchase and sale of toddy ladles.  Though recognizing that "much of this material about Raeburn is irrelevant for his association with Byron and their Aberdeen connection," Neish includes it, believing it "worthwhile to present as detailed a record as possible of Raeburn's life and effects in case other materials, perhaps from the Aberdeen Bank archives and relating to Byron and himself, ever come to light" (23).

Chapters 3 and 4 examine historical data surrounding William Duncan and "Old Pupil," respectively. Chapter 3's investigation is complicated by the fact that two William Duncans had either taught at or been associated with Aberdeen Grammar School at the time of Byron's schooling, but Neish argues that the subject of the elegy had been the handwriting instructor.  Chapter 4 focuses on examining other old pupils to discover "Old Pupil['s]" identity.  After narrowing the field to journalist John Scott and to Byron, the chapter considers other efforts to commemorate the late teacher, including a subscription for a memorial.

When external data fails to prove Byron's involvement in the elegy, Neish examines next the elegy's "stylometry" (55).  The ensuing five chapters compare the elegy's phraseology, rhymes and punctuation to Byron's other works.   In particular, Neish focuses on tracing unique phrasings across their history and to their most likely contemporary practitioner.  Most unique of the phrases is the "speaking eye" from which the book draws its title, and Neish's persistence in tracing usages of the phrase to its earliest practitioner is admirable.  Neish concludes that "[d]uring the period up to 1815, Byron's works were found to contain not only the phrases 'speaking eye', 'choral song' and 'modest worth', but also rhymes such as GIVEN-HEAVEN, AGE-PAGE, DAYS-PRAISE, SEA-BE, and one example of the eye-rhyme PROVE-LOVE (in the form of BELOVED-APPROVED) all of which appear in the OP poem" (195).  Ultimately, chapter 9 presents evidence of similarities between Byron's poetry and "Old Pupil['s]" elegy gathered through A. J. Morton and S. Michaelson's method of stylistic analysis.  Morton conducted the analysis of the poem, and, after two trials, he concluded that "there is no obstacle to claiming [the author] as Byron" (98).

The remaining sections of the book offer simply more data.   Chapter 10 argues that goldsmith John Leslie was likely a Byron relative; chapter 11 describes Aberdeen community life, by briefly mentioning the lives and occupations of the Byrons's neighbors--men such as John "Bodsy" Bower, James Ross, John and Joseph Patterson, Gilbert Falconer, Alexander Watson, George Pirie, James Beattie, John Stewart, Nathaniel Gillet, and John Ewen.  Neish concludes from these biographical sketches that "in his formative years in Aberdeen, there can be little doubt that Byron had learned much about poetry and perhaps about scientific/mechanical matters from his neighbors and teachers living in the small community of Broad Street, the Gallowgate and Schoolhill" (153).  Neish's afterword also provides some "partly speculative" material about "the movements of Mrs. Byron and her son after they left London around April 1788 until they quit Aberdeen for Newstead Abbey in August 1798" (158).  The remaining 100 pages of text offer more analysis of the "speaking eye" phrase in the attempt to trace it to its earliest practitioners, as well as lengthy explanatory notes that provide still more information about people, places, and occupations in 1790s Aberdeen.

A number of factors that may arise from disciplinary differences--Neish worked as a chemist and cancer researcher--will irritate literary scholars.  Neish's use of acronyms approaches obsession.  He shortens every possible name, phrase or title to its initials, including names not necessary for abbreviation such as F for Fitzgerald or H for Hemans.  Abbreviations are not always intuitive, such as WDC for World's Classics, and the (incomplete) key to abbreviations is hidden near the end of the volume.  Further, Neish's use of APA rather than MLA results in long intrusive parenthetical citations, with explanatory notes indicated idiosyncratically by numbers in square brackets.  Together these factors frustrate easy reading of the text, as the example below indicates:

After Murray published the first edition of ONB consisting of 15 stanzas (printed by W. Bulmer of Cleveland Street, St James's, see E. H. Coleridge, "The Words of Lord Byron: Poetry", Vol. III, pp. 301-315, 1904 and McGann, 1981, Vol. III, p. 456) on 16 April 1814, omitting Byron's name at the request of the poet [23], he asked Byron to write three more stanzas for the next edition [24] which was published around 20 April 1814. (24)

Neish should have shown a greater awareness of his humanities audience by using a more appropriate documentation style.

Neish's research will be useful to those interested in the history of Aberdeen, its life and people, as well as to scholars of Byron's poetry.  His willingness to extend his expertise in scientific research to a literary topic is admirable, and the book shows a tenacity of purpose.  However, its construction and methodology substitutes a wealth of sometimes pertinent and sometimes oblique detail for a strongly organized argument.  Neish's work will perhaps prove most useful as a sort of almanac to the Aberdeen of Byron's youth.

Volume and Issue: 

Authored by (Secondary): 

Parent Resource: 



The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Vol. 1. Edited by Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000. xlviii + 492pp.  Illus.: 7 halftones.  $80.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-8018-6119-5).

Reviewed by
Nancy Moore Goslee
University of Tennessee

Scholars and critics have long needed a new, complete version of Percy Bysshe Shelley's poetry.  His controversial politics, his marital complexities, his Italian exile, and his unexpected early death all contributed to a legacy of textual confusion that even the magisterial "Julian" edition of Roger Ingpen and Walter Peck in 1927 could not solve (see, The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, 10 vols., edited by Roger Ingpen and Walter Edwin Peck, Julian Editions [London: E. Benn, Ltd.; New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1927]).  Now that Donald H. Reiman and Neil Fraistat have given us Volume 1 of The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (CPPBS), our needs have been answered with a profoundly well-planned, meticulously-executed edition.  Its editorial commentary and notes often read like the denouéments of detective stories, offering solutions to long-standing textual problems with a clear placement of these poems in the all-too-human contexts of compositional occasion and production difficulties.  This volume, the first of a planned seven or eight volumes in the completed edition, explains and tests the editorial principles that are to govern the entire project.  It then tests these principles on six groupings of Shelley's earliest published or otherwise circulated poems.  Volume 1 brings into focus scattered, suppressed, and virtually unknown works by this brilliant, busy, and oddly canny young poet.  If the uncanny of the gothic is the most unifying characteristic of these early works, the real uncanny here is the mystery of how the mature poet, with his verbal and intellectual brilliance, emerges from such derivative, if playfully derivative, poems as these.

As the editors point out, they have been able to benefit from the wealth of new textual evidence gathered by the ongoing catalogue of the Pforzheimer collection, Shelley and his Circle: 1773-1822, and from the facsimiles and transcriptions in Manuscripts of the Younger Romantics and The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts.  All of this rich vein of manuscript material, every rift loaded with ore, might have led the editors to plan a genetically-focused edition more like that of The Cornell Wordsworth or of G. M. Matthews' and Kelvin Everest's 1989 edition of Shelley for Longman, one that would place manuscript drafts and fragments on an equal footing with published works.  While The Cornell Wordsworth edition organizes its volumes around individually published works of the poet, it presents each successive chronological stage of a work, whether published or not, as equally valid.  The Longman Shelley editors sought to present all manuscript drafts or versions and published works in chronological order of composition.  Instead, Reiman and Fraistat turn in another direction.  Though drawing upon their extensive experience in editing the manuscripts and in investigating early posthumous editions, they structure their edition by employing recent editorial theories that emphasize the specific, shaping if not controlling circumstances of production.  They "present an authorially governed, historically focused, and text-centered edition that highlights the production, reception, and transmission of PBS's poetry" (xxix).  "Production" covers everything from first notebook drafts through typesetting, publishing, or circulating in some more informal way.

Thus, instead of presenting poems and fragments in the order of composition, they organize Shelley's poems by the order in which he published or attempted to publish them, or in which he "released" the poems, in type or in manuscript, to a group of friends or to a wider public.  This arrangement, they argue, preserves Shelley's intentions at a specific historical moment for a given version of a poem as it is related to other poems in the same volume or grouping.  In later volumes of the CPPBS, drafts and other pre-publication states of a poem will follow its published or "released" version, reflecting the edition's emphasis upon Shelley's controlling editorial hand.  Readers in search of a genetic development of Prometheus Unbound or of Adonais, to cite two complex examples, will still need to construct their own sense of stages or versions by first reading forward in the drafts and then skipping backward in the CPPBS volume to read forward again in Shelley's published version.   This arrangement foregrounds powerfully his attempts to reach public audiences, however limited those audiences may sometimes have been.

Because Shelley did not live long enough to make a collected edition of his own poetry, the editors will only occasionally have the problem of debating among earlier and later published versions, earlier and "final" intentions.  But their theory allows them to solve or dissolve that problem by accepting earlier and later versions as directed to different audiences in different historical circumstances.  It also allows them to sidestep some of the speculation about the dating of draft materials, though they do not hesitate--fortunately--to speculate about specific dating problems.

One of the rigorous intellectual pleasures of reading through this volume, a pleasure that will surely increase in later volumes, is to encounter the editors' hermeneutics of suspicion about the status of every transmitted text.  Evaluating each one freshly, they trace both in commentary and in collations how divergences or misjudgments in later editions may have arisen.  This evaluation, moreover, is transparent--rendering full and clearly laid-out arguments with balanced judgments as they retrieve neglected earlier scholarship and challenge entrenched editorial judgments.  They take as their model the edition of Henry Buxton Forman, one of the two major Victorian editions to follow Mary Shelley's invaluable collections.  In contrast to William Michael Rossetti's "adoption of aesthetic solutions to textual cruxes" (xxv), they follow Forman's "conservative scholarly method of correcting the corrupted texts by comparing them with primary editions" and with as many PBS and MWS manuscripts as he was able to locate or obtain access to.  Ironically, it was Rossetti who had access to far more of the manuscripts held by Shelley's descendants than did Forman.  For until the Bodleian Library received the final bequests of PBS manuscripts from the Shelley-Rolls family, in 1946 and in 1961, that access was jealously guarded (xxvii).

Each volume of the edition, like this one, presents the reading texts first, accompanied by collations of "primary authorities" at the bottom of each page.  Then, following the presentation of all texts for the volume, the editors place their very full commentaries.  Finally, they print "historical collations" for each text from "significant editions that . . . deserve attention because of their influence on subsequent texts and criticism" (xxxv).  Even if it requires two or three bookmarks as one works back and forth among these three sections to explore a given text in all its dimensions, this format is indeed very usable, and it emphasizes still further the "text-centered" focus of their edition.

For this initial volume of CPPBS, however, consultation of the manuscript notebooks is less important than it will be in later volumes.  With the exception of some poems enclosed in letters, no manuscripts remain from which these early poems emerged.  Even many of the published and printed texts had disappeared from sight and were only gradually rediscovered during the course of the nineteenth century.  Further, once rediscovered, some of them proved awkward to incorporate into the corpus of a Shelley protectively cased in an "angelic" image.  Even when later-nineteenth- and twentieth-century editions did publish these early poems, the editors did not or could not track down for personal inspection or collation all of the primary texts.  The volumes, or collections intended as volumes, included in this Volume 1 of CPPBS include:

  • Original Poems by Victor and Cazire;
  • The Wandering Jew; or, The Victim of the Eternal Avenger;
  • Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson; Being Poems Found Among the Papers of that Noted Female Who Attempted the Life of the King in 1786. Edited by John Fitzvictor; and
  • The Devil's Walk; a Ballad.

Also included in this volume are the poems included in Shelley's second Gothic novel, St. Irvyne; or The Rosicrucian; a Romance and ten early "poems and fragments . . . released privately to friends" from 1809-1814, but "never published or otherwise made public during the poet's lifetime" (295).

Only three copies remain of Shelley's first published volume, and no actual copies were available until 1838.  Original Poems by Victor and Cazire, set in type near Field Place, the Shelleys' family estate, was published in 1810 by the London publisher Stockdale and then suppressed because it was less original than its perhaps taunting title claimed; it included a poem plagiarized from "Monk" Lewis.  No manuscripts remain from this material, nor do "Victor" and "Cazire" reveal in the printed text or elsewhere which of them wrote which poems.  Earlier editions had assigned two or three poems to Elizabeth or "Cazire," and the rest to Percy or "Victor."  In an unpublished paper read at the 1992 Shelley Conference at Gregynog, Barbara Gelpi proposed that Shelley himself had written all the poems, using "Cazire," the name of a heroine in a Charlotte Dacre romance, to help him impersonate a woman's voice.  "This suggestion," Reiman and Fraistat write, "challenged us to assign individual responsibility for the authorship of each specific poem to PBS or Elizabeth Shelley" (156).  On the basis of spelling, diction, and subject matter, especially attitudes toward religion, they conclude that Elizabeth Shelley most probably wrote five poems for the collection and Percy Shelley the rest, with the exception of "St. Edmund's Eve," the plagiarized poem.  The Julian edition assigns responsibility for the plagiarized poem to Elizabeth's "copying," presumably excusing her for girlish naivete and excusing Percy for trusting her (I.413).  Perhaps following Ingpen and Peck, Matthews and Everest simply assign the plagiarized poem to Elizabeth and, thus, do not include it in their text; nor do they note the plagiarism.  Reiman and Fraistat suggest that the plagiarism is deliberate and that the "original" in the title is conscious taunting.  However, once they grant the possibility of deliberate misrepresentation, it would seem difficult to rule out Gelpi's theory that Percy imitates his sister's voice in the poems Reiman and Fraistat assign to her.

In addition to enjoying the misrepresentations of authorship, the editors argue, the siblings may have plagiarized because they needed more material to fill up their volume, the first pages of which had already been set in type.  Careful examination of the type in the three copies shows that several deviant letters appear twice or more in the volume--indicating that one signature or gathering had been printed, then the same type reset for the remainder.  Further, they propose that PBS or someone with an equally adolescent sense of humor helped to set the type since apparent errors of spacing create sexual innuendoes.  This bit of printer's devilry offers startling evidence for his interest both in the material body and in the material shape and transmission of his texts.

Transmission of the text for the next "volume" included in CPPBS presents a far more challenging problem.  Neither manuscript nor a printed volume supervised by Shelley remains for The Wandering Jew (WJ), though the editors cite evidence that during 1810 he tried to persuade several publishers to bring it out and had apparently sent manuscripts to at least one and possibly two of them.  One of these manuscripts, sent to Walter Scott's publisher Ballantyne in Edinburgh, was discovered and partially published in the Edinburgh Literary Journal for June 1829.  In 1831 Fraser's Magazine published a version of WJ that closely resembled the Edinburgh version.  Each contained material not included in the other.  Confirming the arguments in Adeline Glasheen's 1943 essay, Reiman and Fraistat agree that Shelley sent one version to Ballantyne and then, in Edinburgh when he eloped with Harriet, replaced it with a slightly revised, less religiously shocking version--and that this is the version published in the Edinburgh Literary Journal and, from Fraser's editor's redaction, in that magazine two years later.  From their collations, Reiman and Fraistat conclude as did Glasheen that the Fraser version of the poem also followed the same second manuscript; while Fraser's published more of that original, it also made substantial changes in the text.  Thus, they argue that the 1829 text is more reliable.  They also thoroughly challenge Thomas Medwin's claims to joint authorship of the poem: "The diction, the pace, and quality of the verse, the metaphysical, religious, and psychological concerns, and the great intensity of the four-canto poem published as WJ together with all the external evidence except Medwin's own testimony [thirty years after the poem's writing], point to PBS as sole author" (199).  Although convincing, most of this argument seems more of a critical than a textual argument, though an argument that gains plausibility given Medwin's textual unreliability in other cases.

As Reiman and Fraistat point out, the verse form and narrative scale of WJ resemble those of Scott's narrative poems published through 1810--The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake.  Yet Scott's increasingly sceptical framing of supernatural elements is less attractive to Shelley here than are the flamboyant horrors of Lewis's The Monk.  If WJ is still unknown to many readers today, Medwin's claims to have been primary author of Cantos I-III may be responsible.  Though Dobell collated the two periodical texts in 1887, and Woodberry included an amalgam of the two, Forman--and after him Hutchinson in the OSA Shelley, Locock, and Matthews in revising Hutchinson, excluded it, and Ingpen places it in an appendix (192).  Though Matthews and Everest in 1989 follow Glasheen, they do not accept the hypothesis of a second draft delivered to Ballantyne.

Where did Shelley obtain his plot of The Wandering Jew; or, The Victim of the Eternal Avenger?  Here, too, the documentary trail is complex.  Though familiarity with the outlines of the myth was widespread, Kenneth Cameron proposed that Shelley made use of a German eighteenth-century poem on the wandering Jew by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart, translated and published in La Belle Assemblee in January 1809.  Yet Reiman and Fraistat suggest that this representation of a "Titanic victim-resister" does not emerge until Canto IV of Shelley's poem, and that the earlier cantos are based on a complex amalgam of a subplot of Lewis's novel The Monk and Ann Radcliffe's The Italian (202-03).  For "we feel that the portrayal of the rather lonely, domestic WJ differs" strongly from "the enemy of the Deity's injustice" in WJ Canto IV and in Queen Mab (202).  Reinforcing this link between the Gothic novels and the German poem, the editors found that stories adjoining the translation in La Belle Assemblee were also drawn from the "Bleeding Nun" subplot of The Monk--though this conjunction would seem to make their argument for a two-stage composition and characterization a little more difficult.

The "odd collection" of poems in Posthumous Fragments of Margaret Nicholson (PF), a "student prank" of Shelley's fall in Oxford, present fewer problems of textual transmission but more problems of critical evaluation, as it turns away from the conventions of the Gothic to the political and to a less-romanticized presentation of the sexual.  The volume was published in Oxford by Munday and Slatter in a small press run, most copies of which have vanished.  Though Percy and Elizabeth had already played with fictions of authorship in Original Poems by Victor and Cazire, this volume in the editors' view represents a much greater complexity.  The volume claims to be the writings of the mad washerwoman who had attempted to assassinate George III; it claims also that the collection is edited by a nephew unknown to history.  Shelley perpetrates further fictions, Reiman and Fraistat point out, in his title: the actual Nicholson was still alive, and none of the poems in the collection is a fragment.  The poems range from sentimental love-lyrics to "sexually risque schoolboy burlesque" to near-treasonable sympathy for regicides and other political assassins (249).  It also contains, the editors argue, allusions to sexual scandal within Shelley's own family.

Reiman and Fraistat comment that "attempts to find ideological or artistic coherence in the volume have met with frustration" (242), citing Cameron's limited focus on only two poems in arguing for a consistent political radicalism, and Marjorie Levinson's insistence on a more emotional, subjective unity through the persona of Nicholson.  Yet they make a far grander claim:  "The personae whom PBS chose as the author and editor of PF and his method in constructing PF seem to involve a nexus of mutually supportive public and private associations that anticipate (albeit in a crude form) the complex intertwining of traditional myth, literary precedent, historical allusion, scientific knowledge, and personal emotion that characterize his mature poetry" (240-41).  This claim seems to require a bit more qualification than the parenthetical offers--and the editors do back off a little, proposing that sceptical readers see the volume's personae as a set of "carnivalesque masks employed to shield the young poet from taking full responsibility for his opinions, his emotions, and (perhaps) his imperfect versification" (242).  This more sceptical reading leads the editors to the well-grounded suggestion that links this volume to the tradition of earlier "anti-establishment satire" and forward to PBS's later multiple framings of poetic assertions.  And they make a strong case for reading carefully PBS's representation of the problematic relationships between political idealism and violence, either of the left or of the right.  In a bibliographical puzzle posthumous not to Nicholson but to Shelley, the editors discovered that most of the extant copies of PF held in libraries are facsimile copies.  They have located and collated five legitimate copies and have carefully described their differences from the facsimiles.  Though the first of these facsimiles was fairly accurate, later ones were less so.

As in Posthumous Fragments, the poems Shelley includes in his second Gothic novel, St. Irvyne, completed in early 1811, gain dramatic complexity if not necessarily aesthetic merit from their placement in the prose narrative.  Flawed speakers utter flawed poems, enabling--so the editors ingeniously argue--the apprentice poet to disclaim and even mock their errors.  Because the poems appear in a novel that was, in fact, published and not suppressed, they must have reached the largest audience yet for his poetry.  Editorial notes on two of these poems become semi-essays, blending textual and aesthetic criticism.  "Song ('How swiftly through heav'n's wide expanse')" has a "textual history . . . [that] illustrates the intricate relationship between private and public poetry in PBS's canon" (273).  A "private love-lyric" written to Harriet Grove in 1810--copied into a letter to his family's music-master Edward Fergus Grahame, and then fused with another draft of love-lyric--appears in the novel as a song the heroine sings to charm bandits in a ruined castle.  "Excesses in both plot and diction [of the narrative setting] suggest that PBS was parodying as well as imitating his Gothic and sentimental models" (274), the editors argue.

Earlier in the novel, they propose, another lyric sung to a bandit-audience is contextualized in ways that point toward and parody thievery among authors.  This lyric, a ballad called "The death-bell beats," clearly resembles in plot the plagiarized ballad in Victor and Cazire.  Though Shelley lifts the Victor and Cazire ballad from Lewis's Tales of Terror, Lewis's whole collection was itself a "take-off" of Tales of Wonder, a collection which included Gothic material not only from Lewis, but also from Scott and Southey.  So if the "take-off" becomes a part of the genre of metrical and spectre tales, in his own Gothic novel Shelley is, like Lewis, both imitating and satirizing but not plagiarizing.  Yet this uncertain borderline between parody and plagiarism is echoed in the dramatic setting.  In the audience for the ballad's performance within the novel is a whole crew of "guilt-ridden" listeners, listeners who include figuratively both Lewis and Shelley.  We might ask whether Scott, in turn, read St Irvyne, since his 1813 poem Rokeby contains a similar scene.  In Rokeby, however, the minstrel-bandit is redeemed by his own song and, when realigned to the property-owners, helps to defeat his Gothic-rebel chief. In their note, Reiman and Fraistat reject another possible entanglement with parodic ballads, i.e., the suggestion by Matthews and Everest that "The Mad Monk," Coleridge's parody of Wordsworth, is Shelley's source.

In The Devil's Walk, however, the next of Shelley's "released" works, Coleridge is indeed a model.  "The Devil's Thoughts," an "anti-establishment" ballad written jointly by Coleridge and Southey and published in 1799, is accepted by the editors as a source for PBS's broadside ballad of 1812.  Reiman and Fraistat suggest that Shelley's disillusioning visit to Southey in December 1811 prompted this imitation of "The Devil's Thoughts," not to correct the earlier text but to correct its apostate authors.  His primary purpose, however, was to make his devil, like so many similar figures of the 1790s, a voice enabling radical critique.  In June 1812, the Shelleys had gone to Devon, hoping to support workers' demonstrations against food shortages.  When PBS's servant was arrested and jailed for handing out several documents without printers' names, the local constable apparently seized a copy of The Devil's Walk as one of those illegally printed documents.  The actual author only fell under suspicion and was not arrested.  Ironically, it is only because the constable sent this copy to the Public Records Office that we have a copy.  Following their earlier investigations of Shelley's type-setting for Victor and Cazire, the editors suggest that Shelley himself set the type for The Devil's Walk at the Barnstaple printer's shop, thus protecting the printer if not his own servant.  Certainly the Gothic lettering of the title points toward a close personal interest in the appearance of the broadside.  After Rossetti published his two-volume edition of Shelley's poems in 1870, "someone at the PRO alerted him" to the broadside, and Rossetti published both it and an earlier draft sent in a letter to Elizabeth Hitchener in the Fortnightly Review for January 1871.  Reiman and Fraistat explain that they use the original PRO sheet as their copy-text, since Rossetti had emended some of the punctuation.  Through their close examination of the printed broadside, moreover, they are able to say that nothing has been cut off of the bottom--hence, no printer's name or colophon had ever appeared on the sheet.

The intertextuality of The Devil's Walk satire reinforces the revision of Coleridge's and Southey's model which, in turn, reinforces the editors' interpretations of the earlier collections as deliberately allusive or parodic.  The Devil's Walk also looks forward to the satiric reversals in The Mask of Anarchy.   More immediately, it adds a further context for teaching Barbauld's Eighteen Hundred and Eleven, an almost exactly contemporary poem that also protests the political construction of famine.  In anticipation of the iconoclastic aims of Queen Mab a year later, the poem concludes with a hope that "Reason's penetrating eye" will make "His sulphured Majesty" less successful in his politic alliance with the establishment.

The last group of poems in this Volume 1 of CPPBS apparently did not fit any of Shelley's designs for a published or even surreptitiously-circulated volume.  Instead, each of them was separately and informally released to friends or family.  And in even sharper contrast to the earlier groups, some of these have the appearance of spontaneous writing for a specific letter or other occasion.  These ten poems or fragments are, thus, in some sense private documents and remain in a less "polished" or "finished" state than the poems PBS published or printed and attempted to publish (296).  The editors suggest, however, that this appearance of spontaneity may be a carefully calculated effect.  Reiman and Fraistat have worked "to retain the character of their informal, colloquial manuscript originals, while correcting" naive errors and supplementing the very sparse punctuation (296)--a compromise for readability, but a compromise which again is transparent for one who reads carefully the editors' commentaries and the collations of texts.

These last poems and fragments are placed in the chronological order of their release to a private correspondent, a chronology ranging from 1809-14.  In some cases, as the editors explain, the copy-text, even if the earliest remaining text, may be later than the anecdotal evidence for a poem's release.  Each of these poems presents its own shifting array of editorial problems, as can be seen from the slightly different headings for the editors' commentaries.  For a poem that may be the earliest surviving poem by PBS,  "A Cat in distress," the headings are: "Date of Composition," "Copy-text and Emendations," and "Sources and Occasion."  For another poem, "O wretched mortal, hard thy fate," the section headings are: "Provenance and Discovery" and "Editorial Issues."  This latter poem is new to the Shelley canon, having been discovered by Reiman in a notebook that belonged to Hogg at Oxford.  Because the holograph has no emendations and concludes with a graphic flourish, possibly, the editors argue, PBS wrote the poem elsewhere and then inscribed it as if spontaneously in Hogg's notebook.   Two poems addressed in letters to the Shelley family's music-master Grahame exhibit a "coarse Regency humor" in attacking PBS's father (315); they were probably omitted for this reason from earlier collections until Ingpen and Peck's 1927 edition and avoided by biographers and critics even longer, until the 1964 publication of those letters.  Thus, "Provenance and Public Knowledge" becomes a crucial category both for editorial discussion and for assessing PBS's attitudes toward patriarchal authority.  Fortunately, the editors did not feel bound by a single rubric in dealing with these complexities.

Given the difficulties of dating early drafts and fragments, the wisdom of Reiman and Fraistat's organization by publication of volumes or release of works to the public is certainly strategic.  Yet it leads to a whole range of critical insights as well.  It gives us a far more vivid sense of the process by which "poetic genius," if we can hypothesize about such a Blakean faculty, interacts with the contexts of historical milieux both large and small--and with the often limited, conventional literary genres of those contexts.  As the editors turn to works with a richer vein of manuscript drafts and versions, this editorial choice will come under greater pressure, but it indeed clarifies Shelley's authorial choices, particularly in terms of the public audiences he attempted to reach.  This volume demystifies powerfully the early stages of Shelley's career, stages of which many of us were all too ignorant.  Yet this volume's very elegance, thoroughness, and persuasiveness about Shelley's clarity of intentions at this early stage may remystify, for the moment, the next stages in the process of the poet's developing greatness.  We wait with anticipation for the next volumes in an edition that in its emerging greatness finally does justice to Shelley's poetry.

Volume and Issue: 

Authored by (Secondary): 

Parent Resource: 



Gillen D'Arcy Wood, The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture, 1760–1860

Printer-friendly versionSend by email
Gillen D'Arcy Wood, The Shock of the Real: Romanticism and Visual Culture, 1760-1860. New York: Palgrave, 2001. vii + 273.  Illus.  $55.00 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22654-3).

Reviewed by
James Robert Allard
University of Toronto

The Shock of the Real is the latest in a string of recent texts that explore the often conflicted relationship between late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century popular visual culture and literary Romanticism.  In an effort to explore that conflict in greater detail, Wood reads such popular and influential phenomena as David Garrick's peculiarly "visual" acting technique, public art exhibitions, panoramas, the installation of the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, and the emergence of photography against the elitist complaint--made most tangible in Coleridge, but present in the writings of many of the canonical authors of the period--that "visual representations intended to deceive the viewer into mistaking them for the real thing, are not pleasurable but 'disagreeable'" (4).  More than just disagreeability, though, Wood argues convincingly that what Coleridge and his contemporaries experienced was the sense of shock occasioned by skillful deception: whereas "in 'a work of genuine imitation, you begin with an acknowledged total difference'" that produces "a Work of Art," in "a real Copy . . . . Not finding the motion and the life which we expected, we are shocked as by a falsehood. . . . In short, the same pictorial effects of similitude produce pleasure in a work of art, but shock and disgust in a sub-artistic 'real Copy'" (4).  Wood then goes on to explore the different results of that shock effect on both the popular imagination and the sensibilities of the cultural elite and suggests that not only were the effects different, but also that the differences themselves only served to magnify the sense of shock: "The shock of the real discloses its double value: for the 'vulgar crowd' it represents a thrilling novelty, while to the discerning eyes of the cultural elite it effects a 'disenchantment'" (4).  Lurking in the background on nearly every page of the text is Wood's contention that "the late Georgian fascination for replicating the visible world . . . constitutes the template of our own popular tastes and expectations in visual culture in the new millennium.  This includes the sometimes violent minority reaction against visual culture, for which, I suggest, Romantic aesthetic ideology continues to provide the conceptual vocabulary" (222).  With an eye fixed not on diagnosing and "curing" the continuing fascination with visuality and spectacle--and, ultimately, the by now tired culture wars--but on exploring the roots of that fascination and the ubiquity of the conflicts, Wood proceeds with a set of perhaps surprising juxtapositions that at once manifest and illuminate the very "shock of the real" he wants to discuss.

Wood announces early that his "methodological approach is interrogatory" (7), and his study is guided by two fundamental questions: "Why were Romantic writers so prominently represented among the minority opinion that disdained the rise of popular visual media in late Georgian England?  What stake did the Romantics have in actively, often virulently [sic] opposing new forms and forums of visual representation?" (6).  Each chapter, in turn, addresses a range of questions, some broadly philosophical (e.g., in chapter 5, "What metaphor of Greece did the Elgin Marbles produce: truth and beauty, or psychosis and death?") and some quite specific (in chapter 1, "What was Lamb's objection to Garrick's statue in Westminster Abbey?") in terms of the kinds of answers they elicit (7).  Though the questions cross quite a number of disciplinary and theoretical boundaries, Wood remains standing on solid ground: "Taking the long view of Romanticism as an historical period, The Shock of the Real finds answers to each of these questions in a century-long conflict between the literary elite of late Georgian England (and, briefly, France) and a booming recreational industry in visual media" (8).  To walk that battleground, Wood reads the notion of the "real"--an (aesthetic) production--through Roland Barthes and the notion of "shock" (the fall out from the "reality effect") through Walter Benjamin.  He notes, however, that his "use of the term the 'real' will not be strictly Barthesian" (11) and that his conception "shock" is not entirely derived from Benjamin, but that "[e]ach subject will bear its own particularly inflected definition" (11-12), and in that flexibility lies one of the study's greatest strengths.  Early in his introduction, he points out that while he frequently appeals to a number of the major twentieth-century theorists of visual culture (perhaps Barthes and Benjamin more than any others), his study owes a far greater debt to the work of scholars such as Richard Altick and John Barrell, and that he "preferred a historically descriptive, even at times anecdotal approach, to a densely theorized study" (12).  As he points out in defense of his "catholic application" of the notion of the "real," "I present no defence except that I have used the idea of the 'real' only insofar as it is useful" (12), and, thus, far from untheorized, Wood's text takes what it needs from a variety of critical and theoretical tools in order to read a fascinating range of "texts" and phenomena, and we can see from the brief chapter-by-chapter synopsis that follows just how productively far-ranging the study is.  In the interests of space, I treat only the first two chapters in some detail and provide sketches of the remaining three.

The first chapter, "Theater and Painting," examines what Wood calls "the formation of modern celebrity culture" (8), as played out in the long careers of actors Garrick (treated here as an archetype of the modern celebrity, "famous simply for being famous" [46]) and Frances Abington (treated here as a similar archetype, as one who becomes famous almost solely because of the ubiquity of her portrait).  At the core of this chapter is the familiar notion of Romantic anti-theatricality, and Wood begins by rehearsing the most familiar of the Romantic complaints concerning the state of the theater in the period and pointing out that "the Romantics' negative attitude to stage representation contradicts the plain fact of their enthusiastic attendance at and voluminous commentary upon the theater of the early nineteenth century" (20).  But one of the strengths of Wood's analysis is his willingness to allow such contradictions to stand; he argues that "[t]o illuminate these contradictions inherent in Romantic antitheatricality is . . . a more productive critical strategy than to attempt to resolve them," particularly since "[t]he relationship of Romantic authors to the Regency stage describes a pattern of ambivalence [that] signifies the literary elite's attitude of fascinated distrust toward the variegated and spectacular forms of visual culture emerging around them" (20).  Drawing on this familiarity and skillfully using these contradictions, Wood argues that the elitist complaints about the theater were less about substance than about style by reading Lamb's attacks with Garrick's on- and off-stage performances and Sir Joshua Reynolds's portraits of Abington with "the theatrical possibilities of personal identity" (50).  More specifically, Lamb's concern was more with Garrick's (and, by extension, Abington's) relation to the contemporary marketplace than with their treatments of Shakespeare and other masters of the drama: "The intensely visible nature of his dramatic performances in turn transformed Garrick's person, particularly his face, into a marketable 'image' able to be reproduced and sold through a multitude of subsidiary visual media" (25).  In short, Shakespeare, for example, becomes a vehicle for Garrick's (and Abington's) fame and not the other way around.  As Wood summarizes, "[t]he historical significance of Garrick's acting style [and Abington's ever-present portrait] is not that he introduced visuality to the eighteenth-century stage . . . but that he brought a realistic visual technique to literary drama," and, in making spectacles of themselves, Garrick and Abington help to inaugurate and popularize a "theater of spectacle" (45).

Wood continues with this notion of spectacle in chapter 2, "Prints and Exhibitions," which treats "the two principal agencies of the new commercial art market--print reproduction and public exhibitions--with a view to explaining the anxieties that the marriage of art, mimesis, and the marketplace inspired among the Romantic literary elite" (69).  The first part of this chapter reads in Reynolds's lectures to the Royal Academy ("the so-called Discourses on Art") "a sub-textual argument against the art of engraving [which he] perceived to be antithetical to the ideals of the newly founded Royal Academy"--despite the fact that such a rejection runs counter "to Reynolds' practical management of his own career, for which he, like all Georgian painters, depended on the successful commercial marketing of prints" (9).  On the one hand, as President of the Royal Academy, Reynolds took it as his personal mission to develop a truly British School of painting, one that "represented aristocratic, Tory interests, and, in its neo-classicist curriculum and elitist system of self-governance, looked to the continental academies, particularly the French, for its model" (74).  On the other hand, Reynolds was a direct and "conspicuous beneficiary of the booming commercial print trade to which the Academy was ideologically opposed" (71).  We see a similar situation in the case of Benjamin Haydon, "one of the new breed of commercial academic painters" whose immense paintings were designed specifically for public exhibition, and the second part of the chapter reads Haydon's career as a signal instance of the "growing popular taste for . . . 'spectacular realism'" (9).  One of the most interesting sections of the chapter is Wood's attempt to answer the linked questions, "Did the Royal Academy ultimately succeed in giving birth to the longed-for British School of painting?  And to what extent did the officially maligned print industry determine the outcome of that mission?" (79).  Ultimately, Wood concludes, for "the connoisseurs on the Continent [still the arbiters of taste, as the mandate of the Royal Academy makes clear], the print was the British School," and, while this situation may not have been Reynolds's ideal, the "mass production of copies of British paintings served . . . to create a fashion for British art inspired not by the originals themselves, but a cult of prints only" (82).  Perhaps even more than the theater, the visual arts dramatize the conflict between "the highbrow, literary idealism of the English cultural elite" and the emerging popular marketplace (9), and, perhaps because of the familiarity of this situation in the theater, Wood's reading of Reynolds, Haydon, and popular taste stands, in my mind, as the book's strongest chapter.

At the center of "The Panorama," chapter 3, is what Wood identifies as Wordsworth's "negative response" to the spectacle of the panorama in Book Seven of The Prelude, where "the poet of nature confronts the commodification of natural landscape in a popular visual form" (9).  In that confrontation, we see most explicitly the "crisis of Romantic idealism in the emergent visual culture of modernity" (10), and Wood offers a detailed analysis of the crucial passages from Wordsworth's poem in the context of the popularity of the panoramas of the West End.  Chapter 4, "Ruins and Museums," explores the British Museum, "with a special view to its status as symbol and repository of Hellenic ideals" (10), and offers readings of Keats's "British Museum poems" (the sonnets "On Seeing the Elgin Marbles," "To Haydon," and, especially, the Hyperion fragments) and of "Lord Elgin's unhappy career through the suggestive imagery of Byron's anti-Elgin poem, 'The Curse of Minerva'" (10).  Perhaps appropriately, the marbles themselves dominate this chapter, particularly in light of Wood's argument that "public access to the Parthenon sculptures transformed both the aesthetic and political implications of Hellenism" (122-23), and, as we have seen, the issue of "access," of publicity, and of display, go to the heart of the issues Wood raises.  Finally, the first and most extensive part of chapter 5, "Illustration Tourism Photography," links readings of the "popular and lucrative industry" of book illustration and "the emergent medium of photography" and grounds them in "the emerging Scottish tourism industry," all of which are embodied by the "fact that both [J. M. W.] Turner and the photographic pioneer Fox Talbot illustrated the works of Sir Walter Scott within a decade of Victoria's coming to the throne" which then "presents an extraordinarily instructive opportunity, never before grasped, to uncover the tensions between the two visual media and their relation to literary Romanticism" (11).  The second part of this chapter, to my mind the least effective section of this otherwise engaging and tightly focused study, moves to mid-nineteenth-century Paris to examine "the Romantic backlash against the supposed 'realism' of the photographic image with a reading of Baudelaire's jeremiad against photography in his 1859 Salon" (11).  Wood does argue that it is "by specific design that this revisionist study of Romanticism and visual culture chronologically ends with Second Empire Paris and photography, where surveys of visual-cultural modernity from Benjamin to MoMA have begun" (15)--a move he suggests better "illuminate[s] the largely unwritten pre-history of our millennial visual age" (15)--but this section of the study still feels somewhat tacked on and even outside of its already immense scope.  Nevertheless, and though I still think the second chapter is the strongest in the book, the deft handling of so many apparently disparate elements in this chapter (especially the first section) marks it as one of the study's strengths.

My only complaint about this otherwise engaging and rewarding text is that Wood tends to overemphasize the connections between Romantic visual culture and our contemporary scene.  He states in his introduction that "[a]t the genesis of this book lies [his] desire to explore prefigurations of modernity . . . in the visual culture of the Romantic period" (5), and he notes in his conclusion that he set out "to present a history of the Romantic period debate over visual and verbal media" (219).  But what may start as such a history becomes, in some spots, an exercise in comparing Romantic-period phenomena to contemporary ones.  Wood sees Reynolds's repeated efforts as a portrait painter marking him as "a forefather of the modern paparazzi" (66), suggests that "commercial Romantic painters thought 'big' for the same reasons movie houses today advertise the size of their screens" (95), and claims that the effect of the panorama is "exactly that Benjamin will later find in twentieth-century cinema" (118), and so on at a number of points throughout the text.  Such observations, while, to degrees, certainly true and necessary to acknowledge, sometimes seem to be the point of Wood's discussion to such an extent that they tend to detract from the clear impact and undeniable importance of his claims about Romantic visual culture.  Similarly, Wood is undoubtedly right to state that "[t]he problems faced by a literary sensibility in a visually saturated cityscape . . . are more than familiar to us two hundred years later" (220), but it is precisely because of their familiarity that Wood's repetition of that connection becomes, at times, cumbersome.  Had Wood relied on that familiarity more--that is, allowed the statement of his aim to trace the origins of certain contemporary conflicts back to Romantic conflicts between visual and literary culture to stand on its own, unsupported by the constant reminders--the connections would have been just as visible and would likely have had an even greater impact.

This is not at all meant as an attack on Wood's study or its goals; on the contrary, I want to suggest that in so vehemently insisting that the questions he asks are relevant to us in the early twenty-first century, Wood fails to realize that their relevance and his study's invaluable contributions to Romantic Studies are immediately obvious and manifest throughout.  Near the end of his introduction, Wood, alluding to Lessing's Laocoön, promises that "The Shock of the Real helps illuminate our millennial anxieties over the aesthetic values of text and image through a study of their original estrangement in the century after Lessing's unilateral declaration of the superiority of the word" (13).  Despite his sometimes intrusive insistence on connecting Romantic culture to "our millennial anxieties," Wood delivers what he promises.  The Shock of the Real makes significant contributions to all aspects of Romantic Studies, with neither an express desire (yet again) to "rescue" more traditional literature and literary study nor an effort (yet again) to argue for the inclusion or recovery of non-traditional "texts" and approaches in the face of tradition, but with a healthy respect for both tradition and innovation, a sense of reverence for neither, and an eagerness to get on with the work.  This is an important and timely study which scholars of Romantic visual, theater, and popular cultures--not to mention all who read the works of the authors so deeply affected by those cultures, whatever the authors' feelings about them--will find an immensely useful and thoroughly enjoyable read.

Volume and Issue: 

Authored by (Secondary): 

Parent Resource: