Romantic Circles Reviews

The Woman of Colour: A Tale, by Anonymous, ed. Lyndon J. Dominique

The Woman of Colour: A Tale, by Anonymous, ed. Lyndon J. Dominique (Broadview, 2007). 268pp (Paperback, ISBN-10: 1551111764; $24.95).

Reviewed by
Patricia A. Matthew
Montclair State University

The allure of editing a text that has been out of print for two hundred years is irresistible to any scholar interested in lesser-known texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially a novel compelling enough to gain the notice of influential periodicals like The British Critic and The Monthly Review. For anyone interested in histories of prose fiction, Lyndon J. Dominique’s edition of The Woman of Colour: A Tale (1808) has much to offer. The novel fits neatly into that period between Frances Burney’s novels of the late eighteenth century and the historical novels of the Romantic era, and anticipates Bertha Mason in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). As Dominique convincingly argues, it extends the traditions introduced by Samuel Richardson in Pamela; Or, Virtue Rewarded (1740). The meticulously annotated primary text and the supplemental material Dominique has selected to situate it within its cultural moment has the potential to fill in gaps in our understanding of literary history, expand our understanding of a specific cultural moment and struggle (namely England’s competing projects of abolition and empire), and provide an entry to heretofore marginalized (if not completely unknown) literary traditions, all the while highlighting previously ignored threads in existing ones.

Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon, ed. White, Goodridge, and Keegan

Robert Bloomfield: Lyric, Class, and the Romantic Canon, ed. Simon White, John Goodridge, and Bridget Keegan (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2006). 315pp (ISBN-10: 0838756298).

Reviewed by
Ron Broglio
Arizona State University

Several years ago, Pickering and Chatto published three volumes of collected period poems entitled Eighteenth-Century Laboring-Class Poets, as well as another three volumes under the title Nineteenth-Century Laboring-Class Poets. Through this large project general editor John Goodridge and a list of volume editors have brought to light many lesser known poets, and they have contextualized better known peasant poets such as Stephen Duck, Mary Collier, Robert Burns, Ann Yearsley, Elizabeth Hands, Robert Bloomfield and John Clare. The formidable size of this handsome collection calls for scholarly inquiry into a large number of poets and poems which have seen only marginal attention.

Matthew Rowlinson, Real Money and Romanticism

Matthew Rowlinson, Real Money and Romanticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 266pp. (Hdbk., $85.00; ISBN: 978-0521193795).

Reviewed by
Brett Mobley
Fordham University

The guiding claim of Matthew Rowlinson’s Real Money and Romanticism is that literary historians have overlooked the ways in which “British literature of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was shaped by changes in the economic structure of the publishing industry and the commodity status of intellectual property” (32). Rowlinson’s objective is to develop a new understanding of the connections between Romantic authors, print culture, and capital as each was changing during this tumultuous period. While much good work has been done on the economics of Romantic literature, Rowlinson’s approach departs from predecessors such as William St. Clair and Lee Erikson. His critical lexicon and methodology are primarily derived from Marx’s Capital (and reactions against Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations), with informing ideas from Marcel Mauss and Jacques Lacan. The works that receive this theoretically-charged critique include Scott’s Waverly novels (particularly Guy Mannering and The Antiquary), Keats’s “Fall of Hyperion,” and Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop. One of these things is not like the other: Rowlinson includes Dickens in his broadened Romanticism as a writer who “acutely experienced” this “period of rapid change in the monetary system, in the British economy at large, and in the publishing trade” (32).

Karen Fang, Romantic Writing and the Empire of Signs: Periodical Culture and Post-Napoleonic Authorship

Karen Fang, Romantic Writing and the Empire of Signs: Periodical Culture and Post-Napoleonic Authorship (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010). 248 pp. (Cloth; ISBN: 978-0-8139-2874-6; $35.00).

Reviewed by
Luke Iantorno
University of North Texas

Karen Fang’s examination of post-Napoleonic periodical culture in Britain focuses on the works of Charles Lamb, James Hogg, Letitia Landon, and Lord Byron, their individual experiences with imperialism, and how they translated those experiences for British periodicals. Periodical culture, according to Fang, was the nexus of empire and capital, consumption and commodification--a privileged formation that brought imperial exoticism to the domestic consumer, in the "visual and textual representation[s] within newspapers and magazines" (2). Jon Klancher's work figures heavily here, especially his sense that "the professionalization of the early-nineteenth-century periodical marketplace" constituted a "fundamentally different cultural economy": as such, Fang follows Klancher in reading the semiotics of the imperial project, an "'empire of signs, a phrase he derives from contemporary Romantic metaphors of the mind” to develop her own examination of the more material, “geographical exoticism” in British periodicals (7).

Colin Jager, The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era

Colin Jager, The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007). xiv + 274 pp (Hdbk., $59.95; ISBN 978-0-8122-3979-9).

Reviewed by
Tristanne Connolly
St. Jerome's University in the University of Waterloo

The prospect of reading Nature as the Book of God in and around the Romantic period immediately calls up both the precise, “rational religion” of the eighteenth century (how much can be known of the true God without Revelation?) and the vague, evocative pantheism that has traditionally defined high Romanticism. Colin Jager navigates a way between the two, and the topic of design, seemingly only one small detail in the larger relations of theology, philosophy and literature, reveals itself as influentially everywhere, much like the hand of God. Design becomes a deft little needle to embroider the broad fabric to which Jager sets himself, a repatterning of the relation between Romanticism and modern secularism. The project points suggestively toward multiple significances of the concept of design, and ways to rethink Nature and Reason in early and late Romanticism, and in modernity. More explicitly, the book considers how to read religion in Romantic literature where it might seem most elusive, critiques Romantic criticism through its own investments in a certain narrative of modernity, and extrapolates that critique into a revisionary theory of secularization that accounts for the persistence of divine design and human faith.

Robert Miles, Romantic Misfits

Robert Miles, Romantic Misfits (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). 256pp (Hdbk., $75.00; ISBN: 9781403989932).

Reviewed by
Celestine Woo
SUNY Empire State College

Robert Miles’s Romantic Misfits is an erudite, far-ranging reconsideration of Romanticism that cleverly fuses both old and new conceptualizations of the period. Miles recuperates a more conservative (in more than one sense) reading of Romanticism, returning to older sites of scholarly interest in order to defamiliarize them with recent work on theatre, science, and hitherto unrecognized writers and genres. Miles writes for an advanced audience familiar with major theorists, scholars, and arguments within Romantic studies. Even graduate students may find portions of Romantic Misfits difficult to parse without aid, especially the discussion of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria and its political context (which arrives with minimal explanation), or the ongoing presumption that the reader has internalized the thought of Jürgen Habermas as fully as Miles. This is not to say, however, that Romantic Misfits is an abstruse, arcane book—at its best, the prose is lucid, even lyrical.

Michael Wiley, Romantic Migrations: Local, National, and Transnational Dispositions

Michael Wiley, Romantic Migrations: Local, National, and Transnational Dispositions (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). Xvi + 209 pp. (Hdbk; ISBN: 978-0-230-60468-1).

Reviewed by
Evan Gottlieb
Oregon State University

Romantic Migrations represents a welcome addition to what I suspect may be a nascent trend in literary studies of the long eighteenth century: the development of (for lack of a better term) post-postcolonial critical approaches. Few would deny that postcolonialism has yielded tangible results, even modern critical classics: Saree Makdisi’s Romantic Imperialism, Suvir Kaul’s Poems of Nation, Anthems of Empire, and Srinivas Aravamudan’s Tropicopolitans, for example, seem likely to remain important touchstones for many years. But with the work of Said, Spivak, and Bhabha (to name three of postcolonialism’s most visible practitioners in the 1980s and 1990s) having been thoroughly digested by literary studies for quite some time now, it seems only natural that scholars might begin to wonder what might lie on the far side of a postcolonial approach to Romanticism.

Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity

Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007). viii + 297pp. ISBN 978-0-521-86638-5 (Hdbk.), $100.00.

Reviewed by
Mark L. Barr
Saint Mary's University

Brian Goldberg's The Lake Poets and Professional Identity is a careful and subtle exploration of the cultural tropes and social forces that William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey invoked and struggled against in attempting to forge their distinct notions of authorial identity. Goldberg's central thesis is that the Lake School poets, caught between the unsustainable binary conception of the author either as reclusive (and unpaid) genius or as remunerated hack, sought in legal, medical, and clerical professionalism a more palatable model to help reconfigure the authorial relationship to both work and audience. In this intensive and necessarily episodic study, Goldberg manages a fine balance between both obscure and well-read texts and between the Lake Poets and their eighteenth-century forebears to trace the often uncomfortable fit between the notion of "professional gentleman" and an emerging vocational identity arising alongside the economic model gradually replacing the patronage system.

Robert Mitchell, Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity

Robert Mitchell, Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era: Systems, State Finance, and the Shadows of Futurity. New York: Routledge, 2007. 280pp. $148.00 (Hdbk; ISBN 978-0-415-77142-9).

Reviewed by
Tobias Menely
Willamette University

Since when has public debate—about the state’s responsibility for the indigent, about foreign wars and homeland security, about the regulation of international commerce—been so thoroughly informed by issues of financial speculation and public debt? Since the eighteenth century, argues Robert Mitchell, when the parasitic greed of speculators and the dangerous expansion of national debt were the subject of plays and poems, pamphlets and speeches. Mitchell describes his ambitious, fascinating, and timely book Sympathy and the State in the Romantic Era as an example of a “new economic literary criticism” (206). Literary critics, he maintains, have as much to teach us as economists do about finance capitalism, a phenomenon (as we have recently learned) that reflects the exigencies of social psychology and imaginative speculation no less than the materialities of production and consumption. Mitchell links the development of a theoretical language of sympathetic identification with the crises in state finance that periodically rocked Britain in the century and a half after the establishment of the Bank of England. Elaborating on Thomas Haskell’s seminal work, “Capitalism and the Origins of Humanitarian Sensibility,” Mitchell shows that financial speculation, social sympathy, and humanitarian reform politics share a cognitive style defined by its “open sense of the future” (vii).

Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats's Boyish Imagination

Richard Marggraf Turley, Keats’s Boyish Imagination. Routledge, 2004. Xiv + 158pp. $145.00 (Hdbk; 0-415-28882-7)

Reviewed by
Jonathan Mulrooney
College of the Holy Cross

A concern with “maturity”—psychological, social, poetic—has informed critical discussions of Keats more than those of any other English poet. For much of the twentieth century, the concern was framed biographically: how is it that one so young could have developed so quickly? In 1988, Marjorie Levinson’s shattering Keats’s Life of Allegory: The Origins of a Style turned that question upon itself, claiming that profound cultural dispossession rather than transcendent formal mastery constituted the most radical element of Keats’s poetry. Measuring as it does the psychological (if not the psychoanalytic) valences of the poet’s verses, Levinson’s study continues to serve as a salutary counter to the historicisms that have illuminated Keats studies over the last three decades. As the social and material conditions within which the poems were produced and circulated have been recovered, we have recognized a serious political dimension to Keats’s aesthetic project. Yet Keats’s Life of Allegory reminds us that the formal standards by which we came to value Keats’s lyric form—and the lyric persona they enact—have not, even by virtue of Levinson’s inversion of them, been discarded. In short, Keats’s formal achievement endures in a way that historicism cannot entirely explain. We might reframe my opening question: how is it that an historically informed criticism might attend to matters such as stylistic and psychological “development” without embracing once again an exhausted Romantic ideology?