Romantic Circles Reviews

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime

Cian Duffy, Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. xiv + 280 pp. $80.00. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0512854008).

Reviewed by
Dana Van Kooy
University of Colorado at Boulder

Just as Mont Blanc has been central to the Shelleyan canon, so too the sublime as an aesthetic discourse has been pivotal to our understanding of Percy Shelley as a poet, a philosopher, and a radical. Cian Duffy's Shelley and the Revolutionary Sublime challenges the "critical orthodoxy which assumes not only that there is such a thing as a generic 'romantic sublime', but also that this 'sublime' rehearses the transcendentalist paradigms of [Kant's] Critique of Judgment" (5). Eschewing Burke and Kant, Duffy reorients the Shelleyan sublime through two other texts: C.F. Volney's Les Ruines, ou Méditations sur les Révolutions des Empires (translated into English in the early 1790s) and Edward Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1766-88). Both texts, according to Duffy, embody the eighteenth-century idea of "ruin-sentiment" (38-9), a term which links imperial collapse to moral decadence and, as a discourse of political and social reform, offers to resolve the terrifying prospect of ruin through an appeal to moral restraint. Shelley, Duffy argues, takes this causal formulation a step further; the sublime provides the means of representing the inevitable imperial failure as a natural cultural process that mirrors society's moral and political corruption. Shelley's sublime landscapes—significantly, inhabited by volcanoes, avalanches, and other events marking geological catastrophe—signify the natural necessity of revolution. This essentially inverts the traditional theistic discourse of the natural sublime; instead of pointing to God as the organizing principle of life, Shelley's sublime exposes "the artificiality, the un-naturalness of contemporary social structures" (9). Duffy's study places a new emphasis on the catastrophic imagery of the natural sublime while it also redefines the Shelleyan sublime as an "aesthetic ideology" in order to be attentive to the figurative power of the natural sublime to change the observer's conception of what is "natural" or what is "right."

Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism

Paul Youngquist, Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. xxxi + 224pp. ISBN: 0-8166-3979-5; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3979-3 (Hdbk.), $60.00. ISBN-10: 0-8166-3980-9; ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3980-9 (Pbk.), $20.00.

Reviewed by
Debbie Lee
Washington State University

It seems appropriate that Gunter von Hagens held his London exhibition Bodyworlds in the same neighborhood where Jack the Ripper took his victims. When I attended the 2002 exhibition at the Atlantis Gallery on Brick Lane, I was both fascinated and freaked out. It progressed from body parts to full corpses, in postures that mocked their lifelessness. One was a horseman, one held what looked to be a cape but turned out to be his entire skin, while others mimicked athletes: a runner, a basketball player, a swimmer, and a pole-vaulter lodged half-way between floors. Then there was a room dedicated to the development of the baby in embryo.

Josephine McDonagh, Child Murder and British Culture, 1720-1900

Josephine McDonagh, Child Murder and British Culture, 1720-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. xiii + 278pp; illus. (6 halftones). $95.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-521-78193-0; ISBN-13: 978-0-521-78193-0); $32.99 (Pbk.; ISBN-13:978-0-521-05456-0).

Reviewed by
Lynne Vallone
Texas A&M University-College Station

For Josephine McDonagh, child murder from the eighteenth through nineteenth centuries—both actual cases and, in particular, the "idea" of child murder—is an especially sensitive barometer that reveals cultural values, anxieties and obsessions that change over time. Through probing and cogent readings of court records, newspaper articles, novels, poems, political and polemical tracts, medical treatises, legislation (such as the 1803 Offenses against the Person Act), works of philosophy and economics, McDonagh's book, Child Murder and British Culture, 1720-1900, convinces the reader that the motif of child murder is indeed at the heart of Britain's self-fashioning and self-imagining. She concludes the introduction: "I hope to confront and come to terms with the obvious disjunction between the unnatural and violent deaths of infants . . . —events which demand our most sober regard—and the extraordinarily potent array of traces—tragic, grotesque, trenchant, and ludic—which child murder left in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century culture" (13). Thus, McDonagh's project must juggle the various and often competing discussions about child murder, the contexts of these debates, and the interpretive moments—moments of cultural imagination—that inhere to the figure of the murdered child. This is a difficult trick, yet one which McDonagh achieves with panache.

Noah Heringman, Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology

Noah Heringman, Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2004.  xix +304 pp. $49.95 (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 978-0-8014-4127-1).

Reviewed by
Kate Rigby
Monash University

Noah Heringman is one of a small but growing band of Romanticists and other literary scholars whose work is located in the liminal zone between the terrain of the natural sciences and that of the humanities and social sciences. As is the case with such interstitial spaces in the physical environment, so, too, in the world of scholarship, this often proves to be fertile ground. This is certainly the case with Romantic Rocks, Aesthetic Geology, which reframes current understandings of both Romantic aesthetics and geological science through a detailed examination of their historical interconnections.

David Perkins, Romanticism and Animal Rights & Christine Kenyon-Jones, Kindred Brutes: Animals in Romantic-Period Writing

David Perkins, Romanticism and Animal Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 58. xvi + 210pp. $95.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-521-82941-0; ISBN-13: 978-0-521-82941-0); $37.99 (Pbk.; ISBN-13: 978-0-521-04598-8).
Christine Kenyon-Jones, Kindred Brutes: Animals in Romantic-Period Writing. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2001. The Nineteenth-Century Series. viii + 229pp; illus. (10 halftones). $99.95. (Hdbk: ISBN: 0-7546-0332-6).

Reviewed by
Janelle A. Schwartz
Loyola University, New Orleans

In A Memoir of Thomas Bewick by Himself, we are told that the Farmer (well-known to the 12-year-old Bewick), proposing to have "a bit more sport" with a captured hare, broke "one of its legs, and then again [set] the poor Animal off, a little before the Dogs" (qtd. in RR 15). Thinking that the Farmer would help to save the life of the hapless hare, the young Bewick gave the animal into what he thought would be beneficent hands. To his surprise, the Farmer's intervention served only to exacerbate the already brutal scene of the fox hunt. This vignette encapsulates the key figures and concepts in David Perkins' Romanticism and Animal Rights and Christine Kenyon-Jones' Kindred Brutes: Animals in Romantic-Period Writing; both texts present comprehensive, sustained studies of how and why animals appeared in the literature of the Romantic era. Seeking to draw attention to contemporary and modern ecological concerns, both Perkins and Kenyon-Jones couch their arguments in the multitude of discourses about animals in the eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Ranging from the didacticism of children's literature and the practice of keeping pets to contemporary debates surrounding hunting and vegetarianism, as well as parliamentary debates on the rights of animals and the encyclopaedic texts produced on the subject, these discourses not only highlight the presence of animals in English culture, but they also demonstrate the inextricable link between animals and humans. Romanticism and Animal Rights and Kindred Brutes, therefore, reveal the essential, and often times varied, role of the animal to aid in an understanding of the human.

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire

James Najarian, Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire. New York: Palgrave, 2003. x + 240pp. $110.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-333-98583-4).

Reviewed by
Peggy Dunn Bailey

In Victorian Keats: Manliness, Sexuality, and Desire, James Najarian traces the influence of Keats upon the ways that male sexuality came to be understood and expressed in the Victorian era. One of the most valuable and insightful elements of Najarian's discussion, however, is that he extends his analysis beyond the Victorian era to the World War 1 era poetry of Wilfred Owen and to appropriations of Keats's "story" by contemporary artists struggling to find a language for the horrors of HIV/AIDS and its legacy, especially for the gay community. Doing so solidifies his point that Keats became, and continues to be, a phenomenon of sorts, not just because of his poetry but because of the ways in which the poet himself was turned into a symbol of transgressive sexuality and a commentary on its manifestations and potential consequences. Najarian is careful to point out that Keats's "influence" was transmitted not just by his poetry but also by biographies and conceptions of the "doomed," "sensuous," "effeminate" poet and to make clear that his goal is not to uncover the "real" John Keats but to examine the legacy of "Keatsianism" (2). Will we understand Keats and his poetry better if we "prove"/"know" him to have been a latent homosexual instead of (or, titillatingly, in addition to) a frustrated heterosexual? Not necessarily. Najarian astutely points out that late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century attempts to categorize would be unwise for practical and theoretical reasons; we would do well to remain vigilant regarding the dependability of our knowledge of the sexual proclivities and practices of human beings in a culture and a time within which the discourse of sexuality was so very different from our own. Furthermore, such attempts to "out" Keats, the man, are irrelevant to Najarian's project. In the Introduction, Najarian candidly announces his text as "unashamedly a literary history" (2).

Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic

Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005. x + 387pp; illus. $84.95 (Hdbk; ISBN-10: 0-8223-3558-1; ISBN-13: 978-0-8223-3558-0); $23.95 (Pbk; ISBN-10:0-8223-3596-4; ISBN-13: 978-0-8223-3596-2).

Reviewed by
S. Adair Rispoli
Greg Pierrot, Shawna Ross, David Jefferson, Dustin Kennedy, Laura Collins,
Tyler Hollet, Esther Deutsch, Paul Johnston, Brian Neff
Pennsylvania State University

Ian Baucom's stimulating and rigorous Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History provides a philosophically sophisticated account of the role of slavery within the development of Western capitalism. Borrowing from Walter Benjamin's angel of history and Giovanni Arrighi's The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power, and the Origin of Our Times (Verso, 1994), Baucom advances the notion that "now" is never simply the present but rather an accumulation of history, which also moves through alternating cycles of economic development. Slavery, then, is no issue of the past, but one with the most salient consequences in the present, not only because the past has gathered itself within the present, but also because, according to Baucom, our era of high finance capitalism is comparable to that which arose out of the consolidation of the slave trade in the eighteenth century. Through a minutely detailed analysis of the 1781 Zong incident—in which one hundred and thirty-three slaves were thrown overboard in order to collect insurance—he shows how slaves as physical merchandise became at that historical moment the equivalent of finance capital: a potential, abstract and impersonal medium of exchange.

Gordon Bigelow, Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain & Ireland; Philip Connell, Romanticism, Economics, & the Question of Culture; & Maureen N. McLane, Romanticism & the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of..

Bigelow, Gordon. Fiction, Famine, and the Rise of Economics in Victorian Britain and Ireland. Cambridge Studies in Nineteeth-Century Literature and Culture, no. 40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ix + 229pp. $43.00 (Pbk., 2007; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-03553-8).
Connell, Philip. Romanticism, Economics, and the Question of Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. xii + 338pp. $50.00 (Hdbk; ISBN-13: 9-780-199-28205-0).
McLane, Maureen N. Romanticism and the Human Sciences: Poetry, Population, and the Discourse of the Species. Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 41. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. x + 282pp. $50.00 (Pbk., 2006; ISBN-13: 9-780-521-02820-2).

Reviewed by Alex J. Dick University of British Columbia

Most literary critics are familiar with economic terms like class, market, exchange, circulation, and production even if they aren't all that interested in economics. But people working in the field now called "literature and economics" or sometimes "the new economic criticism" are not primarily interested in using economic terminology to enhance readings of literary works. Nor are they particularly invested in using the tools of rhetoric or linguistics to challenge the ideological principles of academic economics, as even some economists have recently done. The new economic criticism, so called, is not really a branch of literary criticism at all. Rather it is part of a larger emerging field—discipline studies—that has attracted linguists, intellectual historians, anthropologists, and even economists and that is beginning to make headway in literature. Borrowing methodologies from discourse and systems analysis, the object of discipline studies is to understand when, how, and why literature and economics converge within institutional systems like the print marketplace or the University. These scholars share an interest in the way the different academic disciplines operate not discretely but in relation to one another. Disciplines formulate epistemologies by dismissing the usefulness or legitimacy of other competing epistemologies. At the same time, each discipline also adapts terms and ideas from others as part of their own disciplinary mandates.

Steven E. Jones, ed., The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period

Steven E. Jones, ed., The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period. New York: Palgrave, 2003. 231pp. $69.95. (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-29496-4).

Reviewed by
Talissa J. Ford
University of California, Berkeley

"The man who permits you to injure him deserves your vengeance. He will also receive it. Go, Spectre! Obey my most secret desire," writes William Blake, the romantic satirist conspicuously absent from Steven E. Jones' collection The Satiric Eye: Forms of Satire in the Romantic Period. What this book does particularly well is to consider the relationship between satire and the culture in which it intervenes—what happens, in other words, when that spectre is let loose in the world. From the American satirist-barber J. R. D. Huggins and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" poet Jane Taylor, to first—and second—generation standards Wordsworth and Byron, The Satiric Eye explores not just the fact but the circulation of satire in the public, consumer culture of Romantic-era England (and America).

Jerome McGann, Byron and Romanticism & Drummond Bone, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Byron

Jerome McGann, Byron and Romanticism. Ed. James Soderholm. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. 328 pp.  $85.00. (Hdbk: ISBN 978-0521809580).
Drummond Bone, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Byron. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. 360 pp. $24.99 (pbk). (Pbk: ISBN 978-0521786768).

Reviewed by
Gillen D'Arcy Wood
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Byron plays Mephistopheles to Wordsworth's (and synecdochally, Romanticism's) Faust. Even at moments where he appears a poetic failure—in Childe Harold III or "Fare Thee Well"—he remains magister ludi, hoisting the reader on his own falsifiable expectations. But Byron at the last is also Faust himself. . . .

Such is Jerome McGann's Byron, whose articles on the poet, independent of his two early books, have now been collected in a single, indispensable volume. The first two-thirds of the collection, nine essays in all, constitute a Byron book unto themselves, but have been supplemented by seven further pieces, including a retrospective interview published here for the first time, that showcase McGann's crucial theoretical interventions—on the subjects of ideology, historical method, and deconstruction—and treat Byron mostly obliquely. Taken together, the volume offers both an assembly of vital essays by the most important Byronist of his generation, while pointing toward the Greater McGann of Social Values and Poetic Acts (1988) and the epoch-making Romantic Ideology (1983).