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Reviews The Romantic Dream: Wordsworth and the Poetics of the Unconscious, by Douglas B. Wilson; xx & 200 pp. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993, $35.00. This book aims to remedy the surprising scarcity of critical literature on dream in English Romantic poetry. Taking "dream" in a broad sense, Douglas Wilson—master ofseemingly everything related to Wordsworth published since 1985—has produced an absorbing discussion of the ways in which the language of the unconscious and dream-related materials manifest themselves in Wordsworth 's poetry and enlarge our understanding of Romande poetics. Along with typical dreams, the author considers related manifestations: visions , reveries, trances, daydreams, memory recall, nightmarish presentations of moral dilemmas, the uncanny, projections of the poet's mind into invented characters. And arguing that the language of the unconscious invites a multiplicity of readings, he does not commit himself to any single psychological outlook but puts forward gender-sensitive, historical and New-historical, psychoanalytic (mainly Freudian; he does litde with Lacan, Jung, Winnicott, etc.), Nietzschean, reader-response, and Renaissance-psychological interpretations of his material. The counterpart of this postmodernist interpretive multiplicity is that he does not seek to establish an overarching theory of the Romantic use of dream material (he sees his final chapter as serving "to complete the circle ofthis study ofdreams" [p. 169]); he is more interested in pursuing the different ways in which dreamlike material is handled and the effects these have on Wordsworth's stances, the reader's experience of the Wordsworthian text, and conceptions of Romantic poetics. He does, however, return frequendy to major issues in Wordsworth criticism—the poet's slide toward solipsism, his evasions of history, his suppression of the androgynous elements in his pysche and devaluation of the feminine, his penchant for blocking or too easily resolving conflict through transcendent vision—and generates arguments to show mat appreciating the access of the unconscious in the text forces modifications of interpretations that figure the poet as one-sided, self-aggrandizing, or pussyfooting . Philosophy and Literature, © 1993, 17: 343^101 344Philosophy and Literature The great strength of this book, beyond its success in enlarging theoretical conceptions and combating incomplete critical viewpoints, is its discussions of particular passages in Wordsworth. A short review cannot do justice to the many instances in which the author is able, by invoking some aspect of dream language, to play fresh light on well-known passages and Wordsworthian positions (Wilson rarely formulates new ways of looking at the poet but often reenergizes familiar ones). Among the most compelling for me are his demonstration ofhow the Sarum Plain and Discharged Soldier episodes of The Prelude "contain the very disorder and contradiction supposedly evaded by McGann's 'Romantic Ideology' " (p. 135), his use ofNietzsche to clarify the dream-elements of "Resolution and Independence," and die summative exegesis of the Arab Dream (Prelude V), particularly its harnessing of Freud on dream contraries and its playing against one another of the Wordsworthian and Cervantine literary projects. Other interesting discussions involve the range of effects of the uncanny in Wordsworth, the way "the private engages itself on the scene of political conflict emergent through dream" (p. 127), a demonstration that the early Wordsworth was in tune with female separation anxiety and valorized the androgynous in his psyche through poetic ventriloquism, examining the poet's recognition of his seduction by the political language of power into a false use of the imagination and his undoing of this seduction by using dreammodes to resist the tyranny of the senses (with much light shed by Wilson's application of Renaissance psychology), showing how TL· Prelude manages a self-analysis comparable to Freud's. And this is not all that will interest readers. Some things in Wilson's presentation are less than ideal, among them his inability to pass up quotations and expoundings of other critics' ideas that are not immediately relevant. Most bothersome is his habit of adjoining non-sequitur sentences—displaying different cards of a suit, so to speak, but not immediately taking any tricks with them. I felt the intelligence of the book more keenly when I reread it, not bent on recovering immediate continuities but threading my way through passages I had marked. Wilson...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 343-344
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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