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Eighteenth-Century Studies 34.3 (2001) 474-475

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Book Review

Keats's "Paradise Lost"

Keats's Odes and Contemporary Criticism

Beth Lau. Keats's "Paradise Lost" (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998). Pp. xi + 215. $49.95 cloth.

James O'Rourke. Keats's Odes and Contemporary Criticism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998). Pp. xiv + 193. $39.95 cloth.

The 1990s proved an excellent decade for Keats studies; in particular, the bicentenary year provided the occasion for several re-examinations of his work. There was a remarkable exhibition about him and his contemporaries at the Wordsworth Museum in Grasmere, England, which traveled to the British Library in London, while across the world academic journals from Studies in Romanticism to the Aligarh Critical Miscellany published commemorative issues. Such was the fanfare that sprang out of the anniversary that volumes published after 1995 tended to be overlooked, but here are two eminently worthy of our attention, both published by the University Press of Florida.

Lau's Keats's "Paradise Lost" is an indispensable scholarly aid to Keatsians and romanticists in general. Although Keats's marginalia to Milton's poem are occasionally cited--and have, indeed, been edited previously, notably by Elizabeth Cook--this is the first attempt to record each marking, as well as each element of commentary, in a single volume. Lau begins her book with scholarly observations, accounting for the Romantic practice of marginal commentary, before dating Keats's notes (to 1818 or 1819). Her third chapter offers some critical commentary, identifying themes and patterns in Keats's comments. All this is executed with a deft, light touch that is never labored and always to the point. It is also very pertinent to a central strand of contemporary criticism; Lucy Newlyn's exemplary "Paradise Lost" and the Romantic Reader (1993) put in place many of the central critical concepts, and this volume provides Lau with an excellent opportunity to extend the debate in ways that bear out much of what such critics as Leon Waldoff and Newlyn have suggested.

The bulk of this volume, however, consists of a painstaking transcription of the marginalia. It would be hard to imagine a more thorough or detailed job. Of course, the science of such transcription is now quite advanced. George Whalley and Heather Jackson have turned the multi-volume edition of Coleridge's marginalia into the jewel in the crown of the Collected Coleridge series, partly because they too have displayed considerable ingenuity in their techniques for representing marginal notes on the printed page. Lau has benefited by their example and formulated similarly ingenious solutions to the various challenges. For one thing, she has decided to present everything, including vertical lines in the left hand margin, underscorings, and the occasional "X" against particular lines. Keats's prose observations are reproduced in meticulous detail. In addition to which the five photographed pages of marginalia reproduced here are an excellent aid to working out the precise configuration of Keats's commentaries on some of the more crowded pages of his copy of Paradise Lost--the original is an octavo volume retained at Keats House in London.

Keats's written commentaries have been published before, but Lau presents them in an authoritative text which should provide scholars with a dependable source for the foreseeable future. The really significant point about this book, however, is its inclusiveness. Everything is here, so that now it is possible to see [End Page 474] exactly which passages Keats underlined--and it is these which are so interesting as there are far more of them than anything else. When Keats said he was "studying" Milton, he was not exaggerating. This important volume belongs on the shelf of every serious Keatsian and Romanticist, alongside Jack Stillinger's edition of the poems and Hyder Rollins' of the letters. It is as close as we are likely to get to a definitive account of these important annotations, and the University Press of Florida is to be congratulated for having the imagination to publish it.

James O'Rourke's Keats's Odes...


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