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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.1 (2001) 135-136
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The Road Less Travelled
University of California, Irvine
Tim Fulford. Romanticism and Masculinity: Gender, Politics and Poetics in the Writings of Burke, Coleridge, Cobbett, Wordsworth, De Quincey and Hazlitt (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999). Pp. ix + 250. $72.00 cloth.
Saree Makdisi. Romantic Imperialism: Universal Empire and the Culture of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Pp. xi + 248. $21.95 paper.
John Whale. Imagination Under Pressure,1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics and Utility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Pp. xi + 240. $59.95 cloth.
Each of the books under consideration here is in some sense a book about failure: a chronicle of what almost happened, or what might have happened, but did not. In this sense, all three authors write what might be called 'negative histories'. This makes for interesting reading. Each book elaborates the ways in which the need to respond to a governing ideology in the Romantic period produced new definitions of certain key terms or ideas--masculinity, imperialism, imagination.
In Romanticism and Masculinity, Tim Fulford argues that Coleridge and Hazlitt, among others, were attempting to write and think in response to Burke's masculinist ideology and that they formed, or tried to form, their own development of a masculine mode of address in opposition to this older 'chivalric' tradition. Fulford uses Coleridge as a test case for sketching an alternate version of masculinity, which he sees as "emerging from a society in which the traditional models of authority and gender had been discredited" (9). It is this destabilization of role models that is the focus of Fulford's study. Although Coleridge (as well as Hazlitt and DeQuincey) is finally presented as somewhat unsuccessful at this task, his attempts, Fulford argues, demonstrate a 'feminizing' or softening of political discourse in opposition to Burke, Wordsworth, and Malthus. The book documents Coleridge's attempts to re-fashion masculinity in poetry (ch. 3) and criticism (ch. 4) through a reading of Cobbett and Hazlitt's effects on Coleridge's thought and writing (and vice versa). Fulford presents Coleridge's goal as being the restoration of writerly and personal authority without recourse to masochism, and accompanying this, a restructuring of the image of Britain as non-'feminized' but also not chivalric. The author presents an almost dizzying array of evidence from a number of writers to support his argument for the attempt at an alternate language of power. Even if he finally concludes that they did not succeed at creating a new language we might recognize as such today, there is evidence that they tried, and, perhaps more importantly, that they saw the need to make such a distinction in the first place.
In Romantic Imperialism Saree Makdisi chronicles the history of a negative or alternate British (English) response to modernization and imperialization. Elegantly written and easy to read, Romantic Imperialism argues that "Romanticism cannot be understood without reference to modern imperialism and capitalism. Each requires the understanding of the other"(xi). Although this statement [End Page 135] exposes the author to critics who prefer to locate the 'rise' of financial capitalism or 'modernism' in earlier or later historical periods, the book does a solid job of presenting evidence for the interdependence of these major changes. Makdisi provides readings of Byron's 'orient,' Scott's Highland and Wordsworth's nature as 'alternative anti-moderns': "Visions of hitherto untransformed enclaves which, once discovered and transformed by the outside world experience a fall or is erased or re-written into the history of the outside world"(12). Like Fulford who searches for the 'anti-masculine' other-language, Makdisi looks for the anti-modern 'other' in the Romantic period. Makdisi uses Wordsworth's description of 'spots of time' to construct an argument about history and historical progress as linked to time and modernization. Specifically, she argues that even as England was in the process of colonizing or re-ordering the history of its foreign territories, the imperial process was affecting peoples and perceptions at home. One of Makdisi's main points is that through the...