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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.1 (2001) 127-130
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Reading and Teaching 'Rediscovered' Romantic Authors and Texts
Peggy Dunn Bailey
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Stephen C. Behrendt and Harriet Kramer Linkin, eds. Approaches to Teaching British Women Poets of the Romantic Period (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1997). Pp. xiii + 207. $37.50 cloth, $18.00 paper.
Paula R. Feldman and Daniel Robinson, eds. A Century of Sonnets: The Romantic-Era Revival (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). Pp. xix + 279. $30.00 cloth.
The "rediscovery" of several British Romantic women poets whose work seemed to have been "lost" for, in some cases, almost two centuries has been the source of much excitement for scholars and teachers in the last few years. This "rediscovery" helped to bring into focus questions regarding our understanding of Romanticism (as period, movement, and/or ideology) and of the role that gender plays in the production, reception, interpretation, and evaluation of texts. For teachers who want to incorporate these "rediscovered" writers and texts into the courses they teach, this "rediscovery" has also raised questions regarding availability (and quality) of editions along with workable approaches to teaching these writers and their poetry. In an attempt to address these last two questions regarding availability and approach, Stephen C. Behrendt and Harriet Kramer Linkin have compiled and edited Approaches to Teaching British Women Poets of the Romantic Period. Although the collection emphasizes pedagogy, with its numerous citations of primary and secondary source material and its twenty-six essays addressing approaches both general and specific, it could serve as an excellent guide to any student of literature interested in "rediscovering" and/or enriching his or her understanding of these writers and their poetry.
"Part One: Materials" is a crucial starting point for the collection. Linkin begins by surveying the available editions and noting evaluative comments made by instructors who have used or examined them. Information on electronic-text databases (like Brown University's Women Writers Project) and other relevant Internet sites and projects, early anthologies (from the nineteenth century), and almost ten pages of instructor recommended reference and critical works complete the segment on materials. Although Linkin notes that the review of available secondary materials is "by no means comprehensive" (11), it is incredibly thorough. In addition to mentioning numerous books and articles devoted to specific women writers of the Romantic era, Linkin cites titles of texts "not exclusively or specifically about the women poets whose works are the focus of [the] collection but which provide the social, cultural, and literary contexts necessary for a deeper understanding and appreciation of these works" (11).
The essays in "Part Two: Approaches" reflect diverse theoretical perspectives and methodologies, and this diversity is the strength of the volume. Part Two is divided into four segments, the first of which is "General Issues: Approaching the Texts." "General Issues" begins with essays by two of the most well known scholars of British Romantic women writers, Stuart Curran and Paula R. Feldman. Curran writes of his use of electronic text databases, and Feldman provides a sample lesson on the ways in which much of the poetry of Romantic women writers was circulated. In "Teaching Alien Aesthetics: The Difficulty of Difference in the Classroom," Scott Simpkins addresses the potential resistance, by students, [End Page 127] of "feminine Romanticism" (56). Such resistance, he argues, often originates from internalized criteria for judging aesthetic value; these criteria are, however, "acquired, not the result of an essentialistic revelation" (51), and he shares some of his methods for illustrating this fact to students. Judith Pascoe's "Strategies for Replacing the Six-Poet Course" serves as an excellent transition to the next segment, both because of Pascoe's specificity regarding her methods for introducing students to Romantic women writers in a variety of courses and because the first essay in the next segment is written by Anne K. Mellor who, in her succinct and powerfully argued introduction to the groundbreaking Romanticism and Feminism (1988), revealed what she saw as the class-based and gender-biased assumptions upholding "the...