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Reviews93 James, Henry. "Preface to 77ie American" in French Writers, Other European Writers, the Prefaces to the New York Edition. Ed. Leon Edel and Mark Wilson. New York: Library of America, 1984. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. New York: Columbia UP, 1985. Eric Savoy University of Calgary Anthony H. Harrison. Victorian Poets and Romantic Poems: Intertextuality and Ideology. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1990. ix + 235. $29.50 US (cloth). Harrison 's book represents a good match of method (new historicism) and subject (the uses to which Victorian poets put Romantic poems), and the match produces a useful, careful study of what one might broadly term "the ideology of Victorian allusions." The stated purpose of the book is to "scrutinize the ways in which self-consciously intertextual uses of precursors by Victorian poets serve to reveal ideology, that is, to expose a system of sociopoUtical—as well as moral and aesthetic—values embedded in the work of each writer" (1). Put in even simpler terms, Harrison seeks to show what Victorian poets beUeved and thought by analyzing how they "read," in the broadest sense of that word. The idea of reading how Victorians read is not new, of course; indeed, most good critical biographies address this issue in substantial ways. Nonetheless, Harrison offers a systematic approach and a theoretical vocabulary enriched by the work of Jerome McGann, Roland Barthes, Gerard Genette, Michael Riffaterre, and the Great Uncle of "ideological dialogues," Mikhail Bakhtin. In seven chapters, Harrison visits the work of Arnold, Tennyson, the Rossettis, Barrett Browning, Morris, and Swinburne and investigates how these poets chose to interpret, paraphrase, echo, and otherwise manipulate the "texts" of Shakespeare, Keats, Wordsworth, and others. Many readers wiU Ukely consider the chapters on Arnold and Tennyson to be the most compelling ones, partly because these two figures are such obvious subjects for "intertextual" criticism, but also because Harrison appears particularly energized by the several problems their poetry suggests. He provides a 94Victorian Review refreshing review of the way Arnold ' s Empedocles on Etna painstakingly critiques—and ultimately rejects—the influence of Keatsian poetics on contemporary poetry. In the case of Tennyson, Harrison tries mightily to decipher the ideology ofMaud. Harrison ' s prose reveals the strain of this effort: Presenting an exemplary network of interacting intertexts and ideological stances, Maud becomes a metatext for the historical moment in which it appeared, one that may be seen to elude the political, social, and Uterary particulars of its composition only by means of self-consciously incorporating them (89). This passage shows how determined Harrison is to schematize Tennyson, to make him fit, to make him make sense. In the difficult process of doing so, he verges on theoretical self-parody ("interacting intertexts") and gives us an argument that is hard to accept: Tennyson avoided particulars by incorporating them. Even so, the chapter as a whole illuminates well the literary context within which Tennyson worked. The chapters on Dante Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne are less inspired and more merely workmanlike but in no way seriously flawed. In them Harrison argues (among other things) that Rossetti ' s ideology is "purely aesthetic" (107)—would a Marxist agree?!—that Morris to some extent misinterpreted Keats, and that the "trajectory of Swinburne's career is ideologically parallel to that of Wordsworth" (202). Perhaps the most troublesome chapter is the one on Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti. Harrison ' s use of feminist criticism is uneven there, and he seems to assume that "intertextuality" is like collegiate sports, with men ' s teams and women ' s teams. Consequently, he seems to have to invent more intertextual friction between Browning and Rossetti than may actually exist. Barrett Browning ' s poetry may well have been less important to Rossetti than the chapter assumes, and Harrison may have more profitably investigated how the latter made use of texts that were not necessarily written by women. Overall, this chapter on two Victorian women poets seems obligatory, and feminism in general needs to exert more substantial influence on Harrison ' s historical approach. Harrison generally seems to have preselected the Romantic and Victorian pairings here, and occasionally the conclusions he reaches seem prefabricated (as in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 93-95
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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