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Reviewed by:
  • Romantic Writing and the Empire of Signs: Periodical Culture and Post-Napoleonic Authorship
  • May Caroline Chan (bio)
Karen Fang , Romantic Writing and the Empire of Signs: Periodical Culture and Post-Napoleonic Authorship (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010), pp. x + 236, $35 cloth.

Karen Fang (University of Houston) presents a stimulating way to look at the intersection of post-Napoleonic British imperial discourse with the vigorous periodical culture from 1820-1824. Britain's engagement with post-Napoleonic imperial politics, including the race to decode the Rosetta Stone, shapes the terms of literary dialogue examined in this work. Imperial ambitions and discourse not only offer emblems for literary work but also lend periodicals the impulse toward territorial expansion by "conquering" audiences and structuring periodicals as literary "museums" to display intellectual plunder. Fang shows how the textual production from five authors (John Keats, Charles Lamb, James Hogg, Letitia Landon, and Lord Byron) manifest the results of their varying, even vacillating relationships with specific periodicals, whether in Lamb's Elias essay "Old China," published in the London Magazine, or Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," published in the Annals of the Fine Arts.

The progress of these relationships grounds this analysis of structural and political influence, as seen, for example, in James Hogg's fraught connection with Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Its stable of urbane writers mocked Hogg's pretentions to the Edinburgh literati by "rusticating" him in print after Blackwood's inaugural issue featured his controversial "Translation from an Ancient Chaldee Manuscript." Hogg's reaction was to publish his novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824) in London, simultaneously rejecting Blackwood's and its Scots identity while drawing on its author's "aborted ambitions with [End Page 401] Blackwood's" (89), which Fang characterizes as his "Napoleon complex" (92).

Such an approach to periodicals can change one's perception of how to use periodicals in research and teaching. Fang shows how periodicals intrinsically structure an author's approach, choice of content, and self-presentation in the works examined, augmenting intertextual analysis. Her last chapter on Byron's The Island illustrates the usefulness of this approach, by showing how his eventual disengagement from the short-lived overseas British periodical The Liberal causes contemporary readers to overlook significant political considerations that informed Byron's original composition of this South Seas poem.

The discussion of Letitia Landon may challenge readers with how her work in giftbook annuals influences The Improvisatrice, her most significant revision of Madame de Staël's novel Corinne; or, Italy. Fang writes: "Landon's most significant engagement with a territory identified with recent Napoleonic history is distinguished by the utter absence of that topical motif" (105). This approach to Landon sets her up in high contrast to Byron's politically saturated poetry, but it may leave readers with unanswered questions about what to do with the movement from the geopolitical body toward the more feminist-oriented issues that appealed to Landon's readership. This said, Fang's work on these authors and their close relationships with different periodicals will keep you thinking long after you have finished reading.

May Caroline Chan
The College of Saint Rose
May Caroline Chan

May Caroline Chan is Associate Professor of English at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Her most recent essay is "Canton 1857" in Victorian Review (Winter 2010). She is currently working on an essay about Isabella Bird and the Hawaiian lepers.



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pp. 401-402
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