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Reviews ruck Burning in Renaissance Studies W.H. HERENDEEN James Turner. The Politics of Landscape: Rural Scenery and Society in English Poetry 1630-1660 Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press '979. xiii, 237, iilus. $14.50 James Turner deals, he tells us, with what 'are now hot issues' in literary studies, and the reader is warned lest his hands get scorched. 'Structuralism and the renaissance of Marxism have challenged the theoretical feebleness of traditional literary studies' (preface), andTurnerattempts to 'throw a line across' the gulfthat separates the two, presumably to help the theoretically infirm. Examining the way 'literature operates in society: he asks: 'Is it myth? ideological apparatus? consumer durable? conspiracy of silence?' In the answers to such questions those who are haltingand lame in their critical methodology are to fmd relief. YetTurner follows a current trend in scholarly writing by offering no conclusions and ending with a 'beginning theory' (p 186). Such popular diSingenuousness strikes me as an evasion of the critic's responsibilities, and therefore as a weakness. In lieu of a conclusion he offers us a 'disclosure,' although 'expos~1 is perhaps more accurate. Turner sees literary landscapes as a 'product and a process' (p 186), and in examining the various social and economic influences which 'make the product distinctive' he fmds political ideology implicit in seventeenth-century topographical literature. In thus seeing landscape literature as a commodity (the metaphors are his, not mine) he hopes to discover the sociological, psychological, and materialistic impulses that give it shape. Unenfeebled critics will be pleased to see the frail muse of Katherine Philips and Marg.,et Cavendish put to the rack, Herrick's 'Hock Cart' dismantled, and the 'dual standards' of these and other poets of the period exposed to the broad daylight of the new critical enlightenment . It is never quite clear whether these works are, fmally, 'consumer durable' or a 'conspiracy of silence,' since Turner avoids drawing conclusions. Although his is not intended to be only a dismantling process, he never reconstructs his material to form the marketable myth that he seems to think it should be. As the few lines I have already quoted indicate, The Politics ofLandscape is dense with critical jargon, unsubtle political rhetoric, and confusing metaphoric language, but Turner's desire to fmd new approaches to topographical verse UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 51, NUMBER 2, WINTER 198112 0042-014718210100-0210-0216$00.00/0 © UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS r'VL.H1L~ AND LANDSCAPE 211 derives from important critical questions. His starting-point is one that I find particularly appropriate: he responds to the call for a redefinition of topographical literature made by (among others) J.W. Foster in his article 'A Redefinition of Topographical Poetry' (JEGP, 1970). However, he pursues quite different paths from those suggested by Foster and looks to landscape for history rather than for manifestations of a historical sensibility: 'Landscape is a socialized image. It has a population and a social content, and it represents an ideal and harmonic structure whose basis is the land' (p xi). He examines how landscape literature incorporates social reality. Rather than expand the boundaries of topographical literature so that the genre can be seen within a broader traditional framework, he isolates it, following the very conventional critical notion that the topographical poem in which 'real' and 'poetic' landscapes come together emerged and flourished between 1630 and 1660. Interestingly, his 'new' critical methods are used to argue historical and literary commonplaces: influence from the visual arts combined with cultural changes to spawn the topographical poem. The usual primary and secondary texts are offered to support these generalizations, and there is nothing new in his historical placement and identification of the form. By suggesting that landscape poetry developed almost overnight and that earlier literature contains only the slightest hints of what was to come Turner compounds one of the principal shortcomings of the criticism of the genre. Scholars commonly refer to incompletely evolved avatars of the form: perfunctory reference is made to Ausonius or Statius, to Sylvester's du Bartas, and to Drayton, and Jonson's Penshurst is ambiguously referred to as both a precursor and an example of the genre. But generally the form is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 210-216
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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