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422 LETTERS IN CANADA 1982 silion of familiar texts (like Middlemarch) with unfamiliar (like Mary Shelley 's Mathilda)leads to new insights, to glimpses of what may lie beneath the 'conventions of realism.' Many of these glimpses are fleeting, but the effect of the book as a whole is to persuade the reader to share its perspective. It would be difficult to read this book, I think, without adding marginal notes in an attempt to contribute to - or suggest exceptions to - the patterns that it reflects. In a sense, the reader's notes extend that tendency to digression and fragmentation that characterizes many encyclopaedic books: almost any other writer would have made half a dozen articles out of the footnotes for a single chapter. For me, the digressions and fragments - notes, appendixes, epigraphs, perhaps also the epilogue - are all mines of ideas and images for which the text of the book provides a unifying context both chronological and schematic. This book will obviously be useful and interesting to scholars working on Romantic and Victorian literature. It will also be helpful to those interested in Canadian literature. But The Spirit of Solitude should also have a wider appeal to students at all levels, and to those who are concerned with the relation between popular and serious literature, between poetry and prose, between the disciplined imagination of the writer and the demands of scholarship and criticism. (ANNE MCWHIR) Lee M. Johnson. Wordsworth's Metaphysical Verse: Geometry, Nature, and Form University of Toronto Press, viii, 241, $30.00 All artists deal with patterns and proportions, some of which are merely 'ornamental,' while others are 'symbolic' and carry a verifiable thematic significance. Wordsworth is unique among English poets, writes Lee M. Johnson, for his use of a particular symbolic pattern, a continuous geometrical proportion known as the golden section. In this, Wordsworth joins such select company as Horace, Lucretius, Catullus, and Vergil. The golden section is an asymmetrical division (in Wordsworth's case, of a passage or a short poem) in which the smaller segment (a) bears the same ratio to the larger (b) as the larger does to the whole (a +b). Wordsworth's use of this geometrical pattern, Johnson argues, is neither accidental nor arbitrary. The poet counted geometry one of the main sources of his inspiration, and a system of thought embodying transcendental values. Thus he selected the golden section, a simple yet philosophically sophisticated proportion, as the conceptual pattern for those passages of The Prelude and The Excursion which speak of geometry, as well as for passages and a few key poems of the greatest metaphysical importance, especially those dealing with the relationship between temporal and timeless contexts. 'For example, symbolic geometrical patterns in the forms of his verse accompany his discussions of early childhood, HUMANITIES 42) a state which concerns spiritual origins and which, in keeping with the Platonic notion of recollecting ideas from a prior existence, helps to account for a source of geometrical thought, for this poet's attribution of the highest value to it, and for his use of it as the rational keystone of a belief in a principle of immortality.' Wordsworth's Metaphysical Verse is a difficult book to confront, both in its idea and its execution. One would like to applaud its willingness to break new ground, at least as far as Wordsworth studies are concerned, and at the same time lament its failure to yield a richer harvest. Neither writing style nor the assumptions johnson makes about his audience are particularly lucid. Frequently qualified statements of inordinate length seem to be the rule, and paragraphs regularly run to a page, sometimes more. In matters requiring definition, johnson seems not to have a clear sense of his audience. The non-mathematician needs full and clear discussion of the language of geometry. On the other hand, the literary scholar probably does nor have to have iambic pentameter defined for him. More disturbing, however, is the sense one is ultimately left with that this book never quite proves its case. At issue here is a critical method, the rigour with which it is applied and the results it yields. One must first overcome a nagging...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 422-424
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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