- Ann Radcliffe, Romanticism and the Gothic ed. by Dale Townshend, Angela Wright
This collection, published to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Ann Radcliffe’s birth, is especially valuable at a time when her novels are widely available and frequently taught. The impressive international group of contributors that Townshend and Wright have assembled provides a comprehensive picture of the state of scholarship on Radcliffe and the Gothic. Once-dominant psychoanalytic and feminist interpretations have given way to critical work drawing on political and religious history, print culture studies, theories of media and remediation, and new formalism. The volume is nicely produced, with a sixteen-page bibliography, four illustrations, and a table enumerating the sources of Radcliffe’s chapter epigraphs.
In the first of the thirteen chapters, on Radcliffe’s early critical reception, the editors explain how the authorship of popular fiction was shaped by the Romantic reviewing establishment: “Radcliffe studiously read the reviews” of her works and attempted to “answer their criticisms in her subsequent publications” (7). Other mechanisms of Romantic print culture such as “republication and anthologisation” (25) established her high cultural reputation and her position in “a national canon” in the first half of the nineteenth century (31). Radcliffe came to be seen as an original genius who established “a new literary movement or school” (19). [End Page 127] Edward Jacobs substantiates her role in establishing a new discursive mode: Radcliffe’s “reproducible set of generic conventions” (52) cooperated with the cataloging practices of circulating libraries to form a readership inclined “to approach books less as unique texts than as members of genres” (50). At a time when important critical work on Romanticism has focused on reading practices, Jacobs claims in his informative chapter that Radcliffe’s inclusion of poetry in her novels staged an opposition between two modes of reading: the “‘deep’, contemplative, repetitive reading” of “high” literary texts, and the superficial consumption of plot-driven entertainments associated with a “popular” and feminized media market (49).
The contributors assess Radcliffe’s modernity, in part by reinterpreting the opposition between the Gothic and Romanticism. Jerrold E. Hogle demonstrates the author’s indebtedness, on the level of literary form, to Horace Walpole’s synthesis of ancient and modern romance, while in the analogous sphere of social content Radcliffe hesitates between “fading and emergent ideologies” (154). “The radical implications,” according to Sue Chaplin, of “the female Gothic mode are limited by [the] commitment to a bourgeois modernity that anchors itself in the nation’s past” (208). Jane Stabler assesses Radcliffe’s verse “from the perspective of canonical Romantic poetry” (186), and—alluding to Wordsworth’s 1815 “Essay, Supplementary to the Preface”—writes the cleverest sentence in the book: “She created the taste by which she was depreciated” (201). Samuel Baker asserts that Gaston de Blondeville and “its attendant texts” in the 1826 edition “demonstrate how Romanticism and the Radcliffian Gothic might be understood as coeval media systems” (171). Dismissing the Gothic–Romantic binary as a “hangover from the Victorians,” Robert Miles develops the concept of a “popular Romanticism” (117), in which Radcliffe leaves unresolved the opposition between a disciplined, secular, and Enlightened modern subjectivity located in linear time and a porous premodern subjectivity “embedded in nature, which is animated, alive with spirits that effortlessly cross spatial and temporal boundaries” (126). In her chapter on how the ruined abbey in The Romance of the Forest represents “the historical and religious past that a modern, secularising culture was trying to bury” (100), Diane Long Hoeveler demonstrates her impressively extensive reading by citing parallels from obscure Gothic novels for the discovered manuscript topos, the villain who dies by poisoning himself, and the Gothic abbey as setting.
In one of the best chapters, James Watt responds to revisionary views of Radcliffe as a radical Dissenter, political reformer, and “unsex’d” revolutionary (67). While her works need to be situated “in relation to the conjectural history of the Scottish Enlightenment as much as to the ‘war of ideas’ of the 1790s” (70), Radcliffe’s novels are not schematically structured...