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Frederick Burwick's Romanticism: Keywords comes as the latest in the ongoing Wiley-Blackwell series Keywords in Literature and Culture, and, moreover, it functions as part of a recent cluster of Romantic period–related volumes by this publisher. Influenced by Raymond Williams's iconic work, this text is remarkable for its authoritative voice and vast knowledge of the field of Romantic studies. The volume represents seventy-three keywords both traditional and new to the period and as they appear in context: for example, Abolition, Gothic and Grotesque, Medievalism, Mesmerism, Negative Capability, Revolution and Reform, Romantic Irony, Sensibility, Women's Rights. Burwick focuses on British writers, with some attention to the Germans (Goethe, Kant, Schelling, Schiller, Schlegel) and less frequently the French (Rousseau). The introduction proposes broadly to address the "'events of the age'—the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, colonialism, and the slave trade," insofar as they brought "new themes into literature," and the volume measures up handily (ix). [End Page 683]
This volume appears as one of three recent Wiley-Blackwell Romantic period–based books. A number of the keywords here, for instance, are "elucidated more fulsomely," "complementing, rather than repeating" commentary in Burwick's Encyclopedia of Romanticism (2012)—a volume which, for reasons unknown, he refers to as the Encyclopedia of Romantic Literature (xii). Where he includes a number of seldom-unacknowledged women writers (xi–xii), Burwick likewise cites the influence of Duncan Wu's Romanticism: An Anthology, also released by Wiley-Blackwell (4th ed., 2012). As such, these three volumes could well be employed jointly or in various permutations in the classroom. Given its emphasis on clarity over complexity and minimal reliance on contextual knowledge, this volume accompanying the anthology would work particularly nicely for undergraduates.
Wu's influence in the inclusion of women writers is welcome, and yet nowhere does Burwick give them the same attentiveness that is offered the canonical male poets, who maintain a solid foundation throughout. Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, and Byron, along with an ample measure of De Quincey, provide grounding for the volume, as is evident in a brief glance at the index—in which particularly the first two and De Quincey each receive several columns of references. Inevitably, this raises the question of the volume as representative introduction to the field: if indeed it seeks to draw a college-level audience, students might well lose perspective in a field where a great deal of study has shifted to formerly marginalized writers and texts.
Where the Wiley-Blackwell Keywords series is indebted to the work of Raymond Williams, it proposes to introduce keywords as cultural analysis, "taking the reader beyond semantic definition to uncover the uncertainties, disagreements, and confrontations evident in differing usages and conflicting connotation" (ii). The author likewise proposes to "distinguish changes in meaning that have emerged subsequent to the Romantic period as well as differences in usage during the period" (xii). This volume could devote more attention to such uncertainty, disagreement, and confrontation, particularly in the context of a field that has been confronted in recent decades with the uncertainty inherent in deconstructive and New Historicist readings. A missed opportunity, for example, appears early on when Burwick, noting that Williams introduces "many isms among his Keywords," follows up later in the keyword entry Romanticism by devoting three paragraphs to the debate among New Critics over the plurality of "Romanticisms," on the origins of Romanticism in romance, and the "intertwin[ing]" of the two (271).
Though representing an eighteenth-century movement that has evolved over the past two centuries, the volume appears to situate itself ideologically within the mid-twentieth-century debate among the New [End Page 684] Critics. Where the Hegelian dialectic serves as a structuring device for central highlighted concepts, M.H. Abrams's foundational studies come to mind, particularly The Mirror and the Lamp (1971) and Natural Supernaturalism (1973). Abrams devotes the latter to the German influence on Romantic poetry, for example, the Hegelian dialectic as it provides a model for the journey of Romantic "becoming," particularly...