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Book Reviews Susan J. Wolfson. Romantic Interactions: Social Being and the Turns of Liter­ ary Action. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 20x0. xiv+381. $70.00 cloth/$30.oo paper. The pace of Susan Wolfson’s editorial and scholarly contributions to our field belies what has emerged over the course of a distinguished career as the implicit motto governing everything she writes: “Not so fast!” There is much more going on in what we read, she claims, and much more of value, than our critical hay-bailers and mechanical threshers know how to reap. What is stubble and chafffor the agribusiness oftheory is for Wolfson where the really valuable stuffis stashed. Like Wordsworth’s solitary reaper, she gathers her harvest one armful at a time and, “oe’r her sickle bending,” spots all those violets half hidden from the eye that had to be left behind by the big engines of criticism because, when gathered in multitudes, violets gum up the machinery. Unlike Wordsworth’s solitary singer, however, Wolfson—a virtuoso of contextual close reading—doesn’t need an interpreter: her message has been clear since the publication of Formal Charges more than a decade ago, although its militancy seems to have diminished a bit as her audience of willing listeners has grown. From the courtroom combativeness ofthat title to the ghostlier demarcations traced in Borderlines to the more reciprocal give and take of Romantic Interactions, Wolfson’s polemic has moderated while her argument remains the same. As she puts it in Borderlines, speaking of Mary Wollstonecraft’s “methodology” of cultural interrogation, we are ourselves diminished, as readers and critics and students, whenever we relax our “commitment to proving (testing, uncovering) large points in local sites, and reading local events into wider registers” (xix). Meanwhile, she has shown that even solitary reapers can fine-tune the big critical machines traversing those “wider registers” to harvest violets without crushing them. No enemy to theory, Wolfson has proven to be one of its most knowl­ edgeable technicians. Romantic Interactions carries on the project of Borderlines in exploring the subtle paradoxes of gender identification, both self-affirmed and imposed from without, informing the work of long-canonical Romantic writers as well as more recent arrivals to our standard anthologies and syllabi. It is less a coda to its predecessor than a second volume of essays on similar themes. SiR, 51 (Spring 2012) 89 90 BOOK REVIEWS Divided into three parts, the book examines, first, two female writers’ en­ gagements with the male poetic tradition, next, the close and mutually for­ mative interactions of William and Dorothy Wordsworth as siblings and writers, and last, the infatuations, disenchantments, recriminations, rebut­ tals, apologies, and celebrity apotheoses of Byronism in the aftermath of “the Separation,” before and after Lord Byron’s death. Part i examines the poetry of Charlotte Smith—chiefly The Emigrants— and the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, as well as Wollstonecraft’s con­ tentious afterlives in the poetry extending from her death to the present day. By “interactions” Wolfson means, largely, textual allusions and reworkings of male precursors rather than the exchanges of contemporary coteries or literary sororities. Smith, for instance, finds her strongest politi­ cal and gender allies among the canonical poets, but reapplies, and some­ times transforms, the men’s best known lines for her own purposes. “Smith’s allusions are her argument,” says Wolfson (52). In bringing these “interactions” to light, the author not only takes issue with some feminist critics’ tendency to flatten the gender politics of The Emigrants, but also calls attention to the continuous beat ofSmith’s republican heart: “The ur­ gent divisions,” she writes, “are not ofnation but ofclass” (44). These divi­ sions are most prominently displayed in Smith’s ambivalence toward the French refugees of the revolution who, demanding compassion, had been so stingy with it while sitting atop the ancien regime. Against evidence of Smith’s political retrenchment after 1793, Wolfson notes her continuing advocacy for the poor and exploited, and her unwavering criticism of war in all its forms. The remaining two chapters ofPart 1 are devoted to Wollstonecraft’s pi­ oneering feminist critique of patriarchy and the turmoil surrounding her reputation in the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 89-93
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-19
Open Access
No
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