Review by Choice Review
The aim of the new "New Critical Idiom" series is to provide definitional introductions and updated historical overviews, with attention to the importance of "cultural representation." The most important of these four books, Romanticism, problematizes the line between the Enlightenment and Romanticism; Day suggests that the early Wordsworth and Coleridge, believing in the possibilities that the French Revolution would make people better and happier, were really late Enlightenment writers, and he reminds readers that subjective consciousness and "natural" epistemology predated 1798. "Romanticism" was constructed after the fact and often linked to critical politics--seen, for example, as akin to fascism or as supportive of liberal democracy. Although for some, Romanticism bridged the rupture between subject and object, others viewed Romanticism as merely solipsistic. Day concludes with the "masculine gendering" of the sublime and its rejection by women because it places the "merely" beautiful in subordination. One literary form haunting Romanticism is explored in Gothic, which looks at this complex genre from its Enlightenment origins to Coppola's Dracula. A literature of transgression, labyrinths, and doppelgangers, gothic is a duplicitous means "of [either] indulging or rationalizing imaginative excess," thus serving contradictory cultural functions. Bottings's historical overview is good on the British, skimpy on the Americans--and better on David Lynch's films than on the Southern literary gothic. Like Romanticism, Hawkes's Ideology deals with the consequences of the rift between subject and object, and argues for the continued relevance of ideology as a critique of the cultural practices of late capitalist consumerism. More polemical than the others, Hawkes's survey of ideology as purveyor of false consciousness is provocative. Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form is the most conventional of the four books: it is lively, written by a poet, and ties definitions to extended examples from British and American poets. For Hobsbaum, blank verse comes in Miltonic, Shakespearean, and Wordsworthian types; free verse in versions indebted to Eliot, Whitman, and Stevens; and pararhyme in quarter, half, and three-quarter varieties. He suggests that much verse besides that of Hopkins employs sprung rhythm and that quantity as well as quality effects sound--as in the length of pronounced o's in "loss-rose-woe." Although more pertinent to British than to American literature, these are superb volumes, with copious examples and quotations, and despite the complexity of their subjects, accessible to undergraduates while useful to advanced students. The absence of indexes in all four volumes is a nuisance, but all have excellent bibliographies (only Ideology has notes); Metre has a good glossary. J. J. Wydeven Bellevue University
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