Tim Fulford and Peter J. Kitson, eds. Romanticism and Colonialism: Writing and Empire, 1780-1830. Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-521-59143-0. Price: £35.00 (US$64.95).[Record]

  • Julia M. Wright

…more information

  • Julia M. Wright
    University of Waterloo

In Romanticism and Colonialism, Tim Fulford and Peter J. Kitson have brought together fifteen essays on a diverse array of authors. Arranged chronologically, the essays in the volume chart the shifts in imperialist discourse throughout the Romantic period, focussing primarily on representations of the "orient" and slavery. After the three introductory essays, the chronological series begins and ends with chapters on orientalism, but the first half of the series focusses on the representation of slavery, and the second half on orientalism. Synecdochally, the table of contents thus figures both the continuity of imperial exigencies and the stages by which the British empire transformed itself. After the American Revolution and uprisings in India and Ireland, the empire ensured that other colonies would not slip through its fingers; rather than focussing almost exclusively on trade (sea routes, ports, and commodities), it began to employ, beyond Ireland, various strategies for instituting and sustaining British hegemony in colonial settings. The opening essays of the collection constitute a valuable resource. The first chapter, written by the editors, offers a concise historical, theoretical critical context for the volume, locating it within the fields of postcolonial studies, Romantic studies, and studies on race and the Middle Passage. The next two chapters, the first by Kitson and the second by Fulford, function as more detailed introductions. Kitson's essay, on the latter decades of the eighteenth century, reviews Romantic-era orientalism, race theory, abolition debates, and south-sea voyages before considering early Romantic writers and scholarship on them in those contexts. Fulford's essay, on the period 1800-1830, surveys the wider field of British imperial interest, covering regions in nearly every inhabited continent on the globe, and then turns to the later Romantic authors who wrote within an increasingly complex colonial discourse. Together, these three chapters provide a useful and wide-ranging index to scholarship and primary materials related to colonialism in the period. The first essay on orientalism is Michael J. Franklin's "Accessing India: Orientalism, Anti-'Indianism' and the Rhetoric of Jones and Burke." Franklin contrasts Jones' orientalist scholarship and verse with Burke's political writings on India, opposing "the Burkean, aristocratical sublime" to the more populist position of "the Welshman," Jones (p. 49). The analysis of Burke falls a bit short, failing to take into account the fact that Burke was Irish, not "British" (p. 51), despite the attention to Jones' Welshness (pp. 49-51). Perhaps more significantly, while Franklin does attend to the different terms on which the politician Burke and the colonial administrator Jones were engaged with the subcontinent, he does not address the generic distinctions between political speeches and orientalist (pseudo)translations: both are "narrative representations of India" (p. 56). But the comparison of Jones' and Burke's writings on India is a fruitful one, and usefully situated in the context of the two authors' personal relationship. In their essays, Nigel Leask and John Whale consider orientalist representations as departures from a high Romantic ideal. Leask addresses the framing particularism of orientalist verse in relation to the universalizing, and absorptive, pressures of traditional Romanticism. Noting the emphasis on annotation—from footnotes in oriental tales to guidebooks for orientalist panoramas—Leask suggests "that the absorptive pull of the exotic visual image or allusion . . . is constantly checked and qualified by a globalizing, descriptive discourse which draws the viewer/reader away from a dangerous proximity to the image, in order to inscribe him/her in a position of epistemological power; nothing other than the commanding vision of imperialist objectivity" (p. 168). Whale, in "Indian Jugglers: Hazlitt, Romantic Orientalism, and the Difference of View," suggests a similar polarization: on the one side, "the physical" (p. 215), "mechanical …