Mike Goode. Sentimental Masculinity and the Rise of History 1790-1890. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. ISBN: 9780521898591. Price: US$90[Notice]

  • John Regan

…plus d’informations

  • John Regan
    University College, Dublin

Mike Goode describes a Romantic tradition of historiography centred around feeling, impassioned rhetoric, and written techniques designed to make vivid the scenes and characters of history. Aiming at both the faithful registration of fact and the conveyance of passion, the Romantic historiographer’s craft involved the emotional arousal of the reader; his or her engagement in the scenes about which they read. As Goode argues, Victorian writers of history reacted against the seemingly contradictory Romantic combination of feeling and impartiality. They urged a return to empirical models of written practice: “Victorian academics, reacting against a Romantic tradition of historiography that allied itself with literature and feelings, began modelling the study of history after the sciences” (1). Goode contends that this Victorian reaction against more passionate and less scientific methods was too successful in occluding the considerable worth of the previous, more emotive models. Romantic histories of feeling have, in Goode’s opinion, languished for too long in obscurity after the effacing sweep of historical theory from the mid nineteenth century onwards. Despite this contention, Goode’s avowed objective is not a full revival of Romantic historicism in the contemporary academy. Rather, he wishes to “review it through the lens of its Victorian-era rejection, with an eye towards understanding the intellectual and political history of how historians’ desires, pleasures, and feelings first began to feel out of place” (2). This is a salutary aim, and one which preferences nuance and sober comprehension rather than simple juxtaposition and the lazy narratives of opposition which could so easily have subsumed Goode’s project. Chapter One offers a vivid preliminary survey of the competing claims of history, historicism and historiography over the past 100 years, staking a very clear and persuasive claim for the current need for our re-acquaintance with the often-neglected histories of the earlier nineteenth century. Goode argues that strong currents of Romantic influence can be felt in the writing of the new historians and literary critics, especially in that of arch new-historicist Stephen Greenblatt whose desire ‘to speak with the dead’ seems to couch what is a notably Romantic tendency toward emotive historical revivification in the restrained language of recent literary criticism. Having initially emphasised “the importance that the earlier Romantic tradition had placed on feeling’s role in historical inquiry and historiography’, Goode then orientates his discussion around the issues of early nineteenth-century perceptions of masculinity” (1). Goode wants to chart the development of a discretely Romantic tradition of thought which “grounds historical epistemology in a thinker’s manliness and his capacity for feeling” (5). Chapters four and six describe this “epistemological shift” in thought “at the time of its [modern historiography’s] emergence” (2). Goode states that he wishes to chart “how this epistemological shift was enacted, and the discipline of history ultimately consolidated an idea, through a complex political and philosophical struggle over the nature and social importance of feeling, especially over the feeling of manliness” (3). This theme is explored in a chapter entitled “Edmund Burke and the Erotics Of Romantic Historicism.” Here, Goode shows how Burke espoused the Romantic correlation of good history with a feeling manliness, and how even the satirists of the age failed to divest the period’s historiography from this notably Burkean system of historical values: For the most part, Goode’s explanation of the implications of Romantic historical discourses for ideas and feelings of masculinity and femininity ring true. The great achievement of these passages is Goode’s creation of a sense that the cultural construction of masculinity is locked in a fascinating relationship of mutual influence with historical writing. Goode shrewdly plays up the gendered vocabulary of Romantic historiography, and …

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