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Peter Kitson, ed., Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley. New Casebooks. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996. ISBN: 0 333 60890 9 (paperback). Price: £10.99 (pb)[Notice]

  • Robert M. Corbett

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  • Robert M. Corbett
    University of Washington

Casebook, as opposed to textbook, suggests substance. While "textbook" suggests a tissue of received ideas, susceptible to the intemperate breezes of critical discourse, the "case" in "casebook" resonates with case study, associating the term with postmortems and law schools. Casebooks do not necessarily create new knowledge as much create the opportunity to understand how we produce that knowledge in the first place. They can be powerful pedagogical tools, placing before the reader examples of the critical art. However, they can also be a trial for even the most generous minded reader, generating responses of pleasure and dismay because of the choices for inclusion and exclusion. Placing "new" at the front of "casebook" further amplifies the potential of the genre for annoyance. Does the "new" mean that previous "cases" are now inadequate, fated to be remaindered or pulped? At the same time, the suggestion that a critical method is new also renders the work vulnerable to all the familiar criticisms of novelty. Indeed, if these "new" approaches can now be put forward in a casebook, surely a signal of academic respectability, in what sense are they new? There are pedagogical reasons, however, for traipsing over old ground, and more especially, there are reasons for collections of "new" approaches to romanticism. The Coleridge, Keats and Shelley volume in the Macmillan New Casebooks series, edited by Peter J. Kitson, fills a felt need, in providing some examples of new approaches to the eponymous poets. Perhaps the most useful parts of the book, in pedagogical terms, are the introduction and the annotated bibliography. The introduction usefully contextualizes the new approaches to romanticism, dividing the flood of work that appeared after M. H. Abrams' Natural Supernaturalism into three streams of "challenges": poststructuralist, historicist, and feminist. Poststructuralism here should really be glossed as the so-called Yale School with a nod towards Lacan. The lumping of Lacan with deconstructive readings of romanticism, while entirely understandable, is symptomatic of what the editor really takes to be new in romantic studies. All the figures discussed in the section concerning poststructuralism did their major work in the seventies, and the editor doesn't use one of the essays selected as an example of the approach. Kitson therefore gives the impression that deconstruction is an affable uncle of the fraternal twins of historicism and feminism; an influential presence, but one which has been generationally superseded. Understandably, this positioning of the challenges to the idealist reading of romanticism reflects the recent excitement over feminist and historicist readings of romanticism, but whether it reflects the genuine interrelatedness of the movements (Margaret Homans' Bearing the Word, for instance, is psychoanalytic as well as feminist, while the (new) historicism is most certainly indebted to the theoretical groundwork of deconstruction) is another question. The purpose of such introductions, however, is to situate, not exhaust possible avenues of discussion; annotated bibliographies, on the other hand, show how that discussion might be continued. Kitson's inclusion of a thorough and readable bibliography turns what could have been a collection into a casebook. Helpfully, it covers general works on romanticism as well as discussing various recent tendencies in the study of Coleridge, Keats, and Shelley, along with classic starting points for each writer. Kitson's inclusion of a section in bibliography for female romantic poetry is indicative of contemporary concerns, and is a necessary complement for the male centered feminist essays he has selected. Finally, at the end of each essay, Kitson provides an abstract of the writer's argument, a gesture which suggests the provisionality of those arguments. In a sense, they are the first marginal notes in the book. The …

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