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'The Lampless Deep': Criss-Crossing Strains in Current Romantic CriticismJerome McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility: A Revolution in Literary Style. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. ISBN: 0 19 818370 4 (hb). Price: £30.00 (hb)Stephen Bygrave (ed.), Romantic Writings. London: Routledge in association with the Open University, 1996. ISBN: 0 145 13577 X (hb); 0 415 13578 8 (pb). Price: £45 (hb); £12.99 (pb)Susan J. Wolfson and Peter J. Manning, eds. Lord Byron: Selected Poems. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996. ISBN: 0 14 042381 8. Price: £7.99Ted Hughes, ed. and intro. A Choice of Coleridge's Verse. London: Faber and Faber, 1996. ISBN: 0 571 17604 6. Price: £7.99David Punter, ed. William Blake. New Casebooks. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996. ISBN: 0 333 54597 4 (pb). Price: £10.99 (pb)Nancy Moore Goslee, ed. 'The Homeric Hymns' and 'Prometheus' Drafts Notebook: Bodleian MS. Shelley adds. e. 12, vol. XVIII of The Bodleian Shelley Manuscripts. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996. ISBN: 0 8153 1153 2. Price: $160 (hb)[Notice]

  • Michael O'Neill

…plus d’informations

  • Michael O'Neill
    University of Durham

To review these books together is to gain a sense, admittedly ragged and provisional, of multiple, criss-crossing strains in current criticism of Romantic poetry. Especially in Jerome McGann's seeming volte-face in The Poetics of Sensibility and Ted Hughes's reading of Coleridge, there is heartening evidence that the grim-faced ban on imaginative pleasure - and danger - which has prevailed in recent years is beginning to lift. Nancy Goslee's impressive edition of one of Shelley's notebooks is also on the side of the angels since it brings us close to the process of poetic composition. McGann's book builds on the recent explosion of interest in notions of sensibility and the sentimental, and on the allied study of women's poetry of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. What intrigues is the plea for empathising reading made by a critic most famous for his warning against uncritical absorption in Romanticism's own self-representations. McGann is concerned by 'the tendency to approach all art, canonical or non-canonical, in rational - in theoretical and philosophical - terms' (p. 5). He offers a reminder of the 'need, in studying works of imagination, to resist' the 'mind's will to intellectual adequacy' (p. 9). Fine, but wasn't that what the canonical Romantics had been telling us all along, so potently, in fact, that McGann in a previous critical incarnation had felt obliged to issue warnings about the intellect-dulling spells woven by Romantic Ideology? The McGann writing The Poetics of Sensibility has, thankfully, recovered a passion for 'particular writers and particular texts' (p. 8), a passion evident only in queasily ambivalent ways in TheRomantic Ideology . Part 1 of the book discusses 'the ambiguity between mind and matter, art and nature that Locke's Essay [Concerning Human Understanding ] fosters' (p. 16). Lockean tensions between the materialistic and theistic, McGann asserts, vitalise poems such as Pope's Essay on Man , and are subtly investigated by Coleridge in 'The Eolian Harp', the subject of a few brilliant pages. McGann shows that a poem often thought of as muddled is actually able to communicate 'its sympathy with, and its critique of' the 'legacy of enlightenment culture of sensation and sensibility' (p. 23). It is for such compactly suggestive readings that the book is most valuable; such readings do not outlaw the philosophical or theoretical, but they acknowledge the aesthetic intelligence embodied in poems. 'Embodiment', in fact, emerges as a significant notion for the book. Part 1 also includes a chapter on Gray, on the way his great Elegy returns 'our awareness to primaries', thinking, by means of the 'discourse of sensibility' (p. 29), through what can be felt and touched. Similarly, Macpherson's Ossian is related to sentimentality and sensibility. For Macpherson, the former 'is taken as an effort to recover the lost paradise' (p. 34) of the latter, and McGann, in a fine phrase, discovers 'materialized mentality' informing 'the typical Ossianic landscape' (p. 35). Part II considers the poetry of sensibility and Part III the poetry of sentiment, a partition based on the admittedly rough notion that 'sensibility emphasizes the mind in the body, sentimentality the body in the mind' (p. 7). Throughout, McGann seeks to alert us (rather as he did in his early book on Swinburne) to literary styles whose prevailing conventions we may have forgotten, or never learned, how to read. Central to the poetry of sensibility is the paradox of poets using words while being aware of 'the apparent inadequacy of language' (p. 43). An example, taken from Roger Lonsdale's Eighteenth-Centuy Women Poets , is the practice of the anonymous author ('The Amorous Lady') of …