Sonia Hofkosh and Alan Richardson, eds. Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996. ISBN: 1-0253332125 (hardback). Price: £33.50[Notice]

  • Daniel O'Quinn

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  • Daniel O'Quinn
    University of Guelph

Sonia Hofkosh and Alan Richardson's important new collection Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834 offers a series of essays which aim to accelerate the consideration of racialization and coloniality in Romantic studies. Hofkosh and Richardson's "Introduction" succinctly and powerfully argues that Romanticists therefore are in an auspicious position to intervene in the ongoing examination of the world historical effects of British imperial culture. However, few Romanticists have acceded to this important task. With the exception of Marilyn Butler, Nigel Leask, Javed Majeed, John Barrell and a few others, Romantic studies has sectioned off a large part of the period's literary production from sustained critical debate. The vast array of canonical and non-canonical texts concerned with colonial and imperial topoi have only recently re-entered the circuit of academic consideration. For scholars already working with these matters this collection comes as not only an affirmation, but a thoroughly engaging intervention; for those who are opening their work to Romanticism's others it will come as a revelation. Since British imperialism and its attendant representations unfolded according to different economic and social forces in each specific colonial venue, the sheer historical weight of imperial culture does not allow for any quick solution to years of scholarly neglect. Rather than offering compensatory gestures which will allow Romanticists to put the problem of colonial activity into further abeyance via some unified idea of imperial relations, the editors have demonstrated a commitment to the specificity of the long obscured interrelations of British Romanticism with British imperialism. Put simply, the collection aims to incite future work. As Sonia Hofkosh and Alan Richardson state in their introduction to Romanticism, Race and Imperial Culture, 1780-1834 the collection is arranged to foster dialogue and debate among the various formulations of imperialism and race proposed by the contributors to the volume (9). The strategy is to generate a collection which stages dissenting positions on material that has all too frequently been blessed with dubious silence. However, the nature of the future work should give us pause because the game here is not simply one of recovery or even re-historicization. An adequate account of the relationship between Romantic literary practice and British imperial culture necessarily requires a reconsideration of the role played by Romantic studies not only in race-making, but also in the promulgation of hegemonic constructions of the British empire. Gauri Viswanathan, Homi Bhabha and Sara Suleri have persuasively demonstrated that the most important legacies of this period are institutional. Many of the key strategies for managing populations both at home and abroad—including monitorial education, sexual regulation, the technology of modern policing, the construction of biological racisms, and modern strategies of community consolidation under the aegis of the nation—were developed and refined in the colonies at this time. In my opinion, the significance of particular essays in the collection depends upon the degree to which they highlight the institutional ramifications of the field's new-found desire to explicate its colonial effects. The superb essays by Deidre Lynch, Alison Hickey, Saree Makdisi and Sonia Hofkosh all emphasize the intimate relation between literary practice and the practice of governance in both the imperial metropolis and the colonial periphery. The ambitious essays by Joseph Lew, Laura Doyle and Alan Richardson point to a re-evaluation of key problems in the politics of reading which have the potential to significantly alter even recent considerations of the relationship between genre and aesthetic categories. On a less extensive scale Nancy Moore Goslee, Balachandra Rajan and Ashton Nichols present detailed readings of rarely read texts in which British subjects attempt to represent Native American, Indian and West African peoples. The remaining …