THE PALGRAVE LITERARY DICTIONARY OF SHELLEY by Martin Garrett, Reviewed by Nora Crook
 

THE PALGRAVE LITERARY DICTIONARY OF SHELLEY
By Martin Garrett
(Palgrave, May 2013)
Reviewed by Nora Crook on 2013-09-20.

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Palgrave Literary Dictionaries chiefly aim to furnish "quick, clear and convenient access to reliable and scholarly information" (Series Editors' Foreword, viii) for a wide span of potential inquirers, from undergraduates to scholars. Each Dictionary volume is based on an author or group of authors. "Literary" information includes the biographical and contextual. The Tennyson volume (by Valerie Purton and Norman Page) was favorably reviewed on this site in September 2011, and the Byron volume (also by Martin Garrett) won the Elma Dangerfield award of the International Association of Byron Societies. It is a pleasure to report that the Shelley volume upholds the high standard already set.

The amount of editorial and biographical Shelley material published during the last twenty-five years or so, says Garrett, necessitates a "manageable survey" of this kind (ix). Besides the commemorative volumes of essays occasioned by the bicentenary of Shelley's birth, we have seen important monographs, two further volumes of Shelley and his Circle, Garland Publishing's annotated photofacsimiles of almost all Shelley's notebooks in over thirty volumes, volume 1 of Shelley's prose edited to modern scholarly standards, and James Bieri's major biography. We have also seen the founding of the journals European Romantic Review, Romanticism, Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net, and of the e-hub, Romantic Circles, all of which publish articles on Shelley. Further, Longman and Johns Hopkins have launched multivolume editions of the complete poetry. (I must declare an interest here as a general editor of the second.) It is a tall order to get a grip on this voluminous material, as well as on the development of Shelley's editorial, reputational, and critical history over the last two hundred years, but Garrett's grip is impressive.

The citations are up-to-date as of mid-2012, shortly before publication of Volume III of the Johns Hopkins edition and of the Oxford Handbook of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Given the flow of Shelley studies (with the last two volumes of Shelley and his Circle in preparation and the new editions in progress), an enterprise such as this is at the mercy of what might turn up in the next few years to falsify, or at least put in question, some of its statements. But it was ever thus. A reference work must depend on the most authoritative information available at the time of final proofs, unless the compiler also happens to be a researcher making discoveries or a critic advancing new interpretations. In such cases, the reference work is liable to become a vehicle for foregrounding such discoveries and interpretations, and marginalizing those of others.

There is no risk of that here. Garrett makes an admirable effort to represent many differing perspectives without bias, and to retrieve material coming from off the beaten track. Predominantly anglophone in its citations (British and North American), the Dictionary is recognizably British in its perspective. It notes, for instance, the part played by T. S. Eliot and F. R. Leavis in the decline of Shelley's reputation between 1920 and 1960, but not the contribution of New Critics such as Cleanth Brooks and Alan Tate. Nevertheless, this volume is far from insular. Reaching out to Europe, it cites editors, critics, and Shelley-influenced writers from France, Germany, Greece, Russia, and Italy. Francesco Rognoni's highly-regarded edition Opere di Shelley (1995) is so often mentioned that "Rognoni" figures in the list of abbreviations.

At the same time, one feels the guiding hand of someone who has an individual approach to Shelley. Some entries obviously contain discreet and judicious personal readings, and others--such as "Architecture"--seem to reflect Garrett's own interests. (Garrett is also the author of cultural guidebooks to Greece, Cambridge, and Venice.) "In Shelley's work" he writes, "architecture often has moral implications." This concept may strike readers of Shelley as something they have always somehow recognized. Yet I do not remember to have seen it stated so simply and directly before. Rather than giving a comprehensive list of poems containing architectural imagery, Garrett illustrates his point with just a few well-chosen examples. Thus he offers us a genuinely helpful way of approaching some of Shelley's less familiar poems (though he does not mention them): poems such as Marianne's Dream, "The Tower of Famine," and "The Woodman and the Nightingale."

Unlike the chapters of a handbook or a companion, entries to these Literary Dictionaries tend to be about 250 words long, but their length is elastic. While Sidmouth (the politician who impersonates Hypocrisy in Mask of Anarchy) merits 40 words, Prometheus Unbound gets over 2500. The meat-and-potatoes of the Dictionary are the entries on individual poems. Within the limits of the format, those on the longer works (notably Queen Mab, "Mont Blanc," Laon and Cythna, Julian and Maddalo, Prometheus Unbound, The Cenci and A Defence of Poetry) strike me as particularly good and well-rounded. Apart from "A Philosophical View of Reform," Shelley's prose fragments are treated more briefly (rather too briefly, as with "On Christianity" and "On the Devil, and Devils"), but the only important one omitted seems to be the uncollected fragment currently known as "On Zionism." On the other hand, it is a nice surprise to see the very short fragment known as "On Contraception" usefully cross-referred to the entry "Malthus," and two short entries on public speeches that Shelley is known to have made, reminding us that the young Shelley would have been trained to take a seat in Parliament and orate. In the biographical entries, Garrett carefully and responsibly distinguishes between fact and speculation. He compensates for limitations of space by good recommendations for further reading.

A few points are questionable. Although the entries are almost entirely reliable and most of the inevitable slips are trifling, the debatable points are sometimes presented as settled fact. In the entry "Cry of War to the Greeks," Garrett treats Shelley as the main translator of Ypsilanti's proclamation of 1821, and like his predecessors, Garrett assumes that Shelley received it in a modern Greek version. Accordingly, the entry on "Translation" states that modern Greek was among the languages from which Shelley translated. But "Cry of War" contains some obvious Gallicisms. Its title literally translates "cri de guerre" and its text includes the Gallic "marine" where one would expect "navy." Given these locutions, the translation derives from a French version supplied by Prince Mavrokordatos and was probably made--on the whole--by Mary Shelley. The manuscript is mostly in her hand but is touched up with rhetorical flair in Shelley's. Another question is prompted by the entry on "France," which tells us that Shelley "clearly did not achieve the same facility in French as in several other languages." That depends on what is meant by "facility." He must have spoken Italian much better than French, but the mass of books in French that he is known to have absorbed indicates that he was probably a fluent French reader. A third question arises from a point about typography: Garrett seems certain that the "unnecessary" capitalization of "OZYMANDIAS" in the first printing in the Examiner (1818) was due to Leigh Hunt's officiousness. But the 1819 press-copy of Mask of Anarchy (corrected and authorized by Shelley, though in Mary Shelley's hand) is marked up "I am God, & King, & Law" (the double underline indicating "caps" to the printer). Hunt disregarded this instruction when publishing Mask much later (1832) from that very press-copy. So it was probably Shelley, not Hunt, who specified capitals in a sonnet intended for publication in a political newspaper. Certainly they make the vainglorious name "OZYMANDIAS" look like a monumental inscription.

Few reference works are immune to demurrals over what is excluded. Reviewers are Oliver Twists, always asking for more. Here are some items from my wish-list. Though the volume includes brief guides to the present consensus on Shelley's atheism, politics, and Platonism, there is no headword on "Necessitarianism" nor any discussion of how, or whether, he modified his necessitarian beliefs. "Gender" and "Feminism" are also absent, though "Laon and Cythna" and "Wollstonecraft" contain relevant material. There are entries for Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Rousseau, Godwin, and (a welcome inclusion) Hartley, but not for Kant (whom Shelley tried to understand throughout his career and who is mentioned in Peter Bell the Third and Triumph of Life). We find Goethe, but no Schiller, though The Robbers--according to Peacock--was deeply influential. Cross-referencing could be better. The bibliography lists James Chandler's England in 1819 (1998), but does not link it to the entry on the sonnet "England in 1819." The interesting entry on "Illustrations of Shelley's Work" could be missed by readers primed to look for "Shelley, Illustrations" on the analogy of "Shelley, Portraits of" and "Shelley in drama, film, and television."

But the merits of what is here outweigh the omissions. The models of Romantic sociability that Jeffrey Cox and Nicholas Roe have promoted clearly emerge in good entries on Leigh Hunt and Keats. The poems of the Esdaile notebook (assembled 1813) are given individual headwords, and no longer shamefacedly huddle as "Juvenilia." (The work of Donald Reiman and David Duff is reflected here.) Entries on individual countries testify collectively to the growing interest in Shelley's reception in Europe and international Romanticism, an interest spearheaded by critics such as Frederick Burwick, Lilla Crisafulli, Michael Rossington, and Suzanne Schmid. Entries on "Drama and Theatre," "Drawing" (Shelley's doodles and sketches), and "Music" recognize the recent work of Cox, Jacqueline Mulhallen, Nancy Moore Goslee, and Jessica Quillin; those on "Animals" and "Vegetarianism" reflect the work of Christine Kenyon-Jones, Timothy Morton and Romantic ecocritics. Browsers should get from this work a sense of the current state of Shelley studies and some important trends, if only by small incremental steps, since, except for reviewers, readers don't normally read such a volume from A to Z. (Such a procedure, by the way, would be no very onerous task in this case, though, as the apocryphal Scottish lady said of the narrative flow of the Oxford English Dictionary, the experience would be "a wee bit lacking in connection.") But however the volume is used, it is hard to imagine a user who will not, depending on experience, find it a helpful introduction to a difficult author or locate something worth gleaning. And since the next ten years (up to and including 2024) will see the bicentenary of the first publication of almost every important work by the so-called "Younger Romantics," it could hardly be more timely.

Nora Crook is Emerita Professor of English at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge.


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