Wallace presents the essays in this collection as a response to a problem
that confronts many scholars who work in the fields of eighteenth-century
studies and Romanticism: the problem of periodization. All literary
historians must deal with it to some extent; but real problems arise
with periods like the one, say, between the 1740s (after the deaths
of Pope and Swift) and the 1780s (before Blake and Wordsworth start
publishing) which are neither one thing (Augustan, eighteenth century)
nor another (Romantic). Naming such a period often involves staging
a conflict. So we have the age of Johnson versus the age of Shelley
and Wordsworth, Enlightenment versus Romanticism, and, Wallace hints,
ASECS versus NASSR. "As eighteenth-century scholarship has expanded
its range, both historically and in its consideration of more popular
and less elite cultural artifacts," she writes, "so has what used
to be known as 'Romanticism'. As a consequence, novels from
about 1750 to 1833 have become a rich and contested site of critical
overlap" (1). James Raven's work shows that the novel experienced
a dramatic rise in numbers in the second half of the eighteenth century.
But both the range and the mix of features that characterize the genre
in these years make it difficult to maintain "any strict distinction
between eighteenth-century literary traditions and Romantic literary
traditions" (19). What, then, do we do with this period so central
to a genre of increasing interest to many of us?
introduction, "Enlightened Romanticism or Romantic Enlightenment,"
also stages the problem as a conflict, or choice. But the aim
of the collection, which consists of nine essays and two responses,
is not to push us in one direction or the other but rather, first, to
identify the common ground that has been cleared by scholars working
in both fields - the novel, in this case; and second, to foster dialogue
between these scholars about this common ground. The contributors
invited to the collection, says Wallace, "identify as scholars specializing
in either the eighteenth century or in Romanticism" (1) - but not,
it seems, in both or neither. It is the works themselves - "works
legitimately incorporated under both 'eighteenth-century studies'
and 'Romanticism'" (1) - that serve as the occasion for them
to meet and discuss the overlap between their respective fields.
Wallace's emphasis on dialogue works well overall, allowing for an
impressive range of dates, texts, and figures to be brought into contact.
But it sometimes has the unintentional effect of solidifying what Wallace
aims to refuse: "an easy opposition between an eighteenth century
Enlightenment ideology consisting of rationality, propriety, and progress
and a Romantic ideology identified by inspiration, heroic individualism,
and sublime emotionality" (16).
the first essay in the collection, for example, "Novel Romanticism
in 1751: Eliza Haywood's Betsy Thoughtless," Margaret Case
Croskery argues that, "[a]lthough it was written in the middle of
the eighteenth century, Haywood's novel thematizes an essentially
Romantic stance to the absorptive powers of fiction" (23). Her
essay begins with a concise and insightful summary of a tension that
pervades eighteenth-century discussions on the novel: that between delighting
readers, which required complicated, or "round,"characters whose
virtues are mixed with the occasional flaw, and instructing them, which
required a more "limited verisimilitude" such as Samuel Johnson
describes in his Rambler No. 4 essay (22). The novel was
able to do both, of course. As Case Croskery makes clear via subtle
readings of Betsy Thoughtless and Henry Fielding's Tom Jones
(1749), a kind of instruction was introduced that worked precisely through
affective identification. "Betsy Thoughtless,"she
writes, "provides a locus classicus for a shift in development
of novelistic narrative in which the intractable problem of instructing
with delight is fully integrated at both the structural and the thematic
I want to press here a bit is not the reading of Haywood's novel or
the conclusion about instructing with delight. I find both convincing.
It's the added claim that this development qualifies as "an essentially
Romantic trust in affective education" (30) and "[recasts]"
Haywood as a "Romantic novelist" (24). As Patricia Meyer
Spacks reminds us in the first of the two response essays in the collection,
works like Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)
make clear that the roles of sympathy, affect, and imagination were
already very much pronounced in the Enlightenment era. In addition,
a Romantic period reduced to affect and imagination sounds like one
of those easy oppositions Enlightening Romanticism was supposed
to resist. One response to this is offered by Spacks herself:
"Haywood's novel," she writes, "suggests the possibility that
the period shift between 'the eighteenth century' and 'the Romantic'
period makes no sense at all" (180). In other words, if the
kinds of affective identification that we thought were Romantic turn
up 50 years prior, why treat them in terms of period at all? Another
response is suggested by Wallace, who explains that, "[I]n a simple
sense, where eighteenth-century scholars see continuity and continuing
development, Romantic scholars are often invested in the narrative of
Romantic exceptionalism" (10). Case Croskery, in this reading,
posits an important continuity (and I think she does) - although "continuity"
here signals not so much an argument as an orientation. A third
possibility is one that might be offered by a scholar who identifies
with neither period and who uses categories like affect or imagination
precisely to explain the shift from one period to the next. I'm
thinking of someone like Mark Salber Phillips, who also writes about
the Enlightenment's "preoccupation with sympathy and inwardness."
He argues that "our image of the historical sensibility of the Enlightenment
as wholly abstract and detached is in many ways a myth created by the
Romantics as a foil for their own critique" ("Relocating Inwardness"
 437, 446).
a similar approach, some of the essays here productively alter the terms
and issues at stake and highlight the interplay between meanings and
associations across periods. Examining Jane West's The Advantages
of Education, Daniel Schierenbeck sets aside the Romanticist distinction
between Jacobin and anti-Jacobin fiction, which ends up pitting West's
work against that of her contemporary, Mary Wollstonecraft, and focuses
instead on a feature common to both writers: an anti-romance stance
grounded in a critique (and endorsement) of female education.
But where for Schierenbeck the Jacobin / anti-Jacobin distinction occludes
certain shared concerns between writers like West and Wollstonecraft,
who did not share a political position, for Shawn Lisa Maurer the term
"Jacobin" is useful precisely because of its political character.
In her excellent essay on "The Politics of Masculinity," she argues
that Jacobin writers like Thomas Holcroft and William Godwin "incorporate,
criticize, and ultimately transform" the "Enlightenment ideology
of male friendship as a wholly affective, personal, rational, and often
familial phenomenon" (87-88). Maurer's emphasis on the category
of friendship enables her not only to describe an Enlightenment ideal
that is rational, affective, and at least theoretically egalitarian,
but also to explain how the political conditions that marked the 1790s
led writers to question and politicize such ideals. In her readings
of Hugh Trevor and Caleb Williams, she shows how Jacobin
writers like Holcroft and Godwin "reveal the underlying foundation
of friendship as status, hierarchy, and power" (93).
King's essay on Amelia Opie's Adeline Mowbray acknowledges
both of the previous essays and offers its own account of how "commonplaces"
of eighteenth-century fiction like marriage and dueling are transformed
in Opie's writing "into a Romantic political statement" (111).
Like Maurer, King uses the tumultuous events of the 1790s to account
for the ways that "institutions governing feminine and masculine honor"
are altered, critiqued, and politicized. And like Schierenbeck,
she shows that the conservative / radical binary so common to studies
of the period lacks the necessary nuance for characterizing a writer
like Opie. Situated as they are in the 1790s, these three essays
(chapters four, five, and six) form a mini-section in the collection
and provide it with a kind of center. As Wallace says in her introduction,
the decade of the 1790s is the "locus" of important, cross-period
work in eighteenth-century and Romantic studies (1). And Spacks,
too, identifies it as the true subject of the volume. "[O]ne
might be tempted," she writes, "to conclude that literary history
should focus, at least in part, not on artificially designed periods
but on arbitrary, limited stretches of time" (188). Schierenbeck,
Maurer, and King all help to show how specific ideas or categories changed
in the political sides-taking of the 1790s. All three also implicitly
evoke what Paul Keen calls the "crisis" in the category of Literature
that occurred at just that point where the age of Johnson meets the
other essays in the collection highlight this crisis as it was registered
at the level of form. In his essay on "Epistolary Trouble,"
Scott C. Campbell argues that a kind of generic self-consciousness inhabits
Charlotte Smith's Desmond (1792). The Revolution Debate
may have inspired novelists to challenge custom and convention, he suggests,
but it did not point a clear path toward resolution. Jacobin novels
like Desmond, therefore, feature "fractured and failed versions
of recognizable types from the eighteenth-century novel" and point
to a "discernable resistance to narrative authority" (67).
On the other hand, Tara Ghoshal Wallace reminds us that novelists of
the 1790s did not have to look back to the earlier part of the century
for failed models of authority. They could look out across their
own increasingly global present. Drawing on and contributing to
a recent interest in postcolonial approaches to the eighteenth century,
Wallace calls Elizabeth Hamilton's Translation of a Hindoo Rajah
(1796) a "double-voiced text" (131), one that both justifies British
rule in India and shows its author to be "deeply troubled by the consequences
of the imperial mission, particularly when these are connected to moral
and social corruption in the home country" (131). Her reading
explores the decade's engagements with the wider world and subtly
examines the progressive historicism of the Scottish Enlightenment that
underpinned these engagements.
is a lot here on the 1790s, then, as one could expect in a collection
inspired by a 2003 NEH Summer Seminar on "Rethinking British Romantic
Fiction" (led by Stephen Behrendt). But lest the reader
suspect that to enlighten the Romantic and romance the Enlightenment
means being dismissed from the falsehood and impossibility of long-form
literary history and delivered over to the limited (if arbitrary) reality
of a decade, there are several essays in the collection which, like
Case Croskery's, range farther afield. Julie Shaffer, for instance,
finds in Elizabeth Lester's novel, The Woman of Genius (1821-22),
a kind of self-consciousness about generic confusion similar to the
one Campbell notes in Charlotte Smith's novel of the 1790s.
And Christopher Flynn pushes the period problem even farther in examining
the fiction of Frances Trollope, whom he describes as a Victorian writer
born in the Romantic period with eighteenth-century sensibilities.
In one of the richest and most wide-ranging essays in the collection,
Peter Walmsley examines the "curious interdependencies of discourses
of death and nation" (41) bequeathed by Enlightenment writers like
John Locke and René Descartes to later practitioners of the Gothic
and sentimental such as Edward Young and Laurence Sterne. After
tracing a "wide vein" of graveyard writing across the century, he
concludes with the 1790s, noting that the Gothic texts of that decade
drew on these interdependent discourses "in a moment of extreme, growing
and possibly contagious political violence, harnessing the fear of death
to an articulation of the nation and its destiny" (52).
Romanticism itself concludes with Stephen Behrendt's "Cultural
Transitions, Literary Judgments, and the Romantic-Era British Novel,"
the second of the collection's two response essays. This lucid
and measured assessment of recent scholarship on the Romantic novel
includes an interesting sketch of the geographer, novelist, and critic,
Hugh Murray, who regarded novels as "a lamentable waste of time"
(195). Behrendt highlights a shift in the qualitative criteria
for evaluating novels, toward more "intellectually generous" and
"culturally expansive" (190) terms. He also points to a recent
quantitative turn - or at least to the possibility of one, thanks
to the bibliographic work of Raven, Peter Garside, and William St. Clair.
Citing Clifford Siskin's claim that scholars too often skip over the
moment of the novel's actual rise (the decades between Richardson
and Fielding on one side and Jane Austen on the other), Behrendt remarks
that "we are paying attention now, as the present volume attests"
this I would say both yes and no. "Yes" because the essays
in this collection do attend to the diverse forms the novel took
in these difficult-to-characterize years. The wide focus provided
by the book's period-scheme - 1750-1832 - allows for a sense not
of what the novel became (Austen, Walter Scott) but of what it could
have become. What we see is a form not yet sure of itself, but
full of possibilities, ideas, and directions. But I also say "no"
in that the book's focus remains pretty much squarely in the realm
of the qualitative. In other words, while this volume closely
examines a number of specific novels, it offers far less on the
novel and on the period in which it exploded in popularity and variety.
Behrendt provides a brief glimpse of the latter, arguing as he does
for a mixed period (he still calls it Romanticism) defined by a very
high level of generic mixing. But while this useful insight is
itself made possible by the kinds of readings offered here, it also
suggests the need for a different kind of work: for rethinking, as I
said above, what we do with periods like the Enlightenment and Romanticism.
Wallace says that there are "two main approaches" represented in
the collection: the first takes material from one of the periods in
question and reads it from the perspective of the other; the second
is less concerned with period, per se, and instead "[invokes]
subgenres, influences, marginalized and appropriated voices" (17).
What both approaches have in common is that they are "textually-focused"
(16). To the question of what we do with these years that are
so central to the history of the novel, Wallace and her fellow contributors
answer: read them more closely.
the difficulty of the question, which many of us struggle with in our
writing and teaching, this is a responsible answer. But given
the clarity and urgency with which this book poses the problem of periodization,
the answer is also a bit unsatisfying. Will it be enough to generate
more close readings of more novels on Raven's list, until the period
has been read fully? Siskin's work, which Behrendt points
to as a kind of map, suggests that such a course would be neither helpful
nor desirable. Critics like Franco Moretti argue that it's not
even possible. Perhaps then a second volume on the subject is
in order, one that continues in this other direction signaled by Behrendt
and that "zooms out," as Siskin describes it, to recognize larger
patterns between genres and periods and between qualitative and quantitative
change (The Work of Writing  16; "Textual Culture
in the History of the Real"  127)?
Tony Jarrells is Associate Professor of English at the University of South Carolina.