Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews — either formal or informal — of books, articles, technology, or other media

Austen’s Names and Romantic Espionage

I was very excited to hear about Margaret Doody’s new book, Jane Austen’s Names: Riddles, Persons, Places (University of Chicago Press, April 2015). In this text, Doody traces the etymological contexts for the nomenclature of each of Austen’s characters, while exposing curious patterns of naming throughout her corpus. Who knew that Austen’s Marys were uniformly negative, or that, with the name “Fitzwilliam,” Mr Darcy naturally followed as the inheritor of William Collins’s suit for Elizabeth’s hand?

Margaret Doody, "Austen's Names" (2015)
Margaret Doody, “Austen’s Names” (2015)

When I peeked into the book itself, I was impressed with the etymological research, and I was inspired to think about how the names could be explained further with historical correlatives. The Romantic-era histories behind the names give the characters even more flair, while showing Austen’s awareness of some of the most fraught and intriguing  elements of English public life — including espionage.   Continue reading Austen’s Names and Romantic Espionage

The Modernization of Elizabeth Bennet

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune… must be in want of a wife.” One of the most well-known lines in literature has been reiterated once again—except that this time, it’s plastered on a bright fuchsia T-shirt.

Screen Shot 2015-03-05 at 4.47.31 PM

So begins The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-2013), an Emmy-winning web series that reworks Pride and Prejudice for the modern age, featuring an endearing but sarcastic twenty-something Lizzie Bennet played by newcomer Ashley Clements.

Continue reading The Modernization of Elizabeth Bennet

The Poet and the Vampyre: Caught in the “Byron Vortex”


I know the beginning of the semester (or really any time during the semester) is not the best time for a book recommendation. But, I think you’ll forgive me because this is a fun one and packed with your favorite “literary characters.” Andrew McConnell Stott’s The Poet and the Vampyre was released late in 2014 and is a biographical amble through the events great and small surrounding the fateful weekend in Diodati that produced the monsters we have come to love. Yet, it also self-consciously dances around that stormy night—one that we can all agree fascinates scholars but has been written about to (un)death—in favor of an in-depth look at the relationships amongst these young poets and poetesses that brought them together and split them apart, primarily focused on Byron’s influence (and curse) upon his young doctor, John Polidori. For years, I have been an apologist for Polidori and his novella, The Vampyre, both of which often get shoved to the side for being important but not necessary or enjoyable. Here is finally an attempt to bring Polidori to life, not just as the spiteful tag-along of more successful poets but as the sympathetic victim of other people’s celebrity. Continue reading The Poet and the Vampyre: Caught in the “Byron Vortex”

On First Looking into…Manfred

By Julia Malykh

The enchanting sensuality of Lord Byron’s closet drama Manfred (1816) lies in its depiction of a power struggle. On encountering the text, it is easy to underappreciate Byron’s magnetic innovation by writing off Manfred as a fictionalized account of the poet’s incestuous relationship with his half-sister Augusta Leigh—in keeping with his personal reputation as “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” Upon a closer look, however, it becomes clear that Byron’s dramatic poem is a series of tableaux depicting power struggles between a Byronic hero, Manfred, and a Byronic heroine, Astarte. Continue reading On First Looking into…Manfred

Hero Worship, Discipleship, and the Romantic Imagination: On Spivak’s Aesthetic Education

“And so I go, asking the students to enter the 200-year-old idiomaticity of their national language in order to learn the change of mind that is involved in really making the canon change. I follow the conviction that I have always had, that we must displace our masters, rather than pretend to ignore them.” So writes Gayatri Spivak at the conclusion of a chapter entitled “The Double Bind Starts to Kick In” in her recent tome An Aesthetic Education in the Age of Globalization. Is Spivak too, I ask, such a master that we must displace if we are to abide by her own conviction? This is a question I want to pursue as I consider her treatment of British romanticism in this mammoth work. Continue reading Hero Worship, Discipleship, and the Romantic Imagination: On Spivak’s Aesthetic Education

More Frankenstein(s): Cumberbatch, Miller, and the National Theatre

Like Arden, I, too, have been burning with curiosity about the recent critical reactions to several Frankenstein adaptations. But rather than valiantly sacrifice my time to the gods of Hollywood mediocrity as she so nobly does in her last post, I managed to escape the sub-par recreation of I, Frankenstein and instead turned my intrigue towards a much more mainstream and accepted performance: Danny Boyle’s 2011 National Theatre stage production of Frankenstein, featuring the incomparable Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch. Continue reading More Frankenstein(s): Cumberbatch, Miller, and the National Theatre

Of Mountains and Media: Versions of the Sublime

A few years ago I got a chance to see Marc Handelman’s Archive for a Mountain in person, and it got me thinking about the category of the sublime in a new way. The conceit of the work is straightforward–Handelman assembled into a single book every piece of data he could find about the Untersberg–but the product is impressive. Weighing in at a hefty 740 archival-quality pages of maps, images, brochures, essays, scanned microfilm, screenshots of Wikipedia entries, and more, the book has an excessive materiality of its own. But it also—in the way it inevitably provokes us to imagine even more material that might have been included—foregrounds the incredible constrictions that are necessarily imposed upon any subject in the process of representation, even in those renderings that we are tempted to label exhaustive or comprehensive. Its gesture towards a kind of vast and awe-inspiring archival noumenal that exists beyond the capacity of any single human or technological interface to represent it (as well as its mapping of this limit onto such a traditional representative of sublime Nature) seems distinct to me from other contemporary notions of the sublime, and actually seems to hearken back to the original problematic of the eighteenth-century sublime: how to represent a mountain?

Continue reading Of Mountains and Media: Versions of the Sublime

On First Looking Into…Kubla Khan

The Orient as Other in Kubla Khan

By Lucille Starer Marshall

Orientalism, as defined by Edward Said, is a mode of knowledge production that sustains a basic distinction between the East and West. Orientalism produces cultural theories, political accounts, and literary representations of the Orient that maintain the world’s imbalances of power. At a time of Western imperialism and national cultivation, Romantic writers participated in constructing the image of the Orient. Through poetic style, diction, and narrative, authors established a distinct Other in order to assert the superiority of Western civilization. We encounter such Orientalism in Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Continue reading On First Looking Into…Kubla Khan

I Watch I, Frankenstein

This unapologetic lead balloon of a film has created controversy among Romanticists. What gives? I sacrificed myself to find out.

“He’s alive! But you might wish he wasn’t.”

For the last number of months, I’ve been surprised by how often I, Frankenstein has reared its malformed CGI head in discussions about Romanticism. The film, which came out in January 2014 and has a 3% approval rating among critics, seems oddly difficult to dismiss. The film’s “near viral” negative response has resulted in a curious sort of academic Whack-a-Mole, as dismayed scholars continually reject any influence of anything “like this” on their work and teaching. But like any supernatural villain, I, Frankenstein always comes back — and so, it is lamented, the film is bound to make an eventual appearance on some ill-fated undergraduate syllabus. Continue reading I Watch I, Frankenstein

On First Looking Into…Coleridge’s Conversation Poems

Coleridge and the Sound of Music in the Conversation Poems

By Zoe Baker-Peng

Methinks it should have been impossible

Not to love all things in a world so filled,

Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air

Is Music slumbering on its instrument.

(‘The Eolian Harp,’ 30-33)

As I read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s conversation poems for the first time, in particular ‘The Eolian Harp,’ ‘The Nightingale,’ and ‘Frost at Midnight,’ the frequent pairing of nature and music struck me as intriguing. Throughout these poems, Coleridge examines the relationship between the organic world and musical sounds, and uses music to further illustrate and explain the composition of natural scenes. Continue reading On First Looking Into…Coleridge’s Conversation Poems