England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism

James Chandler, Author
James Chandler, Author University of Chicago Press $46 (606p) ISBN 978-0-226-10108-8
Reviewed on: 04/13/1998
Release date: 04/01/1998
Paperback - 606 pages - 978-0-226-10109-5
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Derived from a course the author taught at the University of Chicago, this is not so much a literary chronicle as a dense academic study of the interrelatedness of time and text. What are the historical and political implications of writing? Do writers shape their times, do they reflect them or do they reinvent them? Chandler (Wordsworth's Second Nature) finds England in the year 1819 a crucial nexus of literary and political activity. ""The year... included an extraordinary array of work, in diverse genres, on the relation of pleasure to utility, history to casuistry, the past to futurity' and the present moment in English literature to whatever else the world had to offer."" Keats was at his creative apogee; Byron wrote the first two cantos of Don Juan; Sir Walter Scott was at the height of his fame; and others such as political pamphleteer William Cobbett, Irish bard Thomas Moore and essayist Leigh Hunt were busy as well. This literary activity took place at a time of increasingly radical public demands for parliamentary and economic reform, culminating in the Peterloo Massacre, the violent suppression of a Manchester demonstration. Chandler argues that in this year, England came close to revolution. Written for scholars rather than for those with a more general interest in English romanticism, this wide-ranging yet minutely detailed book is ultimately a heavy going exercise in contemporary critical theory, drawing heavily on Levi-Strauss, Sartre, Jacques Lacan, George Lukacs and Michel Foucault, with ample references to Marx. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Feb.)
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