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September 14, 2016
Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 25.

The cover of NCS Volume 25

March 7, 2013
NCS introduces new online reviews feature. See online reviews.

March 1, 2011
NCSA introduces new Nineteenth Century Studies journal Web site.

March 15, 2010
Now Available: 19th Century Studies, Vol. 22.


Ethnic Ambiguity and the African Past: Materiality, History, and the Shaping of Cultural Identities. Edited by François G. Richard and Kevin C. MacDonald. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, 2015. Pp. 296. 48 illustrations. $89.00 (cloth).

This publication is another welcome addition to the growing literature on the social archaeology of Africa, a theoretically-informed perspective that has in the last few decades displaced the cultural history concerns that had previously dominated archaeological scholarship in the region. The volume consists of eight original essays, including studies by each of the co-editors, plus an introductory chapter by the editors and a summary by Stephen Shennan, along with a foreword by Christopher DeCorse, whose comments nicely situate the volume in the history of regional archaeology.

Ethnicity has been an organizing principle of ethnographic and archaeological research from Africa’s Colonial era even when not directly the topic of such research. Yet problems with assumptions of ethnic continuity and the varied material expressions of identity lead some researchers to shy away from the topic. DeCorse welcomes a return to ethnicity as a central focus of research that recognizes the ambiguities of group identities and their material expressions, noting that ethnicity is in many ways central to anthropology although it remains a “challenging, relevant, and, at times, contentious areas of archaeological study” (p. 15).

Rather than offer summaries of the papers that follow, the editors’ essay explores the evolution of the idea of ethnicity as it was developed and applied in Africa and of various critiques of the concept, including its invention as a means of social control during the Colonial era, its tendency to attempt to fix in time and space that which were, in fact and continue to be, fluid identities, and the tendency to conflate ethnic and political identities, resulting in notions of “tribalism” that are often blamed for conflict that has its roots in long-standing social and economic inequities. They go on to not only recognize the ambiguity of the concept but to celebrate it and apply that quality to consider commonalities and contradictions in its application in the volume’s papers.

Ethnicity is seen as relevant and real by all of these scholars, and it is recognized as historically constructed, consisting of inwardly focused feelings of connection to the past that can take material form in various ways, and can be, but is not always, consciously articulated. That the chapter authors variously privilege differing aspects of ethnicity is seen as a strength rather than a weakness, with ambiguity used as a focus through which to understand how such identities are construed over time and space. Nonetheless, all the authors recognize the importance of distinguishing the different processes of identification entailed in ethnic identities, all recognize that such identities are fluid over time, all recognize a central connection between ethnicity and materiality, and all recognize that examinations of ethnicity take place in a broader political context with categories of identity not exclusively fashioned within groups, but constrained, molded, and sometimes created by others: neighboring groups, regional polities and movements, Colonial powers, and global conditions.

The volume’s eight case studies are concerned with ethnic expressions in such things as ceramics, burial practices, agricultural traditions, settlement systems, and landscapes, and they span the continent, with five studies situated in West Africa, two in Eastern Africa, and one in Central Africa. They span through time, as well, from prehistory to the Colonial era. Cameron Gokee focuses on pottery-making techniques, especially the gestures used in vessel rim formation, in Senegambia from the early eighteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century. Co-editor François G. Richard examines ethnicity as a historical product among the Seereer, which he argues needs to be understood as only one among “many shifting constituents of individual and collective subjectivity” that need to be viewed in relation to other social structures and processes (p. 110). Co-editor Kevin C. MacDonald discusses the origins of the term Bambara and its vague use in reference to “pagan” populations to a more specific identity under Colonialism. Importantly, he reveals that culturally transmitted traditions have time depth than can be measured, and that even when ethnic ascriptions and political entities have the same names at different times, they do not necessarily have the same content or meaning. Roger Blench considers indigenous ethnography as well as archaeology to examine ethnicity in Nigeria as something more than “just” Colonial-era constructs. He found long-term continuity in certain ethnolinguistic groups, such as the Yoruba and Edo. Scott MacEachern considers the Wandala “state” as an ethnically-based political entity of small size and little local importance, but whose elites created a cultural of “stateliness” linked to neighboring elites that gave them the appearance of significance and power to the outside world. Pierre de Maret and Alexandre Livingstone Smith inquire into identity of the Luba, tracing distinct pottery traditions and ceremonial and ritually symbolic material culture back over a thousand years. John Giblin considers the political implications of precolonial Twa, Tutsi, and Hutu identities in Rwanda. He examines the ways that these categories have come to be constructed over time and applies the results of faunal analysis to deconstruct them. Paul J. Lane then provides a ceramic-based overview of identity in East African archaeology. He supports the fluid nature of identity in his consideration of the Bondel of northeast Tanzania, for whom that identity seems to have been important in the early nineteenth century but became less so as clan affiliations became more significant in the face of slave raiding and migration, only to have Bondel identity reemerge later under the influence of missionaries. His other cases emphasize the importance of reconstructing traditions relating to different patterns of daily activity without assuming that these are related to “ethnic groups.”

In the closing paper, Stephen Shennan offers a cultural evolutionary perspective on the preceding papers that to this reviewer reads like the old cultural history approach with a rather Whiggish set of new clothes. He argues that the practices and representations that constitute “ethnicity” generally have historical foundations that must be understood through cultural histories. Further, he asserts that a cultural evolutionary perspective is concerned with the transmission of culture through time in which change can be seen to act. The term “evolution,” however, suggests that such changes have a trajectory of inevitable progression over time that the reality of cultural complexity does not, in fact, follow. That said, his concluding points are markedly on-point:. We do “still need more understanding of why ‘ethnic difference’ as a folk taxonomic construct seems to be such a powerful and persistent way of making them-us distinctions” given “the ongoing political significance of ethnicity in the contemporary world” (p. 284). We do need archaeological and anthropological research that deconstructs “the assumptions behind ethnic categories,” (p. 284) as the chapters in this volume strive to do.

John P. McCarthy, RPA
Delaware State Parks
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Literary Bric-à-Brac and the Victorians: From Commodities to Oddities. Edited by Jonathan Shears and Jen Harrison. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. Pp. 226. Illus. $149.95 (cloth). $54.95 (paper).

Like the category of objects that it discusses, Jonathon Shears and Jen Harrison’s edited volume resists simple analysis. The book offers a rich series of essays, each of which turn their attention to the problematic genre of objects known as bric-à-brac. It is ironic that while the term evokes exactly the kind of object we think of when discussing Victorian material culture, bric-à-brac has lacked sustained critical attention in the secondary literature on “things.” Yet this relative neglect is indicative of the difficulties of dealing with such material, which sits uncomfortably between high and low forms of culture, the decorative and the fine arts, and states of ubiquity and worthlessness. Indeed, whilst it is often acknowledged that, to quote one of the volume’s authors, “things matter,” not all things have been deemed to matter equally. Accordingly, the volume opens with the provocative question “do all the objects of Victorian literature ‘mean’ equally, or should distinctions be drawn – and on whose terms?” (p. 1). Providing an answer to this question through an unprecedented study of bric-à-brac, the book situates the genre in relation to Victorian literature, and in so doing, demonstrates its importance as a semantically rich category of material culture.

The earliest chapters of the book attempt to define, categorise, and critique the genre. Victoria Mills explores how accounts of bric-à-brac have been characterized by a concentration on its “badness” and “sadness,” taking advantage of its disruptive nature in order to figure bric-à-brac in terms of its queer potentiality. Anna Barton and Catherine Bates’s contribution, “‘Beautiful Things’: Nonsense and the Museum,” also highlights the disorderly nature of bric-à-brac, situating the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear (1812–88) in relation to the Victorian cultures of taxonomy and museum display. These chapters elaborate upon and elegantly deconstruct the incongruous nature of bric-à-brac, with Barton and Bates describing it as ‘“things out of place’,,” ‘“not working within any system of function, commodity or exhibition’” (p. 57). Conceptualised in this way, bric-à-brac proffers a powerful model for critiquing the structures in which objects were organised, viewed, and experienced throughout the nineteenth century, an emphasis which several of the volume’s chapters profitably explore.

A number of the chapters also highlight the collapsibility between subject and object, identifying this as a relationship at the very heart of bric-à-brac’s manifestations within Victorian literature. Echoing bric-à-brac’s own disjointed form, several chapters align it with bodies in conversion: fragmented, disordered, and even posthumous. Mills, for example, highlights the diseased body as an object of desire for the bric-à-brac collector, whilst Barton and Bates utilise Bill Brown’s “thing theory” as a framework through which to explore disruptive interventions of objects within the self, interactions which stress the body’s position as a “thing among things” (p. 41).

Alongside these more general considerations of bric-à-brac as a genre or category of objects, other chapters pay attention to specific objects, including mezzotints, whistles, nails, books, and even the philosopher’s stone. Jennifer McDonell’s essay, “Browning’s Curiosities: The Ring and the Book and the ‘Democracy of Things’,” for example, explores the poet Robert Browning’s (1812–89) fascination with odd, obscure things, specifically his collection of legal documents from an Italian murder trial of 1698, and an etching of Perseus and Andromeda, after a painting by Caravaggio. These examples, unpacked at length and in detail by McDonell, collapse the figure of poet with that of the collector, highlighting the deeply personal nature of Browning’s writing and the crucial role played by material objects within it. Tellingly, the etching provides one of only a few of the volume’s illustrations, a lack which speaks to a missed opportunity in the volume’s compilation: namely, that more of its chapters could deal in greater depth with surviving examples of bric-à-brac objects, an angle that would emphasise the interdisciplinarity of the volume, particularly its resonances with the approaches advanced within complementary disciplines such as material culture studies and art history. Indeed, the kind of serious examination of Victorian bric-à-brac found in the volume has important implications for the art history of the period, which historically has tended to place objects within exactly the kind of aesthetic hierarchies that bric-à-brac disrupts. McDonell’s chapter signals this potential eloquently, noting that Browning’s writings demonstrate the “porousness of the boundaries between categories such as art, commodities, oddities, and rejects,” highlighting the utility of bric-à-brac to highlight and collapse aesthetic hierarchies (p. 67).

Difference – as it relates to gender, class, and sexuality – is another key theme of the volume. For instance, David Trotter’s essay, “On the Nail,” explores the conflation between the metaphorical construction of difference at the heart of the nail’s function – that is, its holding together of two different objects or materials – with its capacity to evoke social difference, or otherness, within the narratives in which it appears. Mills’s chapter similarly illustrates the importance of bric-à-brac to Victorian discourses on gender, focusing on its relation to non-normative masculine identities, whilst both Deborah Wynne’s and Sara Clayson’s chapters elucidate the role of bric-à-brac in the construction of two very different kinds of literary femininity. Just as bric-à-brac can be seen to epitomise the fluidity and instability of objects themselves, these chapters show its utility in discussing equally unstable categorisations, such as gender roles, which as Mills writes, in turn become “disorderly things that refuse to be categorised” (p. 35).

As confirmed by each of the volume’s chapters, bric-à-brac was not defined as a specific set or type of objects, but a state which objects could (but did not always) embody. Indeed, bric-à-brac is characterised by its very instability, its indefinableness, where it denotes worthless, anachronistic, incongruous, specious, or disordered objects. As such, it offers a potent vehicle for representing other unstable concepts, be it gender, race, or class; divisions between subject and object; or even language itself. Each of the volume’s contributions powerfully demonstrate how attention to the intricacies of bric-à-brac can reveal and allow for the interpretation of these instabilities. Further to this, the volume has implications beyond the period and the kinds of bric-à-brac upon which it focuses: similar interventions need to be made in the history of the trinket, the bauble, the trifle, and the knick-knack, each of which have a complex and highly loaded history of their own, with Shears and Harrison’s volume offering a model for how do to so. In its considered analysis of bric-à-brac, the volume ultimately offers a response to Edward Muir’s question of “how can historians concerned with trifles avoid producing trivial history?” In their methodologically rigorous and tightly argued considerations of each of the texts discussed, the volume’s contributors offer a resounding answer to this question: bric-a-brac matters, and the matter of bric-à-brac is worthy of sustained attention and enquiry.

Freya Gowrley II
University of Edinburgh
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Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book. By Jessica DeSpain. London: Ashgate Publishing, 2014.

Jessica DeSpain opens Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book with a “comical” image that Charles Dickens (1812–70) gives in a speech when visiting America: that of the author carrying Washington Irving (1738–1859) to bed. While certainly not to be taken literally, this opening pun undoubtedly sets up a vivid metaphor for thinking about the embodied text during the nineteenth-century – that of the conflation of book and author’s body (p. 1). That is, DeSpain argues that this guiding image of a reader’s relationship to the author – one of unfettered access, intimacy, and stability – emphasizes the form of the book as a material object. She follows this relationship from 1842, the year of Dickens’s visit to America, to 1891 with the passage of the Chace Act, which extended protection to foreign holders of copyright. In her well-researched and contextualized study on “Books, Bodies, and Citizenship” in transatlantic material culture, DeSpain thoroughly investigates a range of archival material and literary texts in order to perform a historiographic reading of the publishing industry, with particular attention given to copyright law, the (re-)printing industrial complex, and transatlantic readerships.

DeSpain places her attention on reprinting, authors’ rights, and the reading public as various avenues through which to talk about material culture. Her particular emphasis is on the embodied material nature of the book during the nineteenth century, which allowed for readers, writers, and publishers of that period to effect the “nation’s body politic.” These different roles, as well as the material texts that circulated, supported literacy, civilized the public, and upheld cultural norms. DeSpain contextualizes the work of Benedict Anderson and Michael Warner on print culture’s relationship to political movements, in addition to Leah Price’s inventive study, How to Do Things with Books in the Victorian Period (2012), to ultimately conclude that “studying the wide distribution and myriad versions of transatlantic reprints, in all of their minute details, reveals the book as an object of displaced human desire and definition” (p. 14). Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book remarkably contributes to our understanding of material culture and the book as a cultural object, particularly of note in our contemporary age where literary communities continue to divine the significance of print in an age of multimedia, multimodality, and multiple editions. DeSpain’s examination of nineteenth-century book culture both continues and extends the academic heritage of work that stands at the nexus of the history of the book, cultural studies, and literary analysis.

DeSpain examines a gamut of literary works, from American poetry to British essays, and her focus on the book as material object allows for her close, intimate criticism of international readerships and textual cultures alike. Indeed, the great range of texts – Charles Dickens’s American Notes for General Circulation (1842), Susan Warner’s (1819–85) The Wide, Wide World (1851), Fanny Kemble’s (1809–93) Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation (1863), and Walt Whitman’s (1819–92) Democratic Vistas (1888) – means that DeSpain’s close readings of these works contribute to a greater discussion of the transatlantic publishing zeitgeist, particularly how “reprints called attention to multiple versions of any one text” that consequently “informed the author/reader interactions that made up the imagined community of the nation state” (p. 50). This conclusion, taken from her discussion of Dickens’s American Notes, appeals to the larger conversation about material culture’s intersection with national/political cultures, as well as her readings in other chapters for the sharp attention to “reprints” engenders such vibrant discussions of the body, the book, and the nation.

Two case studies – those on Dickens’s American Notes and Kemble’s Journal – in DeSpain’s work interrogate, particularly, the nature of writing for mass appeal. DeSpain’s deepest concern in her reading remains the metonymic relationship between author’s identity and author’s text, as expressed in the deeper political implications that exist through reprinting. Whereas in her chapter on Kemble she invests most fully in how Kemble’s journal, along with pamphlets that source it, further the abolitionist cause, her discussion of Dickens’s text highlights his own appropriation of slavery and the tobacco trade as tropes to discuss the publishing industry. In America, reprints were seen as the lifeblood of the literary imagination; mass distribution was for the benefit of the populace and reprints became a vehicle for reader’s rights. DeSpain extends this argument through Dickens’s own anxieties about the fidelity of his words in the (re-)printing industrial complex as a writer “primarily worried about the loss of authorial authenticity through this indiscriminate distribution [through reprinting], reprinters argued [however] that their output was the lifeblood of a healthy nation” (p. 23). This concern is the highlight of DeSpain’s chapter, particularly as this concept becomes the very vehicle through which she articulates Dickens’s critique of American slavery: “Describing reading as a form of consumption always has negative connotations because it suggests that the reading being performed is of a lesser order and feeds the body rather than the mind. However, in Dickens’s case, Americans aren’t even fully consuming their reading; they are chewing it up, spitting it out, and staining the nation with the remains” (p. 36). This analysis of Dickens’s critical viewpoint on slavery pivots to a more explicit critique of slavery in Kemble’s subversion of the Gothic tradition, sentimentality, and abolitionist philanthropy. DeSpain’s chapter on the life, writings, and acting career of Fanny Kemble deals squarely with “embodiment” – the book’s ability to discuss bodies and consequently become figurative bodies – by linking the nature of the print text with body of slaves: “because pamphlets proliferated so widely, but were treated so badly, a common analogy linking the disposability of texts and slave bodies began to surface during the period” (p. 136). This analogy, which comes late in her analysis of Kemble’s journal, forwards DeSpain’s much deeper concerns with illustrating how the material culture of publishing impacted wider political and aesthetic discourses from abolitionism to copyright law to concerns about political representation.

While the two chapters referenced above are concerned most with the politics, printing, and publishing discourses of the nineteenth century, DeSpain moves from these close, critical readings of Dickens and Kemble to describe how Warner’s domestic novel about “women’s moral agency both within and beyond the domestic sphere” gets translated through the textual devices of the engraving and frontispiece and how Whitman’s poetry sought to recover the “loss of agency” in reprinting (pp. 54, 144). I link these two chapters of her study because of their marked interested in the more aesthetic concerns of the publishing industry: how the book looks and the spirit of the book through its printing. DeSpain’s monograph reproduces the work of Henry George Bohn (1796–1884), William Harvey (1796-1866), and others to articulate how the engravings within The Wide, Wide World operate as “the reader’s textual threshold” in that they often “emphasize the distinction between Ellen and Nancy” – the novel’s main characters (p. 71). While Warner’s The Wide, Wide World ultimately becomes for DeSpain an “allegory of the fate of British books and British people in an American landscape,” her chapter emphasizes the significance of the book’s paratextuality, by which she demonstrates the importance of page space, and in the case of Warner’s novel, illustrations. The emphasis on how the creation of multiple editions and reprints engenders the intimate and embodied book moves from one about engravings and art in Warner’s novel to concerns about layout, representation, and authenticity in Whitman’s poetry (p. 83). As a bookend to the discussion of Dickens earlier, DeSpain integrates a reading of Whitman’s Democratic Vistas into her study as a means of illustrating the negative connotations reprinting developed towards century’s end. For Whitman, who saw printing much like democracy – the binding agent of the nation – reprinting ultimately began to lead to a poorer quality of texts as well as reinforcing a stodgy British literature. Democratic Vistas and his later-life philosophy both “experiment in formulating a mass-produced, industrial object that could retain an individualistic body and soul that physically engaged his readership” (p. 143). Much like her reading of Warner, DeSpain’s analysis articulates how Whitman’s deeply poetic and philosophical concerns for “the appearance and makeup of the book” fueled late nineteenth-century concerns about material culture, mass industrialization, and capitalism (p. 158).

DeSpain concludes her study with a contextualized reading of the Chace Act and the emergence of the Arts and Crafts movement – two key historical moments in the late-nineteenth century in regards to the publishing and creative industries. This bookend to her study, which perfectly situates the emergence of the individualized reader and text in conjunction with the emergence of more overt concern over aesthetics, leads to her conclusion that by century’s end “it is hand-craftsmanship that creates the alchemy of embodiment,” according to William Morris, because it is now “the bookmaker’s textual presence [that] was crucial for discourses of citizenship, belonging, and community” (p. 176). DeSpain’s Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Reprinting and the Embodied Book will surely be a touchstone of future scholarship on textual studies, cultural materialism, and nineteenth-century literary culture. Her close, critical reading of texts – paired with her archival research and reproduced artwork – articulate a deep historical concern about modality and materiality that persists today, and her monograph contributes to an ever-expanding field of study where DeSpain’s voice is sure to find its audience.

Michael James Griffin II
Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow
Georgia Institute of Technology
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“Enlightened Zeal”: The Hudson’s Bay Company and Scientific Networks, 1670–1870. By Ted Binnema. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Pp. 488. 32 black-and-white illustrations and 7 color plates. $37.95 (paper).

In “Enlightened Zeal,” Ted Binnema, professor of history at University of Northern British Columbia, examines the role of the British chartered commercial monopoly Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) in supporting, cultivating, or obfuscating scientific knowledge of its territories over two centuries. His study joins a growing number of recent books in the history of science that examine the creation and support of epistemic and professional scientific networks in the British Atlantic world. Spanning the period between the assignation of the HBC Royal Charter in 1670 and its subsequent surrender in 1869–70, Binnema’s book is chronologically organized into two parts and argues that the HBC’s contributions to science and the exchange of knowledge was, in the beginning, largely executed by individuals operating outside of the company’s interests. However, “after an initial century of secrecy, the HBC’s contributions to public knowledge grew significantly between 1769 and 1870, by which time the company had a well-established reputation as a generous patron of science” (p. 7).

Part one, “The Hudson’s Bay Company and Science, 1670–1821,” highlights the 1769 Transit of Venus, when the planet became visible against the solar disk, as a turning point when “the HBC Committee explicitly encouraged its officers to contribute to scientific research in its territories and deliberately attempted to act as the conduit through which this research was transferred to learned men” (p. 83). Yet, while they supported global efforts to observe the transit, as a corporation the HBC sought first and foremost to make a profit and therefore maintained a complicated relationship with scientists and learned societies. As knowledge is power, initially this priority meant withholding information about the HBC’s territory and holdings from the public – and most important from its competitors, like the French Montreal-based North West Company – in order to protect its interests. Increasingly, however, as the validity of the chartered monopoly of the company came into question, the HBC moved to sponsor and publicize its support of scientific endeavors, including British, American, and French projects, in order to cultivate a reputation as a benefactor to science invested in the public interest and as an integral facet of British scientific and territorial hegemony.

Reliant on its chartered monopoly status for its success in the fur trading business, the HBC as a corporation negotiated its position as one based on power, secrecy, and, later, benevolence. Regarding HBC networks, Binnema argues in his carefully researched and densely written text, they “functioned because they were nurtured by myriad motives – corporate and individual – including wealth, influence, possessions, various forms of recognition including tribute, fame, and renown, and less tangible benefits: adventure, health, happiness, male companionship, self-improvement, or a sense of meaning” (p. 8). As this passage indicates, Binnema’s book sets out to delineate, not a clear story of influence, but a complex web of individuals working with mixed intentions. One aspect that complicates Binnema’s wide-ranging narrative is this fluidity. Indeed, the individual motives of those involved in the HBC varied and sometimes went directly against the company’s own corporate agendas and economic interests. One way that Binnema charts these complicated relationships between employees (at varying levels in the corporate hierarchy) and lay scientists is to identify and examine some of the key figures, writing: “scientific networks were maintained by the self-interest of the many that were involved in their intricate connections, but really flourished when sophisticated and empathetic scientists stirred the scientific enthusiasm of lay collectors” (p. 289). In part one, these include HBC ship captains, such as the amateur ornithologist Alexander Light, and HBC surveyors, such as Peter Fidler (1769–1822), who made significant contributions to mapping the interior of North America. Woven throughout are other figures, including George Vancouver, Captain James Cook, and Christopher Wren, thereby linking these “amateur” HBC scientists with their more famous counterparts.

As the professionalization of science developed during the Enlightenment era, alliances were forged between learned scientific societies and educated HBC officers. Part two, “The Hudson’s Bay Company and Science, 1821–1870,” follows an active and public period in the HBC’s sponsorship of scientific exploration, including the search for the Northwest Passage, geomagnetic research, and meteorological observations. By this period in the mid-nineteenth century, the HBC increasingly sought public praise of its sponsorship of scientific endeavors as one armament in a public relations campaign waged to combat vocal challenges to its monopoly. It wanted to establish itself as an important operator in British North America, contributing to the betterment of British citizens by facilitating important expeditions, studies, and collections. Therefore literary tributes and other visual means of acknowledgement, including the sponsorship of artistic endeavors, maps that revealed the cartographic exploits of the HBC, and specimen collecting, proved valuable in cultivating a vision of the HBC as benevolent, while also supporting its economic interests.

Controlling Prince Rupert’s Land, a vast amount of territory covering the Hudson Bay drainage basin in British North America, the HBC operated a network of fur trading posts, traded with aboriginal populations, benefited from indigenous knowledge, and contributed – directly, although perhaps unintentionally – to the expansion of Canadian territorial interests by the mid-nineteenth century. The role of aboriginal peoples in the furthering of the HBC’s commercial and scientific interests was enormous. As Binnema writes: “There is enough evidence to conclude that much of the natural history knowledge, and, in at least some contexts, most of the natural history specimens that officers and scientists acquired were purchased from aboriginal trading partners, friends, or spouses” (p. 31). He goes on to state, however, that firmly documenting their contributions is impossible due to a disappointing lack of evidence. His careful research into the HBC’s scientific networks opens the possibility that future studies can build upon his work and trace the indigenous contributions to these efforts.2

Art historians will be especially drawn to chapter seven, “Disinterested Kindness,” which examines the complicated relationship between Toronto-based artist Paul Kane (1810–71) and his patron George Simpson (1787–1860), governor-in-chief of the HBC (1820–60). Like his better-known American counterpart George Catlin (1769–1872), Kane assembled an impressive array of portraits of First Nations members and artifacts during a series of expeditions into HBC territories in the Northwest (conducted with the company’s assistance) and publicly exhibited them, shaping Torontonians’ ideas about the Northern territories and their occupants. Binnema compellingly links Kane’s exhibition both with the revival of the Canadian expansionist movement and a shift in the center of Canadian science from Montreal to Toronto via the activities of the Canadian Institute. Indeed, annexationists marshalled Kane’s works to convince Canadians that the HBC territories were not “distant, subarctic fur-trading territory,” but instead were “valuable for far more than its furs” (pp. 226–227). In this case, the HBC sponsorship of Kane’s expeditions proved to be their undoing in spectacular fashion.

Throughout, Binnema raises interesting questions about British North American relations with America when it came to mercantile interests and scientific exploration. Nationalist factions discouraged the cultivation of cross-interests, especially during periods of war, international tension, and strained diplomatic relations. This is, perhaps, most fully explored in chapter eight, “Knowing the Liberal Disposition,” which focuses on the relationship between the Smithsonian Institution and the HBC. Astonishingly, between 1858 and 1868 (during the Civil War period), the HBC submitted over 12,000 items to the Smithsonian, including specimens, journals, and artifacts, mostly through the exertions of Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823–87) and Joseph Henry (1797–1878). American naturalist Robert Kennicott’s (1835–66) 1859–60 expedition into HBC territory for the Smithsonian, facilitated by Governor Simpson, benefited “immensely from the HBC’s assistance.” (p. 256) Certainly, the institutional contributions of HBC sponsorship and facilitation are most clearly outlined in this chapter. For example, one HBC employee sent specimens to the Smithsonian, Industrial Museum of Scotland, British Museum, and Montreal Natural History Society, thereby indicating scientific networks across vast geographic territories, between HBC outposts, British North America, and Great Britain. That this burst in collaboration coincides with the rise of global scientific professionalization and disciplinary specialization seems evident. However, Binnema also conjectures that as vocal annexationists sought HBC territories, public accolades for the HBC and an influential institution in its favor in Washington, D.C., were calculated. Just a few years later, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act (1867), leading to the establishment of the Dominion of Canada and the ceding of HBC territories in 1870, officially ending a two-century monopoly.

With a study as broad and far reaching as Binnema’s, criticisms inevitably arise. Those interested in material culture would have appreciated descriptions of specimens and artifacts, as well as discussion of the specific ways in which they were collected and transmitted across great distances and under difficult conditions. In response to recent scholarly interest in the collection and circulation of specimens of natural history, fuller , attention to the reception and display of specimens would also have been welcome. Finally, as mentioned above, greater development of the specific role of indigenous peoples in the process of collecting and displaying artifacts would contribute to a broader definition of scientific networks. Perhaps this scholarship exists elsewhere. Indeed, one occasionally feels that Binnema has made some general assumptions about his readers' knowledge base to avoided retreading territory that scholars have outlined in other publications on the HBC. These criticisms aside, Binnema lays significant groundwork in his thorough assessment of the HBC’s contributions to the formation of scientific knowledge and networks, especially between 1769 and 1860, establishing this text as essential reading for anyone interested in corporate contributions to the development of science in the British Atlantic world.


1. See for example, B. Bennett and J. Hodge, Science and Empire: Knowledge and Networks of Science across the British Empire, 1800–1970 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
2. Other foundational scholarship includes Arthur Ray, Indians in the Fur Trade: Their Roles as Trappers, Hunters, and Middlemen in the Lands Southwest of Hudson Bay, 1660–1870 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1974); and Carol M. Judd, “‘Native Labour and Social Stratification in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Northern Department 1770–1870,” in The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 17, no. 1 (1980): 305–14.

Naomi H. Slipp
Auburn University
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James Watt: Making the World Anew. By Ben Russell. London: Reaktion, published in association with the Science Museum, London, 2014. Pp. 280. 69 illustration. $29.95 (cloth).

This work provides a narrative, popular history of the early British Industrial Revolution through the lens of James Watt (1736–1819), the engineer most associated with the steam engine. Placing Watt within the social context of the Industrial Revolution, Russell argues that the steam engine was as much a “cultural machine as a scientific one,” because it reflected the changing intellectual values and economic needs of “the period roughly from 1760 until 1820” (p. 9). Russell offers a biographical overview of Watt’s life, providing a chronological account of how his career as an entrepreneurial engineer eventually led to his status as a national hero and scientific symbol. At a broader level, Russell examines Watt’s professional life within the context of the social, economic, and cultural conditions of industrial Britain. Russell concludes that Watt’s research on engines was shaped by new social and economic factors, including consumerism, industrialization, and global trade. At an abstract level, Russell explores how engineers were “turning ephemeral ideas into tangible products” (p. 15). From Watt’s childhood fascination with steam kettles to his eventual design and standardization of the steam engine, Russell attempts to trace the conceptual development of the engine through Watt’s life. Russell promises more than a biography of Watt or a history of the steam engine; at its broadest level, Russell promises “a book about making things during Britain’s Industrial Revolution” (p. 9).

Chapters are organized chronologically to correspond with significant stages of Watt’s professional life, though each reflects broader social conditions of the period under examination. Chapter one explores Watt’s early life, arguing that his apprenticeship in London provided invaluable training and professional connections. Eighteenth-century London is presented as a center for commerce, technical innovation, and social change. It was within this changing society that Watt was introduced to the professional networks, technical innovations, business experience, and social interactions that led to his eventual steam research. Chapter two describes Watt’s early career in Glasgow. Russell emphasizes the impact that the Scottish Enlightenment on Watt: it created an intellectual climate of scientific inquiry, which in turn created a market for the scientific equipment designed and sold by Watt (pp. 47–49). Russell also stresses the impact of Adam Smith’s (1723–90) economic theories on society as a whole and on Watt’s business practices in particular (p. 65). In both chapters, Russell notes that Watt did not specialize in a single field. Instead, he produced a variety of small tools, scientific and trade equipment, and even musical instruments. Watt was “a jack of all trades but a master of none” (p. 52).

Chapter three addresses the conceptual underpinnings of the work, particularly the extent to which social forces and economic need shaped Watt’s research. Placing Watt within the wider context of Glasgow, Russell examines how “burgeoning scientific culture” (p. 80) and industrial needs combined “philosophical chemistry and its industrial applications” (p. 84). Glasgow, a major industrial center, needed scientific innovation, particularly with regard to furnace design and heat control. This drove Watt’s research toward furnaces, heat, and ultimately the steam engine (pp. 97–99). In addition to a personal interest in the topic, economic need pushed Watt toward examining steam technology. Chapter four adds nuance by arguing that new technologies did not mean an immediate break with the past. Russell argues that the engine relied upon existing technologies, since its individual parts were still built using old methods (p. 110). The construction of engines remained dependent upon older craft trades, such as blacksmiths and millwrights (pp. 163–165). While the engine “captured people’s imagination,” (p. 142) it did not fundamentally change industry immediately. This theme continues in chapter five, which examines Watt’s efforts to sell engines in Manchester. While Watt successfully established an industrial standard with his engines, there was resistance to change. Some potential customers were “very timid in their approach to [mechanical] power,” and many mills continued using water wheels, which were seen as a more reliable technology (p. 154).

The final chapters of the work examine the cultural impact of Watt’s engine. Chapter six explores the engine as a cultural, even artistic, expression of the early nineteenth century. The engine symbolized “order and harmony” (p. 185), and machinery was incorporated into new aesthetics and decorations (p. 197). Engines were designed with classical, Gothic, and Egyptian motifs (p. 194), and the finely polished machines became a style in itself. Machines produced by engineers were presented as a form of “beauty” (p. 200). Finally, chapter seven examines how Watt’s laboratory becomes an “industrial shrine” after his death (p. 224), explaining how Watt was added to the “national pantheon” of heroes (p. 221). Watt, a pragmatic engineer through his career, became a philosophical, symbolic figure at the end of his life. Russell concludes that this is no contradiction, as “Watt the philosopher and Watt the practical chemist were one and the same person” (p. 233).

Russell makes good use of materials from the Science Museum, London, where he serves as Curator of Mechanical Engineering. He relies heavily upon existing literature, but his use of Watt’s letters adds to the work. Images from Watt’s laboratory, now housed in the Science Museum, are a significant feature in the book. Russell’s use of Watt as a lens for exploring Industrial Revolution Britain is effective, providing an interesting personal perspective on the larger themes of the period. A weakness of this broad and abstract approach is that the work offers less detail than an outright biography; readers will, for example, want more detail regarding the accusations that Watt may have produced counterfeit "Parisian" flutes (pp. 68–69). Similarly, readers will want more information about the incident in which Watt is seen “carrying off a child’s head” for anatomical study (p. 29). Russell’s overview of the Industrial Revolution is similarly broad, though he does not claim otherwise. Indeed, Russell’s emphasis on the impact that craftsmen had in shaping industrial developments is an interesting addition. As a whole, the work will be welcome by readers interested in Watt or popular scientific histories. The work would be an effective companion text for a course on Industrial Revolution Britain, as it provides a personal perspective on the wider topic. Ultimately, it illustrates how scientific research is directed by personal experience and larger social influences.

Richard M. Mikulski
Drew University
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Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature. By Onno Oerlemans. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. Pp. 253. $35.21 (paperback).

If Romanticism is the most famous mode in which artistic and philosophical thought engages with nature, it is nevertheless, as Onno Oerlemans points out in Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature, one among many. This study is at once a recontextualization of Romantic thought and a revisiting of its premises in light of a host of subsequent approaches to the natural world, in particular environmentalism and ecocriticism in their various forms.

The concept that opens the discussion is that of the “material sublime,” which, in Oerlemans’s definition, “occurs when consciousness recognizes that it cannot fully represent the material order (which is truly ‘other’), but that it is the ground for being” (pp. 4–5). Already in this definition a great deal of synthetic work is being done. Such a melancholy aporia is immediately recognizable in Romantic poetry, but Oerlemans’s task is to resituate this Romantic humility in the face of the natural world among other strains of thought concerned with what is “truly ‘other,’” and with the inaccessibility of what more recent philosophy would call the ground for being. The most important resituation is with ecocriticism, especially with ecofeminism, whose “strength lies in its ability to use the powerful sense of being ‘other’ that women have endured in order to restructure and to make relative all centres of meaning and being in western culture – both to speak for, and to make meaningful, the otherness that the natural world has been invested with in patriarchal culture” (p. 8). This is a strong example of Oerlemans’s method: in one sentence he neatly summarizes the power of one theoretical frame to both elevate and criticize a central trope of Romanticism, in this case, the feminization of nature.

Intertwining these threads, Oerlemans frequently returns to the interaction between the universal and the particular, which he formulates as a central preoccupation of Romanticism, and for that matter of any attempt to conceptualize nature. In other words, the interaction between the individual act of perception and the totality of the natural world beyond human experience becomes a dynamic tension for Oerlemans’s analyses. The largely theoretical introduction concludes by citing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “transparent eyeball” (p. 28) and Wallace Stevens’ “mind of winter” (p. 27) as emblematic instances of the poetry of universality and specificity, respectively; the tension between these two poles is a quiet guide to much of what comes next.

Against this backdrop, Oerlemans seeks the material sublime in the canonical threads of Romantic thought. (By Romanticism, it should be observed, he means almost exclusively English Romanticism, with a few forays into American letters.) The five chapters comprise discrete examinations of single themes whose connection to one another is not immediately apparent: (1) William Wordsworth’s encounters with “the impenetrable reality of surfaces and appearances;” (p. 24); (2) the anthropomorphizing of animals as a means of variegating the otherness of nature; (3) Percy Shelley’s vegetarianism; (4) taxonomical principles as the projection of order onto nature; and (5) a plea for the complexity of travel writing as an engagement with the landscape.

The common thread holding these together is Oerlemans’s desire “to suggest the value of resisting abstraction” (p. 200). To find the materiality of nature in Romanticism is to find its celebration of the particular and of the individual – the perception itself, and not the faculty of perception. Consistently, Oerlemans comes back to this point as the “strain of romantic thought” (p. 201) that finds its power in honoring the particular over the universal, and by extension the material over the abstract. It “remains fixated on the material, the concrete particularity of the natural world that exists purely and simply apart from our conscious interest in and active alteration of it” (p. 201). This has not proven a simple task for either environmentalism or ecocriticism.

One of Oerlemans’s tentative conclusions particularly lingers in the mind. He links much of the Romantics’ interest in specific materialities (Wordsworth’s “Tree, of many, one, / A single Field which I have looked upon”) to the burgeoning explanatory power of science, which gave rise to an ironic helplessness in the face of nature. “As more is known about [nature’s] specific systems, cycles of generation and decay, orders of beings and things, the more it seems unknowable, fundamentally different from consciousness. The natural world is thus less capable of being an abstraction” (pp. 202–3). If this reasoning is true, the more the rhetoric of scientism expands its range, and the more potential emerges for immediate and authentic engagement with the materiality of the natural world. This is surely an optimistic conclusion at a time not unlike the end of the eighteenth century, when the claims of scientific empiricism are expanding into ever finer nooks of the perceived world

Andrew Hamilton
College of the Holy Cross
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The Body of Property: Antebellum American Fiction and the Phenomenology of Possession. By Chad Luck. New York: Fordham University Press, 2014.

In 1802, on Long Island Beach, a man named Jesse Pierson killed a fox that was being pursued by a group of mounted hunters. Pierson and Lodowick Post, the leader of the hunters, nearly came to blows over whom the fox belonged to. Did it belong to Pierson, who had killed it? Or had the hunters laid claim to the fox by pursuing it? How, in other words, did one come to own something? These questions made their way all the way up to the Supreme Court of New York, where the court’s ruling would become a cornerstone of American property law.

Inasmuch as Pierson v. Post sought to address and clarify these questions in law, however, it was unusual. For the most part, antebellum legal scholars avoided the thornier issues surrounding the character of property and how it comes into being. But as Chad Luck argues in The Body of Property, this did not mean that Americans failed to grapple with such questions. From land disputes along the frontier to debates about slavery in the halls of Congress, these questions were too pressing to be ignored. So while legislators and jurists equivocated, American writers eagerly explored the nature of property in antebellum fiction. Luck contends that this wide-ranging effort by fiction writers to examine property and ownership provides fertile ground to study antebellum Americans’ understandings of and anxieties about property.

By focusing on antebellum fiction, Luck is able to investigate dimensions of property and ownership not easily accessible through legal discourse. As his title suggests, he is particularly interested in the relationship between property and embodied experience – from physically taking possession of property, to incorporating property into one’s sense of self, to the social and emotional dimensions of ownership. In novels, American writers were able to explore property not merely as a legal abstraction, but as a lived experience grounded in particular times and places. By paying close attention to these experiences, Luck attempts to construct a more comprehensive phenomenology of possession than legal discourse alone could provide.

The body of Luck’s book is composed of four chapters. Each focuses on a different geographical and social space in which antebellum authors explored the problematical nature of property. The first chapter looks at the acquisition of property and the frontier through Charles Brockden Brown’s (1771–1810) Edgar Huntly (1799). The second examines the relationship between possession and the domestic sphere in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804–64) House of Seven Gables (1851) and Elizabeth Stoddard’s (1826–1902) The Morgesons (1862). The third chapter puts the genres of plantation romance and slave narrative in conversation with one another in order to explore ideas about slavery and indebtedness in antebellum America. The final chapter discusses property loss in the city-mystery novel, focusing on George Lippard’s (1822–54) The Quaker City, Or the Monks of Monk Hall (1854).

In this series of case studies, Luck is able to complicate the traditional narrative of how Americans’ legal and cultural understandings of property were evolving during the nineteenth century. According to this narrative, the transition from an agrarian to a market society brought with it a more commercial and abstract understanding of property. Luck steers clear of debates about the relationship between slavery and capitalism and avoids arguments about when, where, and whether a “market revolution” took place in America, but he does seek to historicize Americans’ struggles with philosophical questions about property. In his chapter on property and domesticity, for instance, he grounds Hawthorne’s and Stoddard’s discussions of property in the context of the dietary reform movements of the late antebellum period, and he roots his chapter about the trope of theft in the city-mystery novel in contemporary debates about labor and capitalism.

Though Luck’s contextualization tends toward a more nebulous social and cultural focus than a rigorous chronological one, his case studies demonstrate the rich potential of his interdisciplinary approach. If literary scholars sometimes neglect historical context in their close analysis of sources, and if some historians tend to overlook fiction or examine it cursorily, Luck’s analysis reaps the benefits of both close reading and historicization. In his chapter on plantation romances and slave narratives, for example, Luck uses these sources to draw out the relationship between slavery and indebtedness in Southern culture. He compellingly argues that marketplace exchange and debt infused concerns about indebtedness and ideas of entitlement into the master-slave relationship. At the same time, the master-slave relationship charged the debt culture in the South with additional anxiety. Luck’s use of fiction to illustrate these concerns, and his attentiveness to their emotional dimensions in particular, add a useful layer to our understanding of the increasingly volatile issues of slavery and property in the antebellum South.

One hopes that other scholars will continue the work that Luck begins in this book. The Body of Property is a good example of the kinds of insights that an interdisciplinary approach to intellectual, social, and cultural history can yield.

Jesse George-Nichol
University of Virginia
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American Poetic Materialism from Whitman to Stevens. By Mark Noble. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. xii + 229. $90.00 (cloth).

In American Poetic Materialism, Mark Noble offers an impressive reading of the materialist imaginations of Walt Whitman (1819–92), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–82), George Santayana (1863–1952), Wallace Stevens (1879–1955), and other poets, philosophers, and scientists. Drawing from Lucretius and Adorno, Noble explores the ways in which American poets encounter and wrestle with classical and emerging atomic physics. For each poet, engagement with atomist materialism offers new approaches to understanding human experience: Whitman constructs “material models of intersubjectivity”; Emerson produces “visions of universal power”; Santayana establishes “a new ground for ethical and aesthetic value”: and Stevens calls for “greater confidence in the role of the creative mind in the world” (p. 6). Ultimately, for Noble, these poets are concerned with the questions of unity versus multiplicity, universality versus particularity, and stability versus plasticity.

Noble’s study follows a recent explosion in critical investigations of our material selves in the past two decades. Noble situates his work in response to Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (2011) and Michel Serres’s The Birth of Physics (2000). According to Noble, Greenblatt’s recovery of Lucretius relies on a stable-subject position, while Serres’s work dissolves the subject. Noble’s account, then, attempts to fill the gap between Greenblatt’s and Serres’s extremes by examining heterogeneous materialist accounts that wrestle with, hope to understand, and attempt to construct the material subject.

In his first chapter, Noble introduces his “aporetic materialism” and traces the historical moments and texts that exemplify this paradigm. William James’s The Will to Believe offers a bifurcated starting point for Noble to theorize his aporetic materialism as a paradoxical conception that shares what James sees as the “impulse to universalize and the impulse to particularize” (p. 15). In this manner, American Poetic Materialism represents a survey of several poets’ attempts to understand and negotiate the atomized subject.

Noble’s second chapter situates Whitman’s materialist poetics as a project that grows out of and in relation to mid-nineteenth-century science, including the works of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), Michael Faraday (1791–1867), Robert Chambers (1802–71), and Justus von Liebig (1803–73). After following the development of Whitman’s thought and engagement with science, Noble describes a paradox that he sees at the heart of Whitman’s post-1860 thought, one that manages “a tension between the final insolubility of the material and radical solubility of the personal” (p. 11). That is, Nobel suggests, Whitman’s poetic project attempts to bind two features of material experience: “a materialism that sees no death, on the one hand, and the exquisite pain of a materialism that succumbs to death, on the other” (p. 78). Whitman’s post-1860 thought recognizes the difficulties that come with his materialist project and even questions the practicality of his aporetic materialism. Next, Noble reads Emerson’s posthumous Natural History of Intellect in conversation with Faraday’s classical field theory, “which binds matter to a network of immaterial energies” (p. 83). Faraday’s theory provides Emerson with a way to envision an atomized subject whose individuality is destabilized but who has access to “fathomless powers” (p. 84). For Noble, Emerson’s materiality largely fails to address and resolve the particular accounts of human suffering found in his poetry, giving way to gaps that are both “compelling for their rhetorical nuance and disturbing where they go unacknowledged” (p.84).

From Emerson’s materialism, Noble moves to Santayana’s naturalist poetics. By analyzing Santayana’s essays on Lucretius and Emerson, Noble proposes that Santayana’s materialism hinges on a radical uncertainty that attempts to “secure some measure of human value from the atom without, in the terms of his critique of Emerson, becoming mystical” (p. 116). In Noble’s readings, Santayana’s Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923) captures a desire for stability, in terms of human experience, and the essay “The Function and Uses of Poetry” similarly proposes that “the fluidity of…poetry” offers the viability of an ethical relation to the material world – despite the possibility of an ethics in Santayana’s speculative system (p. 140). Throughout his career, then, Noble argues, Santayana wrestles with the impossibility of an ethical atomism and the desire for a language that captures the experience of the material subject.

Chapter five continues with Stevens’s poetry and lectures. Like the previous poets Noble includes, Stevens draws from contemporaneous and earlier scientists, including Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), and Max Planck (1858–1947), to trace the “gradual loss of certainty about the stability of our relation to the physical world,” (p. 146) an uncertainty that grew out of the “quantum theoretical developments of 1926 and 1927” (p. 168). Stevens’s “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven” (1950) and other poems refuse to give readers a stable model of the material human in the material world; instead, his quantum poetics relies on complimentary guesses and a provisional understanding of the material world.

Finally, American Poetic Materialism closes with a brief engagement with recent critical materialist theorists, specifically those of Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) and Alan Badiou (b. 1937), and asks whether American poetics can contribute to and offer new ways of reading emerging materialist projects. For Noble, the poetic tradition “anticipates features of those models [those of Deleuze and Badiou] and helps make sense of disputes between them” (p. 185). Thus, Noble’s project offers a way to frame emerging material alternatives as part of a continued tradition – poetic, scientific, and otherwise – that “shuttle[s] experience between its multiplicity and its singularity” (p. 193).

Noble’s work represents a serious engagement and wrestling with materialist philosophies and American poetics. Instead of putting forth a materialist account that solely favors the stable subject, or one that just favors the dissolved subject, Noble presents a history of complex and fluid materialisms. Noble traces a complex subject, but he presents his argument with clarity – often previewing and re-summarizing his claims, and with humor, especially in lines like “it sounds like the sort of job that might compel one to drink” (p. 109). I recommend American Poetic Materialism to a range of scholars – from those interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American poetry to historians of physics and modern science to anyone engaged in the emerging critical conversations about materialism.

James M. Cochran
Baylor University
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Review Forum
Loving Literature: A Cultural History. By Deidre Shauna Lynch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. Pp. 352. 13 black-and-white illustrations. $40.00 (cloth).

Seth Reno

Literature demands love. So writes Deidre Shauna Lynch in Loving Literature, in which she traces the roots of literary love back to the eighteenth century. As Lynch argues, literary love developed from the intimate, private act of reading, of getting to know an author. Through this affectionate connection, literature became “a gift that genius bestows on posterity” that requires gratitude and an ethical imperative to sustain that genius for future generations (p. 24). At the same moment when English emerged as a distinct field of study – via the formation of the English canon, definitions of “literariness,” historical literary study, and the rise of the literary critic – love emerged as the essential affective element for proper literary appreciation. As Lynch writes, between 1750 –1850 the private act of reading literature converged with the public sphere through the emergence of modern literary studies; this is “how it has come to be that those of us for whom English is a line of work are also called upon to love literature and to ensure that others do so too” (p. 1). Do we love literature? If so, how and why do we love literature? Can we pass this love on to our students and to the general public? What problems arise from this blurring of our private and public lives?

Lynch explores these questions through six successive chapters on four specific kinds of literary love: grateful, possessive, habitual, and elegiac. With discussion ranging from Samuel Johnson to Gothic novels to Victorian photographic illustrations of poems, Lynch offers a masterful cultural history that provides scholars with much for further academic study and reflection on the profession. This forum responds to key points in Lynch’s book by six scholars specializing in various areas of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century studies.

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Anna Foy

For Lynch, the common notion that we should love literature intimately, even as literary professionals, is neither natural nor inevitable; it has been learned and transmitted through Anglo-American culture and shared institutional practice. Lynch dates the beginning of this notion of literary appreciation to the mid-eighteenth century, when idealization of literary “genius” licensed approaches to authors as objects of affection and English canon building was simultaneously emerging as a marketing strategy and a cloistered academic pursuit. Samuel Johnson (1709–84) and Thomas Warton (1728–90) appear as twin Januses at the origins of our modern notion of literary love. The grumpy-but-public-minded Johnson “throw[s] cold water on other readers’ ardors” while his Lives invites a newfound appreciation of authorial personalities (p. 46); the bookish Warton, losing himself in Spenserian romance in the Bodleian Library, loves literature a little too much, becoming so emotionally invested in the intricacies of his work that he is unable to transmit knowledge to others. Johnson, with his equivocal critical biographies, and Warton, with his Popean critiques and his notion of “true poetry,” demarcate an important historical transition between a bygone, utilitarian view of literature that “presupposes its implementation in a domain of practice beyond reading’s paper world” and a new, modern idea of literature as a “love object” (p. 27).

At the same time, Loving Literature provides an impetus for regarding with new attention literature that may seem “wrongheaded” in light of our modern expectations of loving literature (p. 25). One of the avenues for reflection opened up by Lynch’s broad historical argument is the recognition that wistfully loving literature is not necessarily the only appropriate affective response to reading a work of imaginative fiction or poetry. There were, of course, historically important and sometimes sophisticated precursors to Lynch’s history of literary love in the ubiquitous instrumentalist notion, articulated most famously by Horace, that literature “pleases” and “instructs,” or instructs by pleasing. For example, Dryden theorized satirical poetry as a genre that could reform vice and folly pleasurably; for Addison, the georgic communicated “truths” pleasurably. Lynch’s study opens the door to investigating these instrumentalist notions of poetry on their own terms, and to recognizing that they can incorporate both sophisticated ideas about readerly experience and sophisticated notions of the ways that readerly affect facilitates complex forms of instruction, meditation, and prolonged connection to texts (if not authorial personalities). By recognizing our own aesthetic expectations as such, we can provisionally set them aside to imagine alternative ways of loving literature and understanding the social obligations that it enables.

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John C. Havard

Lynch provocatively opens her book by highlighting a double bind confronting scholars of literature: “those of us for whom English is a line of work are also called upon to love literature and to ensure that others do so too” (p. 1). For Lynch, this double bind in part explains the current crisis over whether literary scholars truly love literature. Detractors of literary studies argue that in the zeal scholars have adopted for the public, scholarly legitimacy offered by sophisticated theoretical methodologies, such scholars have not fulfilled their responsibility to profess love of literature. Defenders of theory respond that publicly professing love represents a contradiction in terms; as professionals, scholars need not just the rigor but also the distance and objectivity offered by the theoretical isms. Arguing that such debates result from an overdetermining cultural history, Lynch dismisses attacks on scholarly affection. However, the renewal of literary love has been necessitated by new historicist hegemony.

Lynch’s purpose is not to argue for or against whether literary scholars sufficiently love literature, but rather to tell the story of how we arrived at the current impasses. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, new historicism inspired critics who demonstrated ideological connections to literature, and their canon revisions corrected crucial blind spots. Yet their suspicion toward traditionally canonical writing exhibits a lack of literary affection that undermines their historicist aspirations. As Lynch suggests, however, literary love is not opposed to scholarly objectivity or even to a broadly instrumental view of literature. The loving reader can recognize that authors have approached ideology with what Robert Levine describes as “unknowingness.” Their “wise bafflement” suggests struggle to understand conflicts that only seem clear in hindsight.1 Inhabiting this bafflement results in better accounts of literature’s imbrications in historical milieux. Affectionate respect for literary “unknowingness” offers not just historicist insight but also greater confidence in our ability to improve our present. Literature teaches us that writers have seen possibility in challenging circumstances. Lynch shows that we can recognize this inspiring fact via a historicist practice based on loving literature.

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Keya Kraft

In 1983, Jerome McGann wrote that the study of Romanticism had a history of uncritically reproducing the beliefs and values of the period’s writers, tending to reify “Romantic ideology” and its central belief in literary genius. More recently, Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus have called for “surface reading” in order to challenge a history of critical practice based on a “symptomatic reading” that plumbed the depths of texts in order to reveal hidden meanings.2 Lynch’s Loving Literature demonstrates how the surface reading of a vast archive can restructure our understanding of the Romantic period beyond the confines of ideology. Her survey of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature – which includes Samuel Johnson, Thomas Warton, Anna Seward (1742–1809), Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), Thomas Percy (1723–1811), Lee Hunt (1784–1859), Charles Lamb (1775–1834), Thomas Frognall Dibdin (1776–1847), Mary Watson’s “Scrap Book”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), Jane Austen (1775–1817), Ann Radcliffe (1764–1823), and anonymous gothic chapbooks, among many others – reveals a growing preoccupation at the end of the eighteenth century with the affective nature of reading and with the new expectation that readers not simply read books but love them. Loving Literature reveals that modern reading habits are strange. The expectation that readers “love” reading and mourn dead authors may not be an organic response to the relationship established between reader and author through reading. Instead, Lynch posits that it is the outgrowth of new expectations that modern readers venerate their national literary heritage. This history helps to explain contemporary anxieties about the value of the labor of literary studies and the status of a profession in which the private pleasures of the book – the expectation that scholars must love literature – seem to blend seamlessly into the professional work of disinterested study.

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Mellissa Black

In her chapter on habitual love, Lynch focuses on the everyday relationship with literature characterized by affectionate rereading. This kind of “habit-forming” reading – that is, repeatedly turning to the same texts and authors on a weekly or even daily basis – figures the literary work as a constant companion, but it also has the potential to result in a jaded reader. Lynch’s thoughts in this chapter encapsulate the graduate student’s first experiences in extended research – a place where students might forget their love of literature. Lynch reminds us “that a ‘visible friend and hourly companion’ might be taken for granted, as the object of that kind of intimacy that gets absorbed . . . into the continuum of daily life” (p. 175). Reading the same texts or related texts every day can enter into the realm of tedium, but why do so many students not then lose interest? Lynch’s answer is that despite this tendency to take literature for granted, prolonged exposure can create a “kind of school for healthy habits” (p. 175). Constant attention to a specific work or favorite author recommits the student to his or her chosen pursuit. In Lynch’s words, the reader and the author “go steady” (p. 176). Furthermore, Lynch posits that poetry “balances a commitment to the excitements that sets readers’ pulses racing with a commitment to low-intensity, long-lasting affects” (p. 175). In other words, the love of literature has to mature as if it were a romantic relationship. For true love to exist, we must remain committed to our chosen texts or authors long after the excitement of new love has run its course.

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Danny Siegel

G. K. Chesterton said that “in everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears death, that likes sunlight: that thing enjoys Dickens.” But maybe not. Love unites and divides, and reading through Lynch’s record of the “edginess and complexities” (p. 14) that have attended literary love over three centuries – Seward’s criticism of Johnson’s ingratitude (p. 53), Scott’s concern over Warton’s closeness to his antiquities (p. 72), the bibliomaniac’s private library that allowed him to opt out of “fellowship with other members of the reading nation” (p. 105) – I see something a little tawdry in my own love.

It’s hard to predict how someone else will feel about the books that we like, and it’s at the times we most expect to find fellow feeling that we’re disappointed. I wish that Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) hadn’t written that, “while I would cheerfully become Shakespeare’s cat, Scott’s pig, or Keats’s canary . . . I would not cross the road . . . to dine with Wordsworth, Byron, or Dickens.”3 But there it is: Woolf, whom I love, does not love Dickens, whom I love. Lynch shows that the search for affective community travels along perilous paths, and I see the peril in my own classroom as I ritually (and privately) profess to be shocked – shocked! – that some of my students don’t love the things that I do. What is at stake in my desire that another should be moved by what moves me? And what if – motivated by what Lynch calls “possessive love” – I really don’t want them to like it? These are the frightening questions that Lynch emboldens us to ask.

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Cheryl Blake Price

In her introduction, Lynch notes that she was driven to write the book “in part by . . . [her] worries over the future of English studies” (p. 13). After reading this book, I keep meditating on what the lessons of Loving Literature might have to offer the “crisis” in the humanities; in other words, how could a renewed mindfulness of the connection between love and literary studies help us talk about what we do and why we do it? After all, a love for literature saturates the working life of the professoriate, even if individuals are jaded and have fallen out of love with their profession. Why else would the students we teach brave a wave of prognosticated joblessness to major in English? How else did we get through the dissertation, if we weren’t passionate about our topic, primary texts, and time periods? One of my takeaways from reading the book is that a cultivation of love in literary studies might be invigorating to our profession – and indeed may be one of its problems. Unfortunately, Lynch does not address these issues. From the introduction, it certainly seems like investigating how love influences the work of twenty-first century literature scholars is one of her goals, hence lines like: “I aim to suggest why self-reflection on our ways of knowing will not suffice when we seek to assess English professors’ characteristic mode of practicing humanist study” (p. 1). However, she lets the reader do the heavy lifting of applying her history to the work we do. Indeed, she doesn’t even come close to 2015, as her analysis only reaches the mid-nineteenth century. Regardless, Lynch has convinced me that we must be attentive to the ways love impacts our scholarly and pedagogical work, though I was disappointed that she does not turn the powerful lens of her criticism upon these issues today.

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1 Robert S. Levine, Dislocating Race and Nation: Episodes in Nineteenth–Century American Literary Nationalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008), 2.
2 See Jerome McGann, The Romantic Ideology: A Critical Investigation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983); and Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus, “Surface Reading: An Introduction,” Representations 101, no. 1 (2009): 1–21, 1.
3 Virginia Woolf, The Moment and Other Essays (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1974), 80.