Joanna Taylor »

Joanna E. Taylor is completing her PhD at Keele University. Her thesis, entitled ‘Writing spaces: the Coleridge Family’s Interactive Poetics 1798–1898’, explores the use of poetic spaces in negotiating influence anxieties in the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s children and grandchildren. She is the Cartography Curator for the Gravestone Project and is the Editorial Assistant for the Byron Journal. She can be found on Twitter: @JoTayl0r0

Copyright Information

This article is © 2017 The Author and is the result of the independent labour of the scholar credited with authorship. Unless otherwise noted, the material contained in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 (CC BY-NC-ND) International License.
Date of acceptance: 30 March 2016.

Referring to this Article

J. E. TAYLOR. Review of Mark Sandy, Romanticism, Memory, and Mourning (Ashgate, 2013),  Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 22 (Spring 2017)

Online: Internet (date accessed): http://www.romtext.org.uk/reviews/rt22_r10/
PDF DOI:10.18573/j.2017.10168

Mark Sandy, Romanticism, Memory, and Mourning (Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 188 pp. ISBN 978-1-4094-0593-1; £60 (hb).

Mark Sandy’s latest monograph, Romanticism, Memory, and Mourning, builds upon his previous work on Romantic subjectivities, legacies and constructions of place. This study unites these previous interests in an exploration of how the language of grief in Romantic poetry is used to articulate the connection between a personal sense of loss and the subject’s position within social and literary communities. At the same time, Sandy challenges definitions of ‘Romanticism’, and demonstrates how writers throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries used similar expressions of grief to maintain imaginative conversations with their Romantic precursors.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentSandy identifies ways in which Romantic poetry about grief ‘acts as a defence against, and encounter with, the final silence of death’ (p. 1). This ‘silence of death’ is one discovered in losses of various kinds; it is located in personal grief and in sites of mourning for lost ideals. What unites these diverse experiences of grief and mourning is a focus on ‘irreplaceable loss’ (p. 2). Sandy reveals a unity in the mourning experiences of Romantic writers across nine chapters: each of the ‘Big Six’ is the focus of a chapter, as is John Clare. Charlotte Smith and Felicia Hemans are explored in a joint chapter, and the study concludes with a brief survey of the lasting effects of Romantic memory and mourning on Victorian poetry. Sandy’s attention to detail is impressively in evidence throughout the work; through sustained close reading, he seeks to demonstrate how multiple poetic forms were utilized by the Romantics and their successors to articulate their speculations on grief and loss. Indeed, he suggests that ‘[i]ndividual and communal consolation depend upon the successful communication of suffering’ (p. 46), and his analyses indicate the multifarious ways in which these poets might be said to have offered such ‘consolation’.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentSandy’s careful reading of textual detail is echoed in the themes he discovers in the poems. He reveals how the Romantics’ experiences of grief provided a means through which to articulate their concerns with the personal and quotidian. Sandy identifies in Blake’s works an exploration of the subject’s ability to ‘envisage our experience of life in the tragic and miraculous modes of perception’ (p. 17). The way in which the poet or speaker sees the world is made manifest through the form of the poem; in Blake’s poetry, as in Wordsworth’s, Sandy suggests that the individual’s perception of the world is dependent upon ‘shifting relational dynamics governed by […] contingent factors’ (p. 22). Sandy finds these dynamics in diverse relations: they operate between life and death, gain and loss, memory and forgetting, love and mourning, as well as between the poet and poem, poem and reader. These interactions are, furthermore, governed by social, economic and geographical factors. Sandy expands upon these ‘interplay[s]’ in his reading of Wordsworth who, he suggests, is ‘always alert to the forces that shape and disrupt’ such interactions (p. 35). Nevertheless, the Wordsworthian quest is one which ‘aspire[s] towards the reassurance of a shared compensatory vision and communal memory’ (p. 46). As Sandy writes of Clare, these poetics of memory and mourning are ‘achieved by compressing together simplicity with sublimity’ (p. 139); that is, the interspaces between these types of contrasting ideas are where such poetics might be found.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentSandy shapes a particularly intriguing argument around ideas of enclosure. Of Blake’s ‘Garden of Love’, he suggests that ‘ever-tightening and suffocating “binding” rules prescribe an ever-diminishing arena of human action, energy, and desire’ (p. 30). This constricted creative area nevertheless leads to an imaginative expansion revealed by several of these authors’ outputs; in a productive development of M. H. Abrams’s definition of the Greater Romantic Lyric, Sandy suggests that in Coleridge’s conversation poems, a ‘poetical inward turn, as well as the speaker’s invocation of an absent or absented addressee […] constitutes Coleridge’s preoccupation with poetic memory’ (p. 47). For Coleridge, as well as Byron, Shelley, Smith and Clare, memory is reflected in the poet’s perception of the landscapes around them: in particular, Coleridge’s and Clare’s English countrysides and Byron’s and Shelley’s Italian cities prove to be creatively productive public sites for the poet’s consideration of his private woes. The affinities between the sea and sky, indicated by their mutual reflections and drawn out in several of Sandy’s chapters, act as a metaphor for the kinds of continuous discontinuities which make up the Romantic experience of mourning. The poems themselves are the means of ‘(re-)inscrib[ing]’ the poets’ ‘deceased, once living, authorial presences into the future historical present of reading’ (p. 94).  In other words, the poet’s memories become the stuff of their readers’ experience, which in turn become their memories, too.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThis cycle of remembrances bestowed and lost is, Sandy argues, continued in the works of such Victorian poets as Tennyson, Hardy and Yeats. This study suggests that a poetry of mourning—which is also one of community and continuity—reveals a ‘genuine dialogue’ between Victorian and Romantic poetry (p. 154). As Sandy implicitly recognizes, this study suggests tantalising pathways for further research, particularly on the effect of mourning and memory in the works of those whom Michael Bradshaw has termed ‘third-generation Romantics’ (a phrase which proves especially useful in Sandy’s final two chapters). [1] In particular, the careers of Letitia Elizabeth Landon and Thomas Beddoes might allow for a fascinating extension of Sandy’s study, as would more detailed readings of Smith’s and Hemans’s poetry. Further work might include a more in-depth interrogation of the poetess figure’s interpretation of a masculine Romantic poetics of mourning.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentNevertheless, Sandy provides a sustained and well-constructed argument for the importance of grief, loss and remembrance in Romantic poetry. Furthermore, his recognition that the boundaries between Romantic and Victorian poetry might be ‘porous’ (p. 149) indicates the potential to expand this study beyond the disciplinary boundaries indicated by his title. In this case, too, a constricted intellectual space suggests the possibilities for expansion which exist beyond it.


Notes

[1] Michael Bradshaw, ‘Third-generation Romantic poetry: Beddoes, Clare, Darley, Hemans, Landon’, The Cambridge History of English Poetry, ed, Michael O’Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 542–60.

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