Book Review: Romanticism and Consciousness
Harold Bloom is regarded as one of the world’s foremost literary critics. I have always found his defenses of Romantic poets against critics influenced by T.S. Elliot during his early career as an act worthy of admiration, and some if his theories of poetic influence have always managed to keep me interested. It was with great eagerness that I approached his collection of essays in criticism titled Romanticism and Consciousness, and was partly disappointed.
The essays collected in this anthology are, of course, wonderfully written and all of them present and support ideas in a forceful academic manner. Both the language used by the authors and the topics discussed make it obvious that this anthology is not meant for someone with little knowledge of the topics discussed. With the exception, perhaps, of the final essay – An Introduction to Shelley – all of the essays presented in the volume deal with topics that require a high degree of specialist language. It is precisely the kind of book that someone looking to write in academic discourse would need to go to. The flaw with the volume, however, is found in the topics discussed in the essays.
The book is titled Romanticism and Consciousness, so I approached the book expecting to engage with scholarly debate about the influences of the various aspects of Romanticism on some aspects of the consciousness or vice-versa. Instead, I found seemingly unrelated essays about a myriad of topics, some of them excellent, some of them outright unintelligible.
The first section deals with pure theory and criticism. The first essay, Bloom’s own Internalization of the Quest-Romance, deals with the relationship between Freud’s theories and Romantic writing. Monk’s essay focuses on Burke’s writings and his view on the sublime. Barfield’s short commentary titled Symptoms of Iconoclasm talks about language and metaphor and language and the nature of poetry. Van den Berg’s entry, The Subject and his Landscape, talks about the romantic landscape being one of the inner being of the individual instead of one influenced by the outside, and De Mans and Wimsatt follow up with their own views on romantic imagery.
Two of the three essays in the second section of the book – Nature and Revolution – are written by two of the most prominent romantic critics in the world: M.H. Abrams and Northrop Frye. Abrams’ wonderful essay focuses on ‘the spirit of romanticism’ – the qualities that all romantic writing seems to share – and focuses on Blake and Wordsworth. Frye’s equally amazing essay deals with the narrative elements found in romantic poetry and of the context in which romantic poetry should be taken. Finally, measuring up to the two foremost romantic critics, Cobban offers an essay dealing with the revolution against the 18th century, focusing on theorists like Locke and Burke.
The third section of the book, Nature and Literary Form, offers three essays that talk about metric and style (and that’s about all the time I will waste on the metric and style section).
The final section of the book offers critical readings of all six of the major poets – Blake, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelly, Byron, and Coleridge – by some of the world’s foremost experts in criticism.
It may be because of my peculiar interests in romantic studies, but I found the essays in the first part boring and almost useless and the essays on metric and style a complete waste of time. The essays on Nature and Revolution, however, I found to be extremely appealing, and I simply loved the criticism of each author. Of course, this is my own judgment. Perhaps, someone who, for some odd reason, enjoys scholarly work on the metric of poetry might enjoy the Romantic Metric Theory presented in the essays.
Overall, the book is a worthwhile read. It certainly doesn’t live up to my idea of Bloom, but it’s nonetheless a good addition to any library.