By Paul Keen

This e-book deals an unique examine of debates that arose within the 1790s concerning the nature and social position of literature and the hot classification of readers produced by way of the revolution in details and literacy in eighteenth-century England. the 1st half concentrates at the dominant arguments concerning the position of literature and the prestige of the writer; the second one shifts its concentration to the debates approximately working-class activists and radical ladies authors, and examines the expansion of a Romantic ideology inside this context of political and cultural turmoil.

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In its review of Godwin’s Political Justice, the Monthly Review insisted that because ‘individual and general ignorance’ was the source of ‘all the oppression that exists among mankind . . A general diffusion of knowledge [was] the only remedy for these evils’ (9 (1793): 311). This diffusion of knowledge was frequently equated with the development of a set of rational standards of opinion within and even between nations – a unanimity that was not necessarily ever fully achieved but which was understood to exist none the less as a kind of vanishing point to which all debates 36 Enlightenment were inescapably destined.

None of these strategies is unimportant, but neither are they without their own risks. The effort to recuperate ‘new’ authors supplements rather than undermines the notion of a Romantic canon. Deconstructive and New Historicist approaches to canonical texts inevitably monumentalize the very ‘Romantic ideology’ they are attempting to displace. As Jon Klancher, Steven Cole, and Robert Young have pointed out,28 Renaissance critics such as Stephen Greenblatt tend to explore literary texts as heterogeneous sites of cultural negotiations which must themselves be understood as the effects of power.

Despite this respect for the importance of maintaining a sense of historical difference, though, McGann reproduces the very assumptions whose discursive force he would oppose, by slipping between references to ‘works of literature’ and ‘poetry’ in a way that suggests their equation (3, 14). In doing so, McGann erases a sense of historical difference by imposing our own institutionally sanctioned ideas about literature onto the Romantic period. Like the critics whose practices he would question, McGann’s critique falls prey to an ‘uncritical absorption in Romanticism’s own self-representations’ (1).

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