In the recent Netflix film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, set in 1946, London writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James), tired of publishing under her usual pseudonym and still recovering from the trauma of losing her parents and home during the war, is searching for something to write about. The answer comes when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), a farmer from the island of Guernsey, who was one of the founding members of the eponymous book club during the war years and who has come across her copy of Charles Lamb’s Essays of Elia. As the island has no more bookshops, he asks if she can send him an address of a London bookshop that might carry more of Lamb’s books. The Romantic essayist, Dawsey tells Juliet, was a great comfort to him during World War II, during which Guernsey was occupied by the Germans, all children evacuated, a curfew put in place, land mines planted on the beach, and their livestock taken away. Continue reading “Connection and Taking Care: Lamb and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”
*This post contains spoilers for the film Mary Shelley.*
The recently released film, Mary Shelley (2018), directed by Haifaa al-Mansour (Wadjda) and written by Emma Jensen (Creating Fortune), received, at best, lukewarm reviews. Most film critics were disappointed in how the narrative falls unexcitingly into the genre of biopic. Others lamented that the film does not do justice to Mary Shelley the historical figure, so ahead of her contemporaries, and that the screenplay allows her husband, the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, to upstage her. Continue reading “A Genius Montage for Mary Shelley”
Recently, I have been working my way through C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942). The text unfolds as a series of correspondence written in Hell from a ranking demon, Screwtape, to his aspiring young nephew, Wormwood, offering advice on how to best ensure the damnation of a man known only as “the Patient.” In view of Lewis’ legacy as a Christian apologist, the Letters’ rhetorical strategy appears glaringly obvious: by playing the devil Lewis hoped to inculcate a stronger sense of faith in his readership. Yet, what is striking about the Letters is how vociferously anti-Romantic the text is in its handling of theology, eschatology, and those weighty matters of doubt and faith. In one letter, for instance, Screwtape holds Coleridge up as a model of the kind of “superficial” worship of the divine that Wormwood should aim to cultivate in his patient in order to secure his spiritual downfall. Continue reading “The Devil You (may not) Know”
While in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) Guillermo del Toro evocatively engages with Victorian fin-de-siècle Gothic tales (especially those of Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood), the creative wellspring for his newest film, The Shape of Water (2017),pours from the Romantic period. It is Frankenstein meets melodrama (Thomas Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery comes to mind), and it’s absolutely brilliant. Romantic Romanticists, this is definitely the movie you want to see for Valentine’s Day.
If your inbox looks anything like mine this first week of January, it’s flooded with advertisements for gym memberships, discounted vitamins, and fancy planners that “guarantee” you reach your goals. I started wondering when the idea of a New Year resolution became such a widespread cultural phenomenon. The Romantic period seemed like a likely point of origin, given the increasing emphasis on individual experience.
“New Year’s Eve,” one of Charles Lamb’s Elia essays published in the London Magazine in January 1821, does not prove my hypothesis. But it does express an interesting attitude toward the New Year.
What would Lord Byron say, I wonder. How might that quintessentially Romantic “man of affairs,” as Jerome McGann once delighted in punning, respond to our current state of affairs? What would he say of our endlessly streaming 24-hour news cycle, or to our social media? We can never know, of course. But as a politics and news junkie, as well as a Romanticist, I love to speculate. Continue reading “Don Juan and the "Cosmopolitics" of Seduction”
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
These opening lines of William Blake’s ‘Auguries of Innocence’ are perhaps the best-known example of the microcosm in Romantic literature. The poem comes from one of Blake’s notebooks, The Pickering Manuscript, where it appears without line breaks (however, these lines are often published as a separate quatrain). It expresses the idea that the beauty, mystery, and totality of the miniature is characteristic of the whole.
The Romantic poets had a special interest in the ordinary for its microcosmic and representational roles in poetry. In his Biographia Literaria, S.T. Coleridge describes poetry as a special kind of composition set apart from works of science by its metric and phonetic structures and designed for the purpose of pleasure. On the whole, poetry produces delight compatible with the gratification produced by each component part, which harmonizes with the other essentials. Continue reading “Romanticism's Microcosms”