THE ROMANTICS: England in a Revolutionary Age by E.P. Thompson

THE ROMANTICS: England in a Revolutionary Age

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The many longtime admirers of Thompson (Making History, 1994, etc.)--and any serious lovers of the past at its most vividly and subtly resuscitated--should slowly savor this last posthumous publication of his work. The somewhat misleadingly broad title must be a relic of the larger project on romantic literature on the threshold of the 19th century, of which this book was to be a part. Another part was published as the Blake study Witness Against the Beast in 1993. This volume comprises a miscellany of lectures, book reviews, and essays, collected by the author's widow, all of them loosely centered on the political vicissitudes of Wordsworth and Coleridge during the political and social upheavals of the 1790s--and their various relationships with lesser-known dissenting thinkers and agitators like William Godwin and John Thelwall. While readers unfamiliar with either the historical chronology or the poets' careers will have to piece together a makeshift picture of what's going on, it should be a pleasure to do so. Thompson draws on his obviously vast knowledge and legendary narrative brio to rescue a sense of the political, intellectual, and personal tensions in which the poets worked from the and scholarship that would separate their poetry and politics, at the expense of both. The final long essay on Thelwall suggests the kind of dramatic synthesis a fully completed study would likely have achieved, using the life story of this rebellious poet and public speaker to plunge into the thick of radical politics in the 1790s--and to illustrate the journey of his sometime friends Wordsworth and Coleridge from revolution to disenchantment and ""apostasy,"" culminating with their role in Thelwall's eventual political and intellectual extinction. Thompson's work offers a perfect unity of history and literature, fulfilling the rich promise of his terse command for the historian's reading discipline--""these words in this context.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1997
Page count: 218pp
Publisher: New Press