Romantic Poetry and Literary Coteries: The Dialect of the Tribe

By Lafford, Erin | John Clare Society Journal, June 2016 | Go to article overview

Romantic Poetry and Literary Coteries: The Dialect of the Tribe


Lafford, Erin, John Clare Society Journal


Romantic Poetzy and Litezazy Cotezies: The Dialect of the Tzibe . By TIM FULFORD. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. 2015. pp. 264. £55.

In Romantic Poetzy and Litezazy Cotezies, Tim Fulford offers a revisionary account of Romanticism as a site of conversation and literary sociability. As the monograph's subtitle, The Dialect of the Tzibe, leads us to believe, Fulford actively engages with a continuing line of criticism that seeks to deconstruct the motif of the Romantic poet as a solitary individual captivated by a narrow set of aesthetic and imaginative principles. Since Jerome McGann overturned this 'Romantic ideology' in favour of reading authors in relation to, and as generative of, their own local and historical contexts, critics have been increasingly concerned with exploring Romanticism as a collective project better revealed through attention towards specific political, social, and literary networks. Fulford's main question about this ongoing 'social history of Romanticism' is 'what does it reveal about Romantic form and style'? His response is to approach Romantic collaboration as a 'dialect'-a shared 'coterie language' between poets that reveals 'the mediation of public events and narratives into poetic style and form via the poet's pressing personal concerns'. Fulford therefore conducts his study of coteries through a combined formal, historical, and biographical lens, resulting in an impressive weaving of contextual material and close-reading.

The study states two main aims: 'first, to explore the formative role played in the production of Romanticism by coteries that comprised not only writers but also editors, patrons, booksellers, and critics; second, to understand the significance of the trope that was the hallmark of coterie style-allusion'. Both of these intentions reveal the value of this book's contribution to knowledge, as it expands both what we understand a coterie to be and the ways in which coteries are formed. Under Fulford's careful attention, the Romantic coterie is revealed as a collective beyond the interactions of a few canonical poets-Wordsworth and Coleridge are a prominent example-being instead a heteroglossia of authors, ideas, means of production, readership, and formal techniques and styles. Fulford's focus on 'allusion' as the basis of coteries also permits an approach that goes beyond tracing direct literary allusions between authors. As well as instances of 'borrowing' and 'echo' between poems, allusion is opened out to encompass 'mutual reference' to public figures, to political issues, to coauthorship, to personal relationships, and to class-consciousness. In all instances, Fulford is careful to attend to how these modes of allusion are borne out by the poets' use of language, style, and formal structures such as metre. This broad definition of allusion can occasionally make it feel like a too diffuse term, where instead of revealing the authors examined as affiliated through a shared 'dialect', Fulford collates multiple instances and definitions of coteries into a baggy collection with few unifying threads. However, this expansive approach to allusion is also a key strength of the text, as it allows Fulford to conduct a wide-ranging study of poets and assert their under-acknowledged participation in a collaborative Romanticism. Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Byron, Hunt, Hazlitt, Lamb, and De Quincey all receive sustained attention, as do Robert Bloomfield and Clare, but so do Thomas Hood, Mary Robinson, William Lisle Bowles, and Richard Lee.

The book is structured in three parts, each of which is dedicated to a particular coterie sub-set: the first is concerned generally with the Lake School and Bristol poets, the second with the 'rural tribe' of labouringclass poets, and the third with the Cockney school. Under the banner of these coteries, Fulford carries out impressive scholarship that offers new and refreshing readings of each poetic collective. Chapter 1 asserts Mary Robinson as a crucial poet within the Bristol group, including Coleridge and Southey, in the 1790s. …

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