KEVIN GILMARTIN (ed.). Sociable Places: Locating Culture in Romantic-Period Britain

KEVIN GILMARTIN (ed.). Sociable Places: Locating Culture in Romantic-Period Britain Kevin Gilmartin’s introduction to this timely and thought-provoking collection consists in large part of an analysis of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’, through which he seeks to demonstrate that ‘even the most canonically introspective Romantic forms were profoundly situated and closely involved with sociability’ (p. 3). As Gilmartin notes, this might be seen as a peculiar move, as the book as a whole is ostensibly more concerned with ‘a broader cultural history of sociability’ (p. 3). However, Gilmartin’s account serves as a potent foretaste of the collection insofar as it centres on profound disagreements between commentators who have sought to locate Coleridge’s poem on spectra between emplacement and transcendence and between sociality and self-containment. As a group, the essays that follow speak powerfully to the difficulties of locating culture in Romantic-period Britain, rather than straightforwardly demonstrating the effectiveness of place-based approaches to sociability. The majority grapple with the problems that historical actors encountered when seeking to regulate sociability spatially. Read together, they imply that—at least in well-to-do circles—early Romantic-period culture vested more strongly in mobile individuals and formations than in fixed properties and institutions of the kinds that would become more common as the nineteenth century progressed. Ina Ferris’s opening chapter considers book clubs that operated in a diverse range of ways but that were united insofar as they ‘all eschewed dedicated premises’ (p. 36), in contrast with what Richard Polwhele called ‘the solid subscription library’ (p. 37). While Ferris’s chapter touches on book clubs’ meeting places and contends that they ‘pulled dispersed bodies and books within a defined geographical area into closer proximity’ (p. 41), the metaphors that she reaches for most often are connective or structural, rather than spatial, with her interesting analysis focusing principally on the ‘processes’ and ‘codes’ (p. 46) that book clubs adopted. Jon Mee’s chapter on the London Corresponding Society (LCS) engages more explicitly with the problem of locating organized sociability. He contends that the LCS diffused knowledge ‘across a diversified urban terrain’ (p. 55) that included homes and relatively upscale locations as well as the ‘extremely low’ (p. 56) places that the Government was keen to depict as the main sites of its congregations. For Mee, accounts that position the LCS in stereotypically radical locations fall for conservative propaganda; as he puts it, ‘There is a danger of constructing the LCS as most authentically itself when involved in “unrespectable” alehouse activities, and somehow deferring to “external” notions of respectability when it met for “bread, porter, and cheese” or even when it met [William] Godwin for “tea.”’ (p. 58). In Mee’s account, the LCS is shown to be relatively mobile in spatial terms, defined more fundamentally by its print culture and networks than by the locations of its meetings. David Fallon’s chapter also draws on network metaphors, positioning bookshops as ‘central nodes in the networks of information and culture stretching across the capital’ (p. 70). His essay is particularly sharp on transgressions involving bookshop spaces, drawing some fascinating conclusions through an extended analysis of Peter Pindar’s invasion of Wright’s bookshop, a key meeting place for the Tory literati in the late 1790s. However, Fallon’s discussion of the conservative clique’s abandonment of Wright’s in favour of Hatchard’s makes it clear that while booksellers ‘facilitated the constitution of group identities’ (p. 89), their premises were not essential to the continuing cohesion of these groups. Liminal and theatrical locations play supporting roles in Daniel O’Quinn’s discussions of ‘Daniel Mendoza’s transit through the mediascape of Georgian England’, but his principal focus is on ‘the shifting constitution of the ethnoscape’ (p. 100), considering the ways in which Mendoza, Pierce Egan and John Kemble mediated the figure of Shylock, as played variously by Charles Macklin and Edmund Kean. The analysis here is insightful and interesting, but again space appears most commonly as a complicating factor; this is particularly apparent when O’Quinn argues in concluding that Kemble is less successful in employing ‘Shakespearean literariness’ than Egan ‘because Egan can rely on the restricted economy of print; Kemble’s rhetorical gamble takes place in real time and perhaps most importantly is embedded in the social space of the Covent Garden Theatre and is thus beyond his absolute dominion’ (p. 119). The collection’s analysis of the interlinked difficulties of regulating and locating culture reaches an apogee in Paul Keen’s chapter, which considers the ways in which 1780s commodification appropriated and challenged older discourses relating to ‘politeness, sociability and the bourgeois public sphere’ (p. 127); the question, as Keen frames it, being, ‘Could watching the same activity, which amounted to consuming culture in parallel, really constitute a basis for sociability?’ (p. 128). The discussion that follows takes in Gustavus Katterfelto’s spectacular wonders, James Graham’s Temple of Health, the Learned Pig and Vincent Lunardi’s balloon in the Pantheon and makes it clear that ‘important forms of distinction that had once been reliably tethered to particular forms of sociability had floated free from any stable ground’ (p. 138). This sense that culture became more difficult to emplace in the late eighteenth century suggests an interesting periodization that many of the other chapters would seem to support. Might the crisis of literature in the 1790s that Keen has discussed elsewhere be related to a parallel crisis in acceptably locating sociability? This certainly seems to be the case in the two 1790s-focused chapters that follow. Mark Philp’s chapter on William Godwin’s private calls and Gillian Russell’s account of Georgian assembly rooms, which focuses principally on the Lisburn assembly room and the assembly-room conflict between Falkland and Tyrrel in Godwin’s Caleb Williams, both stress difficulties with legitimizing and controlling spatialized interactions. Russell is particularly interested in the failure of social regulation, arguing that ‘closing the door against the violence that shadowed [assembly room] spaces was ultimately impossible’ (p. 159). Philp, meanwhile, demonstrates that Godwin’s desire to ‘dispense with formality’ (p. 165) led to spatial transgressions that had far-reaching personal and social implications for those concerned. As he puts it, ‘[t]here were margins for experiment, but they could not be breached—unless you had nothing to lose’ (p. 179). The three final chapters deal with kinds of sociability that can be more straightforwardly located. Christopher Rovee’s consideration of the Coliseum focuses on the powerful influence of Byron’s accounts in Manfred and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, eloquently demonstrating how Byron’s ‘distinctive elegiac experience’ became ‘a normative undertaking’ (p. 200) for travellers in the later nineteenth century, making the ruins ‘a stage where visitors could undertake an impossible performance of fashionable and prestigious solitude’ (p. 198). While Margate, in Harriet Guest’s estimation, ‘offers the opportunity, even the encouragement, to think differently about the social world from which it presents itself as a temporary reprieve’ (p. 221), its ‘unconventional sociability’ was largely constructed in opposition to London. Much of the fascinating art about Margate that Guest examines turns on contrasts between located forms of behaviour, establishing a binary that seems relatively stable when compared with the examples examined in earlier chapters. Rounding out the collection, Nicholas Rogers’ absorbing final chapter on the Royal Navy is particularly good on the shapes of sailors’ lives and the social consequences of their being unmoored during their active careers—located on ships and within the naval institution, but cut off from wider social networks. While much of the collection dwells on the relatively privileged, it is salutatory to be reminded in concluding that it was those who possessed limited resources and prospects whose social interactions in the period were most tightly—and sometimes brutally—circumscribed in spatial terms. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png The Review of English Studies Oxford University Press

KEVIN GILMARTIN (ed.). Sociable Places: Locating Culture in Romantic-Period Britain

The Review of English Studies , Volume Advance Article (290) – Oct 20, 2017

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Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved
ISSN
0034-6551
eISSN
1471-6968
D.O.I.
10.1093/res/hgx121
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Abstract

Kevin Gilmartin’s introduction to this timely and thought-provoking collection consists in large part of an analysis of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison’, through which he seeks to demonstrate that ‘even the most canonically introspective Romantic forms were profoundly situated and closely involved with sociability’ (p. 3). As Gilmartin notes, this might be seen as a peculiar move, as the book as a whole is ostensibly more concerned with ‘a broader cultural history of sociability’ (p. 3). However, Gilmartin’s account serves as a potent foretaste of the collection insofar as it centres on profound disagreements between commentators who have sought to locate Coleridge’s poem on spectra between emplacement and transcendence and between sociality and self-containment. As a group, the essays that follow speak powerfully to the difficulties of locating culture in Romantic-period Britain, rather than straightforwardly demonstrating the effectiveness of place-based approaches to sociability. The majority grapple with the problems that historical actors encountered when seeking to regulate sociability spatially. Read together, they imply that—at least in well-to-do circles—early Romantic-period culture vested more strongly in mobile individuals and formations than in fixed properties and institutions of the kinds that would become more common as the nineteenth century progressed. Ina Ferris’s opening chapter considers book clubs that operated in a diverse range of ways but that were united insofar as they ‘all eschewed dedicated premises’ (p. 36), in contrast with what Richard Polwhele called ‘the solid subscription library’ (p. 37). While Ferris’s chapter touches on book clubs’ meeting places and contends that they ‘pulled dispersed bodies and books within a defined geographical area into closer proximity’ (p. 41), the metaphors that she reaches for most often are connective or structural, rather than spatial, with her interesting analysis focusing principally on the ‘processes’ and ‘codes’ (p. 46) that book clubs adopted. Jon Mee’s chapter on the London Corresponding Society (LCS) engages more explicitly with the problem of locating organized sociability. He contends that the LCS diffused knowledge ‘across a diversified urban terrain’ (p. 55) that included homes and relatively upscale locations as well as the ‘extremely low’ (p. 56) places that the Government was keen to depict as the main sites of its congregations. For Mee, accounts that position the LCS in stereotypically radical locations fall for conservative propaganda; as he puts it, ‘There is a danger of constructing the LCS as most authentically itself when involved in “unrespectable” alehouse activities, and somehow deferring to “external” notions of respectability when it met for “bread, porter, and cheese” or even when it met [William] Godwin for “tea.”’ (p. 58). In Mee’s account, the LCS is shown to be relatively mobile in spatial terms, defined more fundamentally by its print culture and networks than by the locations of its meetings. David Fallon’s chapter also draws on network metaphors, positioning bookshops as ‘central nodes in the networks of information and culture stretching across the capital’ (p. 70). His essay is particularly sharp on transgressions involving bookshop spaces, drawing some fascinating conclusions through an extended analysis of Peter Pindar’s invasion of Wright’s bookshop, a key meeting place for the Tory literati in the late 1790s. However, Fallon’s discussion of the conservative clique’s abandonment of Wright’s in favour of Hatchard’s makes it clear that while booksellers ‘facilitated the constitution of group identities’ (p. 89), their premises were not essential to the continuing cohesion of these groups. Liminal and theatrical locations play supporting roles in Daniel O’Quinn’s discussions of ‘Daniel Mendoza’s transit through the mediascape of Georgian England’, but his principal focus is on ‘the shifting constitution of the ethnoscape’ (p. 100), considering the ways in which Mendoza, Pierce Egan and John Kemble mediated the figure of Shylock, as played variously by Charles Macklin and Edmund Kean. The analysis here is insightful and interesting, but again space appears most commonly as a complicating factor; this is particularly apparent when O’Quinn argues in concluding that Kemble is less successful in employing ‘Shakespearean literariness’ than Egan ‘because Egan can rely on the restricted economy of print; Kemble’s rhetorical gamble takes place in real time and perhaps most importantly is embedded in the social space of the Covent Garden Theatre and is thus beyond his absolute dominion’ (p. 119). The collection’s analysis of the interlinked difficulties of regulating and locating culture reaches an apogee in Paul Keen’s chapter, which considers the ways in which 1780s commodification appropriated and challenged older discourses relating to ‘politeness, sociability and the bourgeois public sphere’ (p. 127); the question, as Keen frames it, being, ‘Could watching the same activity, which amounted to consuming culture in parallel, really constitute a basis for sociability?’ (p. 128). The discussion that follows takes in Gustavus Katterfelto’s spectacular wonders, James Graham’s Temple of Health, the Learned Pig and Vincent Lunardi’s balloon in the Pantheon and makes it clear that ‘important forms of distinction that had once been reliably tethered to particular forms of sociability had floated free from any stable ground’ (p. 138). This sense that culture became more difficult to emplace in the late eighteenth century suggests an interesting periodization that many of the other chapters would seem to support. Might the crisis of literature in the 1790s that Keen has discussed elsewhere be related to a parallel crisis in acceptably locating sociability? This certainly seems to be the case in the two 1790s-focused chapters that follow. Mark Philp’s chapter on William Godwin’s private calls and Gillian Russell’s account of Georgian assembly rooms, which focuses principally on the Lisburn assembly room and the assembly-room conflict between Falkland and Tyrrel in Godwin’s Caleb Williams, both stress difficulties with legitimizing and controlling spatialized interactions. Russell is particularly interested in the failure of social regulation, arguing that ‘closing the door against the violence that shadowed [assembly room] spaces was ultimately impossible’ (p. 159). Philp, meanwhile, demonstrates that Godwin’s desire to ‘dispense with formality’ (p. 165) led to spatial transgressions that had far-reaching personal and social implications for those concerned. As he puts it, ‘[t]here were margins for experiment, but they could not be breached—unless you had nothing to lose’ (p. 179). The three final chapters deal with kinds of sociability that can be more straightforwardly located. Christopher Rovee’s consideration of the Coliseum focuses on the powerful influence of Byron’s accounts in Manfred and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, eloquently demonstrating how Byron’s ‘distinctive elegiac experience’ became ‘a normative undertaking’ (p. 200) for travellers in the later nineteenth century, making the ruins ‘a stage where visitors could undertake an impossible performance of fashionable and prestigious solitude’ (p. 198). While Margate, in Harriet Guest’s estimation, ‘offers the opportunity, even the encouragement, to think differently about the social world from which it presents itself as a temporary reprieve’ (p. 221), its ‘unconventional sociability’ was largely constructed in opposition to London. Much of the fascinating art about Margate that Guest examines turns on contrasts between located forms of behaviour, establishing a binary that seems relatively stable when compared with the examples examined in earlier chapters. Rounding out the collection, Nicholas Rogers’ absorbing final chapter on the Royal Navy is particularly good on the shapes of sailors’ lives and the social consequences of their being unmoored during their active careers—located on ships and within the naval institution, but cut off from wider social networks. While much of the collection dwells on the relatively privileged, it is salutatory to be reminded in concluding that it was those who possessed limited resources and prospects whose social interactions in the period were most tightly—and sometimes brutally—circumscribed in spatial terms. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press 2017; all rights reserved This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

The Review of English StudiesOxford University Press

Published: Oct 20, 2017

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