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Romantic Shades and Shadows

Susan J. Wolfson

ISBN 10: 1421425548 / ISBN 13: 9781421425542
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
New Condition: New Hardcover
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Bibliographic Details

Title: Romantic Shades and Shadows

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press

Binding: Hardback

Book Condition: New

About this title


Reading is a weirdly phantasmic trade: animating words to revive absent voices, rehearing the past, fantasizing a future. In Romantic Shades and Shadows, Susan J. Wolfson explores spectral language, formations, and sensations, defining an apparitional poetics in the finely grained textures of writing and their effects on present reading.

Framed by an introductory chapter on writing and apparition and an afterword on haunted reading, the book includes chapters of sustained, revelatory close attention to the particular, often peculiar, literary imaginations of William Wordsworth, William Hazlitt, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, W. B. Yeats, and John Keats. Wolfson also explores the work of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (a self-confessed Ghost-Theorist), Mary Shelley, and other writers of the Long Romantic era, canonical as well as less familiar. All are encountered in freshly pointed ways on an arc of investigation that builds with generative force.

Romantic Shades and Shadows is written with a lucidity, wit, and accessibility that will appeal to general readers, and with a critical sophistication and scholarly expertise that will engage advanced students, critics, and professional peers.


"This could very well be Susan Wolfson's best book to date. Romantic Shades and Shadows provides an ample demonstration of and reflection on the kind of intensive and creative reading that good writing demands and rewards. Wolfson wants to teach her readers how to read literature with the care and creativity that she brings to her own writing and reading."

(Alan Bewell, University of Toronto, author of Natures in Translation: Romanticism and Colonial Natural History)

"Wolfson wields a prose so lively it could wake the dead―and here does. This incandescent account of Romantic hauntings delivers revisionist literary history as an adventure in the Higher Gothic, with verbal ghostings and faux exorcisms played out on the uncanny, sedimented terrain of stylistic effects not just apparitional but revelatory."

(Garrett Stewart, University of Iowa, author of The Deed of Reading: Literature, Writing, Language, Philosophy)

"Susan J. Wolfson explores the apparitions and phantasms of romantic writing with challenging, often witty, intensity. Supernatural fictions and the material visuality of shades and shadows are less central to her argument than are the 'spectral verbal agencies' that reveal themselves within and between texts. She engages Derridean 'hauntology' while resisting any theoretical privileging of negation. Her brilliantly resourceful readings extend across a broad range of verse and prose that projects forward to take in Keats’s haunting of Yeats―and beyond. This is a superb achievement."

(William Keach, Brown University, author of Arbitrary Power: Romanticism, Language, Politics)

"In Romantic Shades and Shadows, Susan Wolfson has produced a tour de force of criticism. In her hands, the uncanny effects of literary language become not noise to be silenced but the heart of aesthetic experience. Every page models how vital a presence these ghosts of language become for a fine reader."

(Andrew Elfenbein, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities, author of Romanticism and the Rise of English)

"Susan J. Wolfson demonstrates anew in Romantic Shades and Shadows why she is widely thought to be one of our keenest analysts of literature. In this brilliant book she tracks various Romantic writings as 'culture’s undead,' and gives a rigorously spirited account of the interplay of literary form and verbal meaning."

(Frances Ferguson, University of Chicago, author of Solitude and the Sublime: Romanticism and the Aesthetics of Individuation)

"With her inimitable attention to the turns and counterturns of ‘apparitional poetics’ as practiced by writers of the Romantic period, Susan Wolfson joins with her various subjects in the recognition and appreciation that ghosts are in fact quite real. And not just real but an aperture onto a present, a presence, that Romantic writing reanimates as something phantasmal precisely and paradoxically because it is anything but. We’ve long known that language is apparitional. But what Wolfson brings into unprecedented focus are the hauntings that for Wordsworth, Hazlitt, Byron, and others reach across language to writer and referent alike and to readers, finally, for whom wonder is no longer an end or a sensation in itself but the beginning, the very impress, of both someone and something."

(William H. Galperin, Rutgers University, author of The Return of the Visible in British Romanticism)

"Susan Wolfson's 'Romantic Shades and Shadows' is as much a breathtaking work of critical imagination as it is a complex reading of linguistic ghosts. It is transcendent in the depth and richness with which it comes to terms with Romantic poetry's best words in their best order as well as the sources and resources of those words. Wolfson may write like a brilliant scholar, but she thinks like a poet."

(Stanley Plumly)

"This challenging study of apparitional epistemology is not for the fainthearted. Including extensive and interesting page notes, this book is for specialists with a linguistic background."


"A magnificent achievement in verse reading―and prose reading―and, indeed, reading of a range of significant Romantic authorships in their historic moments. It should be welcomed by everyone with a ready eye."

(Ross Wilson, University of Cambridge Review of English Studies)

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