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Publisher Description

Jack Stillinger. Romantic Complexity: Keats, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006. Pp. 264. $45.00 cloth/$25.00 paper. In 1971, Jack Stillinger published The Hoodwinking of Madeline and Other Essays on Keats's Poems, a collection of (mostly) previously published essays all of which developed a particular interpretation of Keats's poetry. Stillinger summarizes the main principles of that interpretation in the present book: the theme of Keats's best poems "was skepticism concerning the visionary imagination, the various characters ... were hoodwinked dreamers" (203), and the poems followed an "excursion and return" structure in which speakers or characters begin in the actual world, mentally travel to an ideal realm only to find it incompatible with human needs, and then return to the real with an enhanced appreciation of its worth (6-7, 204). Romantic Complexity is a gathering of essays published since The Hoodwinking of Madeline and illustrates the new directions Stillinger has explored in the second half of his career. Instead of advocating a unified reading of Keats's (or other Romantic poets') work, he argues for multiplicity and complexity in the three "principal elements of the literary transaction--author, text, and reader" (93). In this approach, authors are conflicted individuals and enlist various other people in the composition of their works; poems exist in multiple versions, all of which have equal authority; and each reader perceives a different meaning in any literary work, all of which meanings are valid. Stillinger addressed each one of these sources of complexity, respectively, in his books Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius (1991), Coleridge and Textual Instability (1994), and Reading "The Eve of St. Agnes": The Multiples of Complex Literary Transaction (1999). The present collection brings together essays that appeared in those books as well as in other publications from the 1970s onward (two of the essays in Romantic Complexity were originally published in the 1970s, five in the 1980s, five in the 1990s, and three since 2000).

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September 22
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