What the Victorians Made of Romanticism

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This insightful and elegantly written book examines how the popular media of the Victorian era sustained and transformed the reputations of Romantic writers. Tom Mole provides a new reception history of Lord Byron, Felicia Hemans, Sir Walter Scott, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and William Wordsworth—one that moves beyond the punctual historicism of much recent criticism and the narrow horizons of previous reception histories. He attends instead to the material artifacts and cultural practices that remediated Romantic writers and their works amid shifting understandings of history, memory, and media.

Mole scrutinizes Victorian efforts to canonize and commodify Romantic writers in a changed media ecology. He shows how illustrated books renovated Romantic writing, how preachers incorporated irreligious Romantics into their sermons, how new statues and memorials integrated Romantic writers into an emerging national pantheon, and how anthologies mediated their works to new generations. This ambitious study investigates a wide range of material objects Victorians made in response to Romantic writing—such as photographs, postcards, books, and collectibles—that in turn remade the public’s understanding of Romantic writers.

Shedding new light on how Romantic authors were posthumously recruited to address later cultural concerns, What the Victorians Made of Romanticism reveals new histories of appropriation, remediation, and renewal that resonate in our own moment of media change, when once again the cultural products of the past seem in danger of being forgotten if they are not reimagined for new audiences.


“This ambitious book is a major contribution to our understanding of Romanticism, not only what it was but also what it became. It will be an essential guide to the web of reception and remaking for period specialists, while also posing urgent questions—and answers—for our own moment of hypermediation.”–Clifford Siskin, New York University

“What have Victorian temperance lectures to do with Shelley, retrofitted illustrations to say about Wordsworth, or snuffboxes and postcards to tell us about Scott? In fascinating case studies, Tom Mole traces the unexpected shapes that literature is requisitioned to fill in the interests of its own survival. Mole writes with relish and flair, and with a canny awareness that these are the stories of what happens as texts and reputations are remade and reused for more purposes than those of the professional critic.”–Kathryn Sutherland, University of Oxford

“Original and compelling. What the Victorians Made of Romanticism presents a number of valuable insights and perspectives on its topic.”–Antony H. Harrison, author of Victorian Poets and Romantic Poems: Intertextuality and Ideology

“Convincing and nuanced. Mole extends existing knowledge of the Victorian reshaping of Romanticism by tracing the cultural transmission of selected Romantic poets through often overlooked reception practices such as sermons, illustrations, anthologies, and statues.”–Kim Wheatley, author of Romantic Feuds: Transcending the “Age of Personality”

“A splendid book. Mole provides a much needed perspective on how the broader culture of the Victorian age responded to a highly selective and heavily mediated and remediated version of Romanticism.”–David G. Riede, author of Matthew Arnold and the Betrayal of Language