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Unusual Suspects: Pitt's Reign of Alarm and the Lost Generation of the 1790s Hardcover – 25 Jul 2013

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (25 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199657807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199657803
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 3 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 673,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Ken Johnston's "The Hidden Wordsworth" won the 1999 Barricelli Prize for outstanding contribution to Romantic studies. It was named Book of the Year by the Guardian, the Independent, the New York Times, and other papers. His adaptation of James Hogg's story, "The Love Adventures of Mr. George Cochrane," was directed by Lady Judy Steel at the 1993 Scottish Borders Festival, and revived in 2004. He taught at Indiana University, where he chaired the English department and won teaching awards. He has also taught at the universities of Bucharest, Colorado, and Georgetown. He has held Guggenheim, Fulbright, National Endowment, and Mellon fellowships. He resides in Chicago and London. He swims and sings.

From recent reviews of "Unusual Suspects":

"Fascinating book." John Barrell, "London Review of Books"


Product Description

Review

No one before Johnston has understood the poetry of the Romantic period so centrally in the context of Pittâs alarm ... This fascinating book is one way of thinking afresh about the huge damage a tyranny such as Pittâs can do, not just to a generation of writers, but to the development of a whole culture. (John Barrell, London Review of Books)

Johnston has written a book that is part investigative history and part elegy ... a story that has waited a long time to be told. We might think of Unusual Suspects as a cross between William Hazlittâs The Spirit of the Age and E.P. Thompsonâs The Making of the English Working Class: group biography meets radical history. (Times Literary Supplement)

The book's greatest contribution is to show how the reign of alarm shaped the ideas and writing of these extraordinarily talented writers. That many of them are now scarcely known even to literary academics reinforces one of Johnston's recurrent points ... that this reign not only caused the ruin of personal lives and the deferral of political reforms but also hampered the genesis of great literature, including Romanticism itself ... Johnston tells a good story in a prose style self-consciously American and more colloquial than one usually finds in academic writing. (Michael Scrivener, New Books on Line)

A study of huge scope and persuasive argument which will be of benefit to literary scholars and historians alike. (Mary Fairclough, Literature and History)

A new thorough-going treatment of a whole generation ... written with attractive informality of style ... that all students of the period will find themselves raiding for its judicious narration of ways in which texts of all kinds participate in and do not merely respond to political change. (European Romantic Review)

A deeply moving book ... reveals the appalling extent to which William Pittâs Reign of Alarm impacted upon the history of Romanticism during the 1790s ... providing overwhelming evidence that innumerable writing careers were brought to a shuddering halt in the 1790s ... a wonderful resource for these lost writers. (Review of English Studies)

Generally ... when academics try to write for a broader, popular audience, we fail ... because we try too hard. But not Kenneth Johnston [who] has been developing [his] style since writing The Hidden Wordsworth ... a style charged with moral urgency ... that is not so much popular as populist ... his model is the writings of a usual suspect, mentioned often in the book: Thomas Paine. (Bruce Graver, The Age of Johnson)

[An] exceptional study ... an invaluable resource to students of Romanticism. (Tim Whelan, The Coleridge Bulletin)

About the Author

Kenneth R. Johnston received his PhD from Yale University and spent his entire academic career at Indiana University, where he was honored for distinguished teaching and scholarly achievement, while also heading its Department of English. He is author of Wordsworth and 'The Recluse' and The Hidden Wordsworth: Poet, Lover, Rebel, Spy, and editor of Romantic Revolutions. The Hidden Wordsworth won the 1999 Barricelli Prize for outstanding contribution to Romantic studies, and was named to several Book of the Year lists in both UK and US. He now resides in Chicago.

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By donald gray on 4 Oct. 2013
Format: Hardcover
In one important sense, Kenneth Johnston has written a book about what didn't happen. Fundamentally, what didn't happen in Britain in the 1790s was political revolution or reform. William Pitt's ministry used the apparatus of government -- laws, courts, paid journalists and pamphleteers, spies, informers -- to intimidate, silence, or punish advocates of parliamentary and constitutional reform and sympathizers with the principles of the American and French revolutions. In this Reign of Alarm some of these advocates, whom Johnston calls the Usual Suspects, were tried and went to prison or were trans[ported to Australia. The writing and careers of others were sometimes frustrated, deformed, or curtailed in the climate of suspicion and fear in part created and certainly encouraged by a government deeply hostile to political reform. These are Johnston's Unusual Suspects, the potential authors of a body of writing that did not happen, or did not develop and register in its culture with the force promised in its beginnings.
Johnston's gallery of Unusual Suspects includes once political liberal writers who gave up on politics: James Montgomery, for example, who turned to writing religious verse, and the interesting novelist Robert Bage, who simply stopped writing. Others were diminished to barely discernible presences in conventional literary histories: the skilled polemicist Gilbert Wakefield, and Helen Maria Williams, whose correspondence from Paris during the revolution and the Reign of Terror gave British readers a well-informed perspective otherwise unavailable in the press and propaganda of the time.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 1 review
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Writing and Politics 3 Oct. 2013
By donald gray - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In one important sense, Kenneth Johnston's book is about something that didn't happen. Fundamentally, what didn't happen in Britain in the 1790s was political revolution or reform. William Pitt's ministry used the apparatus of government -- laws, courts, paid journalists and pamphleteers, spies, informers -- to fashion a Reign of Alarm that intimidated, silenced, or punished advocates of parliamentary and constitutional reform and sympathizers with the principles of the American and French revolutions. Some people, whom Johnston calls the Usual Suspects, were tried and went to prison or were transported to Australia. The writing and careers of others were often deformed, frustrated, or curtailed by the climate of fear and suspicion created and certainly encouraged by a government deeply hostile to political reform. These are Johnston's Unusual Suspects, writers who could have created a body of writing that did not happen, or whose writing did not develop or register in its culture, then and later, with the force promised in its beginnings.
Some of these once liberal writers simply gave up on politics: James Montgomery, for example, became a writer of religious verse, and the interesting novelist Robert Bage just stopped writing. Others were turned into barely discernible presences in the conventional literary histories of their time and after: the skilled polemicist Gilbert Wakefield, and Helen Maria Williams, whose well-informed correspondence from Paris gave British readers a perspective on the Revolution and the Reign of Terror unavailable in the press and propaganda of the time. William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey gave a lot of their later writing to retreats from what Wordsworth called the "juvenile errors" of the liberal politics of their young manhoods. Charles Lamb and Robert Burns figured out how to express their anger and distress at social and political wrong in language and forms that for a long time have been simply seen as genial (Lamb) or melodic and quirkily charming (Burns), responses correct enough but incomplete.
Johnston's treatment of William Blake makes an important point about the meaning of his book for our ideas of British romanticism. After the fairly explicit (for Blake) call in his prophetic book America (1793) for a British revolution encouraged by "Washington, Franklin, Paine," in his poem Jerusalem a decade later Blake lodges his hope for change not in politics and actual political agents but in Imagination and his mythic figure Los. If, Johnston conjectures, "French Terror begat English Alarm, then the formula might be extended to: English Alarm begat English Romanticism. An over-simplification, to be sure, but one, as a contributory cause, that the shared fates of all these unusual suspects encourages us to ponder" (321)
So, in another important sense, Johnston's book is very much about what did happen in the culture of alarm in Britain in the 1790s. Johnston has written a short, partial, and entirely absorbing story of the politics of that decade. He is an excellent literary critic, offering illuminating readings of the prose of John Thelwell (one of the heroes of the book), Williams, Bage, and Lamb, and the poetry of Burns, Southey, and the big Romantic poets. He knows and uses recent studies of the politics of the period and the recent literary scholarship and biographies given to the writers he studies. And he himself writes very well, with an easy command of all that he knows and a familiar, sometimes almost conversational tone of a good teacher. And Unusual Suspects has a lot to teach us about what, in this instance, politics can do to writing, rather than (despite the later high Romantic claims for poets as the unacknowledged legislators of the world), the other way around.
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