Despite their diversity of approaches, the essays in this volume challenge us to rethink our ideas of the novel as a genre, and of the literary movement known as Romanticism. They propose that the Romantic-era novel was characterized by a fierce concern with the interpenetration among political structures, literary forms and genres, and individual subjectivity. Furthermore, they argue that the Romantic-era novel was engaged on the level of both form and content with re-imagining community, as the nature of sociality changed in a newly mobile, urban world. Such re-imagining came from a number of different perspectives, including the utopianism of the Jacobin novel, the nightmarish vision of gothic conspiracy, and the scepticism that questioned even ‘enlightened’ social structures; yet all these narrative strategies encouraged readers to see the world anew.
The last decade has produced ground-breaking new work on the Romantic-era novel. This scholarship has generally followed two different, though hardly mutually exclusive, trends: the recovery of little-read authors who were popular in their day, but who have slipped into obscurity in our own; and the recovery of long-ignored political and cultural contexts for Romantic-era fiction. The essays in the present collection contribute to both approaches. Some add to our understanding of authors such as Mary Hays, who, until recently, were unknown to most readers. More, however, follow the second path, and ask how previously unexplored contexts can help us recognize Romantic-era novels in new and fuller ways.