Fictions of Authorship in Late Elizabethan Narratives: Euphues in Arcadia.
Katharine Wilson's volume on Elizabethan prose romances represents a welcome and lively contribution to the ongoing scholarly studies that have proliferated in recent years concerning the literary output of such figures as Gascoigne, Greene, and Lodge. Wilson writes persuasively about the heated debate in the 1590s that focused on the cultural status of these romances in a literary market that was still very much in its infancy. Gabriel Harvey, for one, is shown to have been anxious that such new, derivative arrivals amongst the booksellers were turning the 'nourishing images in Sidney's pastoral [...] into fast food' (p. 1); and in Wilson's account he was clearly not alone amongst contemporaries in responding to the astounding rise in popularity of this subgenre in the final decade of Elizabeth's reign.
Unlike many recent studies, the material culture of the romances (questions of production, circulation, consumption, and patronage) is not a central interest in this volume. In fact, Wilson is much more exercised by enquiries into genre expectation, narrative structure, authorial self-display, and textual effect. She is particularly interesting in drawing attention to the ways in which the discourse of dramatic taxonomy bleeds through into discussions within and about prose romances in the period. This is an investigation that could usefully be pursued further. This is also the case for her brief discussions about the seriousness with which readers should accept instances of moral tuition embedded in these romances, and the implications of repetition as a textual device.
The main focus of interest in Fictions of Authorship remains upon Gascoigne, Lyly, Greene, and Lodge. The account of Gascoigne's 'Master F. J.' rehearses much of the familiar information about the text, and the decision to give a blow-by-blow account of the byzantine workings of the plot means, unfortunately, that the discussion often remains summative in nature. Much more might have been made of the ambivalent status of Dame Frances, for example, and the narrative's obsession with questions of textual ownership and composition. However, the decision to juxtapose 'Master F. J.' with narratives by George Whetstone, John Grange, and Gabriel Harvey himself considerably enlivens the analysis of this increasingly popular work in the university classroom.
In turning to Lyly, Wilson clearly engages much more enthusiastically with her material and covers a lot of useful ground very economically, paying attention to questions of allusiveness and didacticism. This discussion is particularly illuminating in revealing how 'Lyly plunges his readers into a world of competitive clauses in which the real and the fantastic are equally valid' (p. 55). However, the real strength of this book lies in its energetic account of intertextuality in Greene's romances and the ways in which he allows his readers 'to contemplate the gap between the ideals of the tales and the courtiers' own lives' (p. 93). The final section, devoted to Lodge, makes some telling points about the textual status of culturally displaced females in his prose fictions, and the abilities of such characters to author their own destinies. Here, Wilson is eager to differentiate the authorial ambitions of Lodge from other figures considered in the volume, and her brief account of the influence upon Lodge of Senecan tragedy and Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron, for example, indicates further avenues for fruitful enquiry.
University of Wales, Bangor