Plots were “problems not proofs” for nineteenth-century geologists, according to a new study of an emerging science and the fiction it had little time for. Even so, there were occasions, our reviewer Trev Broughton writes, when geology yielded to “the enchantment of romance”, not least in its practitioners’ sense of their own “heroic questing” – and their partiality to the works of Sir Walter Scott. Dr Broughton also reviews the new Cambridge History of the English Novel, in which“the stubborn influence of romance, and of Scott especially”, is a connecting thread. And Scott naturally figures – though not largely enough, in A. N. Wilson’s view – in a book about the Victorian invention of the British past: one that served “a self-myth of self-improvement”. It was a fabrication, furthermore, that “no more implied antiquarian reverence than does the reproduction of the Roman Forum in Las Vegas”.
This first issue of 2014 finds our own Mary Beard, not in Las Vegas and not (or not quite) in the Forum, but in Rome nevertheless: at the exhibition Augusto. Looking back to an earlier Augustan extravaganza, which was opened by Benito Mussolini in 1937 and marked the 2,000th anniversary of the first emperor’s birth, she finds this commemoration of his death concerned to distance itself from its Fascist forebear. Augusto celebrates the artistic achievements of the Augustan age; it gathers together “in one place more of the most significant, original works of art of Augustus’ reign than have ever been assembled before – even in the ancient world itself”, and offers “a stunning introduction to the very best that Rome could produce”. And yet, Professor Beard concludes, “it is hard to resist the idea that Augustus might have liked the way Mussolini’s exhibition presented him”. Joseph Luzzi reviews a new translation of Pleasure by Gabriele D’Annunzio which helps us to enter that writer’s “museum-like imagination”. Out of a very different Italy – via Stanford – comes the scholar and critic Franco Moretti, whose “remarkable trajectory” is described by David Winters.