Leask, Nigel 1958-
LEASK, Nigel 1958-
PERSONAL: Born September 29, 1958, in Glasgow, Scotland; son of Reay Mackay and Ann (Boyd) Leask. Politics: Socialist.
CAREER: Cambridge University, Queen's College, Cambridge, England, lecturer in English, 1989—, assistant director of studies of the English department, 2003, acting director of studies of the English department, 2003—.
The Politics of Imagination in Coleridge's Critical Thought, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1988.
British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1992.
Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 1770-1840: "From an Antique Land," Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor, with Peter de Bolla and David Simpson) Land, Nation, and Culture, 1740-1840: Thinking the Republic of Taste, Palgrave Macmillan (New York, NY), 2004.
Also edited, with George Watson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, Everymans Library.
SIDELIGHTS: In 1992 Nigel Leask wrote the first book in the "Cambridge Studies in Romanticism" series, British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire, which has since become indispensable to many university English instructors teaching about the Romantics. British Romantic Writers and the East focuses on these writers' romanticized views of Orientalism and how their fantastical projections and notions of European expansion proved to be problematic for writers of this period, creating imperialistic anxieties shared, at the time, by both writers and their readers. In it, Leask appraises Lord Byron's "Eastern tales," the exotic stories that secured his fame as a great Romantic writer. His works also examine the political messages in the works of writers such as Percy Shelley, Thomas Dequincy, and Samuel Taylor.
In The Review of English Studies, contributor Martin Garrett commented that "Nigel Leask's book shows that Romantic Orientalism was more anxiety-ridden and more prone to resistances and accommodations than Orientalism would suggest." Garrett felt that the book was "subtly argued" and that its "conclusions are often conjectural but always thought-provoking." The reviewer expressed "one fairly minor objection," which was "the overuse of 'hegemonic' and the sometimes irritating peppering of pages with inverted commas," but felt overall that the book "merits careful reading and rereading, and will be of considerable interest to students in Romanticism and of imperialism for some time to come." M. E. Yapp, in a review of British Romantic Writers and the East for Middle Eastern Studies, expressed displeasure with Leask's "interpretations of history and of the meaning of his literary texts," which Yapp described as "perverse." However, Journal of European Studies contributor Ruth Morse praised the author, stating, "With remarkable sure-footedness, Dr. Leask finds his own way around the binary polarities posited by recent trends in Orientalist interpretations of the expansion of Europe." Morse also felt that Leask's "research into the forgotten poems and novels of the period compels respect, and the book is full of revealing moments about numerous minor writers," and concluded that "by and large, these are convincing readings, and it is to be hoped that the book attracts a readership beyond literary critics of romantic poetry."
In his next work, Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 1770-1840: "From an Antique Land," Leask considers the shift in travel writers' attitudes toward foreign cultures occurring in Europe after the Enlightenment. While writers who traveled to foreign lands before this period often portrayed their inhabitants as barbaric savages with a lust for blood, the late 1700s brought a new sensitivity and cultural awareness, a decrease in European writers'—and therefore, citizens'—willingness to measure the worth of all cultures against their own. In the book's introductory chapter, Leask explains to readers how the Enlightenment led to an acceptance of cultural differences, but also points out how underneath this acceptance lay Europeans' desires to obtain a monetary profit from the exotic goods of India, Abyssinia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mexico, as well as to appear worldly and knowledgeable about the cultures of their peoples. In the remaining chapters of the book, Leask analyzes specific works from both male and female travel writers.
"This book is never less than thoughtful and measured," wrote David Womersley in a review of Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 1770-1840 published in the Times Literary Supplement. Womersley also felt that Leask's "wide ranging and discriminating … book … offers a rich meditation on the complexity of the moment of encounter between European travellers and those 'antique lands' in Africa, India, and South America which they visited when early Enlightenment expectations about travel had begun to fray. Leask's book is refreshingly comparative, and boldly breaks new ground." Womersley continued, "In the process of refining our ideas of what was at stake in that encounter, he also unsettles a number of orthodoxies which have cramped our understanding of what happened when Western Europeans travelled outside the boundaries of their own civilization."
Leask once told CA: "I am interested in romanticism, and I have a personal concern with post-colonial literature and criticism. My concern is with the relationship between culture, history, and politics."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Journal of European Studies, March, 1994, Ruth Morse, review of British Romantic Writers and the East: Anxieties of Empire, pp. 80-81.
Middle Eastern Studies, January, 1994, M. E. Yapp, review of British Romantic Writers and the East, pp. 192-193.
Modern Language Review, January, 1996, review of British Romantic Writers and the East, p. 199.
Modern Philology, May, 1998, review of British Romantic Writers and the East, p. 490.
Review of English Studies, August, 1995, Martin Garrett, review of British Romantic Writers and the East, pp. 423-425.
Southern Humanities Review, winter, 1995, review of British Romantic Writers and the East, p. 82.
Times Literary Supplement, July 19, 2002, David Womersley, "Minds Set Free: Profits and Pleasure in Early Travellers' Tales," review of Curiosity and the Aesthetics of Travel Writing, 1770-1840: "From an Antique Land," pp. 4-5.
Queen's College, Cambridge Web site, http://www.quns.cam.ac.uk/ (May 13, 2004), "Teaching Officers."*