Guide to the year's work.
There is a transumptive magic by which a work of criticism comes to resemble its subject matter while maintaining a critical purchase upon it and thereby takes on the unique power of the thing under discussion. This year, we are lucky to have two books that accomplish this feat: Herbert Tucker's Epic: Britain's Heroic Muse, 1790-1910 and Isobel Armstrong's Victorian Glassworlds: Glass Culture and the Imagination 1830-1880. At over 700 pages and in 12 epical chapters, Tucker's Epic traverses the long nineteenth century (and a myriad of long nineteenth-century poems) in heroic pursuit of "an occluded tradition of epic poetry" (p. 9). Armstrong's Victorian Glassworlds is a work of both imaginative dazzle and reflective clarity, evoking the emergent glass culture of scintillating display and optical lens that shaped Victorian ideas about mediation. In very different ways, Tucker and Armstrong make the case for the central importance of a cultural phenomenon usually given only glancing or highly selective attention in our accounts of the Victorian era. Both books inspire alternating recognition and amazement, as familiar objects (like The Ring and the Book or the Crystal Palace) are shown to be part of a much larger variegated pattern of history and human engagement.
Tucker's Epic is by any measure a great achievement; for students of Victorian poetry, it is the book of the year--or more. Proceeding via stepwise chronicle from the later eighteenth century to the eve of the first World War, Tucker offers a richly arresting narrative of the passage from the Enlightenment to Modernism via a poetic genre mistakenly, repeatedly pronounced moribund. Against the accepted literary-historical myth, Tucker shows that epic remained vital and epoists legion through the century, despite related anxieties. In turn, the genre (true to its nature) morphed to accommodate the cultural and political pressures of its day. The sheer amount of material that Tucker has canvassed in order to tell this story is daunting: the bibliography lists hundreds of epic poems, every one of which he discusses, whether briefly or at length, with insight, wit, and sureness of touch. One sentence does enough for James Bird's 1828 Dunwich: A Tale of the Splendid City to evoke not only plot but also mood and scope: "Now a pair of high-born medieval lovers must plunge for each other into rising seas that, as they lick flat the solid-seeming sanctuary of a church, portend the coming loss of the whole East Anglian coast to an erosion as intractable as time, and as curiously tranquilizing as fate" (p. 262). Thus unfamiliar poems are characterized memorably and arranged deftly among works by Scott, Byron, Browning, Tennyson, Morris, Hardy, and many others. It turns out that virtually all of the major poets of the century were epicizers, an occupation that Tucker measures via an author's creative engagement with the genre and its problems. As the focus moves through the lesser-known epics to linger on Idylls of the King or Sigurd the Volsung, it feels like moving from the Iliad's small-fry--Meges slaying Pedaeus--to the great aristeiae of the heroes. And I can think of no higher praise than to say Tucker does honor to them all: from Ossian to The Dynasts, he gets at the heart of these poems. Offering an unmatched analytical portrait of nineteenth-century epic, and cast in humane, engaging prose, this book advances a renovated literary history that we all have need of hearing.
In Victorian Glassworlds, Isobel Armstrong locates a Victorian "poetics of glass" by examining the various consequences--imaginative, aesthetic, political, philosophical--of the ascendancy of public glass. In a series of detailed case studies, evocative readings, and inspired connections, Armstrong shows how the glass panel, the mirror, and the lens in various combinations became the means by which the Victorians confronted modernity. She argues that, as a newly omnipresent and widely functional substance, glass in the nineteenth century transformed ideas and practices of perception, primarily by installing mediation (and its attendant anxieties) at their center. Glass came between the Victorians and their subjects, and even as it provided an image to the eye, it became a substance for contemplation in its own right. Part I, on the "Making and Breaking" of glass, concerns itself primarily with the world of the factory; Part II is engaged with "Windows, Mirrors, [and] Walls," including those of the Crystal Palace; Part Ill focuses on "Optical Toys and Philosophical Instruments," with emphasis on the lens. Throughout, Armstrong makes the conceptual and political stakes plain, explicating Victorian scopic practice with tools both theoretical and poetic. And there is much more packed in: she conducts the argument with a fine impatience, moving via frequent subheaders, boldface type, outlined lists, and collages of citation to new topics that demand our attention. In this way, Armstrong brilliantly engages the cultural practices of glass from a number of angles, moving rapidly from the glass factory to the Royal Coburg Theatre to Lord Rosse's observatory, laying down strata of quotations and images to evoke the multifaceted manifestations of Victorian glass culture. The result is a stunning, disorienting, virtual immersion in that culture and the languages it deployed; at the same time, Armstrong's book models a newly energized mode of scholarly expression. After Victorian Glassworlds, the nineteenth century will never look quite the same again.
Like Tucker with epic, Amy Christine Billone takes up a particular poetic genre (albeit one of smaller scope) in Little Songs: Women, Silence, and the Nineteenth. Century Sonnet. Billone's study pays renewed and sustained attention to sonnets written by women during the Romantic and Victorian eras, with a particular emphasis on the dialogic relation between silence and speech that shaped that poetic tradition. Because of the sonnet's associations with reticence and with silent reading, Billone argues, women used the sonnet form as a supercharged vehicle for meditations on feminine silence and "women's involvement with unspeakability" (p. 5). Her thesis helps account for the markedly elegiac tone of much of this poetry, which is often grieving less an author's personal bereavement and more its own absent power of articulation, especially when it comes to human grief. In Billone's terms, these female poets "finally characteriz[e] poetry as the music of inexpressivity itself" (p. 11); their sonnets repeatedly and mournfully circle around a center of mute despair. Chapter one focuses primarily on the sonnets of Charlotte Smith, with attention to her use of personifications to convey the gendered wordlessness of grief. Chapter two pairs sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett with some of Wordsworth's to establish her departure from his compensatory imaginative program for one governed by irrevocable and irreparable loss. Billone argues that the Sonnets from the Portuguese are haunted poems, informed by grief from beginning to end. Chapter three presents Christina Rossetti's engagements with silence and song, and chapter four looks primarily at the late-Victorian poet, Isabella Southern: her reworking of Barrett and Rossetti and her stepping away from silence as the mainspring of women's poetry. As perhaps befits her subject, Billone carves a relatively slender path through the century. One can imagine her argument opening onto new complexities if elegiac verse, upon which the argument often touches, had been given fuller scope (Tennyson, for example, goes unmentioned), or if a wider range of sonnets had received full attention. However, within its bounds, Little Songs offers evocative meditations and illuminating close readings in pursuit of a more nuanced understanding of the female sonnet tradition and its poetics of silence.
Ellen O'Brien's Crime in Verse: The Poetics of Murder in the Victorian Era considers the many ways in which nineteenth-century poetry was inflected by the cultural constitution of murder. Examining street ballads, dramatic monologues, and verse dramas, O'Brien locates a series of negotiations between the poets and the frameworks of crime and punishment in Victorian England. In chapter one, groundbreaking, patient attention to a number of sensationally violent broadside ballads gives us new insights regarding the social psychology of murder and execution during the period, while also outlining a neglected network of print culture. Such attention also allows us to see how Victorian poetry developed its resources--political and aesthetic, generic and discursive--in this popular format. Wilde's "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" shares turf with the broadside tradition (p. 105), as do other poems of the period. Indeed, this first chapter on the broadside ballads is so powerful that the conventions of that genre seem to color all that follows. In chapters two and three, further historical contextualization illuminates the relationship of mental science and the insanity defense to poems like "Porphyria's Lover" and "A Last Confession," and the ways in which The Ring and the Book engages with contemporary ideas about domestic violence and "the vexed gender politics of marriage, domesticity, and criminality" (p. 171). O'Brien's readings of the poems she takes up are both deft and substantial, and will provide important points of reference for future scholars. Her project demonstrates the power of detail: framed by an historicist's sensibility, Crime in Verse rejoices in the local and specific, as do most of the murder poems themselves, with their emphasis on "the full particulars" of the crimes they relate. Yet O'Brien also maintains a sophisticated theoretical analysis, piecing those details into revelations about the larger institutional and ideological structures that shaped Victorian poetry.
Book-length studies of Arnold have not been numerous in recent years, but I see that Kate Campbell's Matthew Arnold has been published recently by Northcote in its "Writers and Their Work" series, and I will discuss it in next year's essay. Also I want to mention that Stefan Collini's Matthew Arnold: A Critical Portrait has just been reissued by Oxford's Clarendon Press. Originally published in 1988, Collini's book has been for the past two decades a popular introductory text on Arnold and--along with other works such as Linda Ray Pratt's Matthew Arnold Revisited (Twayne, 2000), Lawrence W. Mazzeno's Matthew Arnold: The Critical Legacy (Camden House, 1999), and my own Matthew Arnold: A Literary Life (Macmillan, 1998)--well suited for use in university graduate seminars on Victorian literature.
The 1994 edition of Collini's book (the one reissued) is especially interesting for an "Afterward" in which he expresses regret that his sympathetic portrait of Arnold had been misconstrued by those who did not understand that he does not necessarily agree with all of Arnold's "zealous champions" and has no "wish to defend all of Arnold's particular judgements or tastes" or sympathy with those who seek to appropriate Arnold in order to "add a historical veneer to an intransigent anti-modernism." Collini's methods are consistent with Arnold's characteristically "disinterested," "unsystematic" search for the "best ideas" without strict adherence to one's political affiliations. In fact, Collini was one of the twentieth-century scholars who emphasized the significance of Arnold's literary persona, his tone, his voice. According to this view, Arnold's critical voice is one of the most significant innovations in nineteenth-century English letters; however, although Coblini is careful to concede his own appreciation for political thought and to qualify his claims for culture while persistently defending the value of cultural discourse, over the years he has been attacked as being "politically incorrect" by those who would identify him with what they believe to be a reactionary, "Arnoldian" point of view. Among the book chapters focusing on Arnold in last year's publications is "Matthew Arnold, Culture and the Intellectual" in Angie Sandhu's Intellectuals and the People (Palgrave Macmillan), and indeed Collini figures prominently in her assessment of those who insist on the "ordinariness" of intellectuals today but stop short of "challenging the material and theoretical conditions that maintain the authority and power of the intellectual." Rejecting the views of those who believe in the concept of "universal truth" as embodied in, for example, ancient Greek poetry, Sandhu argues that Arnold's insistence on the distinction between culture and politics obscures "the power and authority that his prescriptions granted to the English middle classes" and like the Marxist critics who preceded her, she attacks the idea of "intellectual autonomy" (in the tradition of Arnold's "best self"), assuming that Arnold's legacy of culture essentially privileges the bourgeoisie. According to Sandhu, "a degraded working class was essential to the entire mission of pursuing excellence since excellence was, Arnold was sure, eminently lacking in those who expressed a class identity."
Sandhu's strident attack on "Arnoldian culture" may seem a tangential issue in a discussion of scholarship that emphasizes Arnold's poetry, but as illustrated by several of the publications discussed below, current scholarship routinely combines references to Arnold's poems and his critical essays in ways that do not admit of an easy generic dichotomy between poetry and critical prose, and, as pointed out before in this annual essay, Arnold's literary criticism in any case focuses consistently on poetry.
A blurb on the back cover of Collini's book describes Arnold as "the leading critic and essayist of the Victorian age and the author of the period's most haunting poems of melancholy and loss," and surely among those haunting poems the best known is "Dover Beach," which remains a very popular poem today, perhaps the most popular Victorian poem of all. Two years ago, I discussed Ian McEwan's use of the poem in his 2005 novel Saturday, and interpretations of that use by Elaine Hadley and Deryn Rees-Jones. In Saturday the character Daisy Perowne recites Arnold's poem, which is mistakenly taken to be her own by Baxter, a violent intruder in the Perowne house, at a critical time. Baxter, who suffers from Huntington's disease, has become enraged because of a collision between his car and that of Henry Perowne, the novel's protagonist, and he holds a knife to the throat of Perowne's wife while threatening the daughter with rape; however, he is overcome by the effect of the poem (the speaker-poet's appeal to his love for a companionship that will defy the darkness and mindless violence--"Ah love, let us be true to one another!"-"disarms" the intruder and potential rapist). As I pointed out, Hadley is led into an analysis of the "fantasies of liberal agency" that she believes are still compelling to McEwan and many of his readers but in her view have unfortunate political implications that should be reexamined. Molly Clark Hillard considers some of these implications in her recent article, "'When Desert Armies Stand Ready to Fight': Re-Reading McEwan's Saturday and Arnold's 'Dover Beach'" (Partial Answers-Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas 6 : 181-206), re-reading the reading of "Dover Beach" in the novel. To her, Saturday "suggests that Arnold's epic simile creates layers of textual misprision, a deliberate refusal to capture who is on your side, what the sides are, what the battle is, when it is fought." Of course the "epic simile" to which she refers is found in the famous passage "And we are here as on a darkling plain / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night," probably based on a description of the night battle of Epipolae in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. Hillard decides that she "cannot concur with Hadley that the Victorian poem helps celebrate complacent male subjectivity," and finds that "Arnold, like McEwan, resists masculinist interpretations of both subjectivity and creative authority." However, she argues that McEwan fails in his desire to produce "a universal story that transcends time and place." Hadley is rejecting the implications of "literary Darwinism" (though she does not use the term) to which McEwan is sympathetic, in favor of a Derridean formula for interpreting a dialogue between past and present.
A more direct approach to Arnold's poem is found in Lauren Caldwell's "Truncating Coleridgean Conversation and the Re-visioning of 'Dover Beach'" (VP 45: 429-445). Following up on previous studies of Arnold's "relationship to science" as reflected in "Dover Beach," she explores Arnold's attitudes toward the Romantic language inherited from both Wordsworth and Coleridge as he attempts to "employ language in the service of the imagination" while realistically acknowledging the challenges of a scientific world view and no longer trusting in a Romantic visionary self that could transcend "solipsism through poetry and force of will." Adopting a more optimistic interpretation of the poem than that of David Riede in Matthew Arnold and the Betrayal of Language (Univ. Press of Virginia, 1988)--but a cautious one nonetheless--Caldwell shows us an Arnold who still believes in poetry, with the courage and honesty to engage with a post-Romantic world. Wordsworth's influence on Arnold is obvious, but though Arnold the critic has relatively little to say about Coleridge's poetry, Caldwell shows how Coleridge and his concept of the "conversation poem" haunts the "literary atmosphere" of "Dover Beach."
When it comes to the topic of "Arnold and science," of course his 1882 lecture "Literature and Science"-in answer to T. H. Huxley's 1880 lecture "Science and Culture"--is of considerable interest, and in her essay "'The Actual Sky Is a horror': Thomas Hardy and the Arnoldian Conception of Science" (NCL 61, no. 4: 479-506), Anne DeWitt shows that Arnold's lecture was an important influence on Hardy's "reevaluation of science" as he wrote his novel Two on a Tower (1882), in which he "helps to create a late-Victorian picture of a universe so remote from or inhospitable to humanity and thus unable to provide guidance in the social or moral realms of human experience." That is, Hardy "was concerned with discovering how literature could do what Arnold claimed it could: relate modern science to human emotion, to the need for moral rules and aesthetic experience," but in his study of science Hardy found an "unremittingly bleak universe indifferent to human life and possibly beyond human understanding." DeWitt's own point of view is rather bleak as she assumes that the study of science inevitably reveals the "cruelty" of natural law so that the Arnoldian project of somehow reconciling science and the humanities inevitably fails. I can only say that the traditional Arnoldian point of view is that we should never abandon the search for truth about the natural world and that science furnishes a "guide to life" only when what we know about "human nature" is taken into account in a realistic way.
As for re-readings of readings of Arnold's poetry, an essay with implications more obviously academic than the culturally relevant articles related to McEwan's Saturday is David Rampton's "Back to the Future: Lionel Trilling, 'The Scholar-Gipsy,' and the State of Victorian Poetry" (VP 45, no. 1: 1-15), written in response to the fascinating series of articles on a variety of approaches to the topic of Victorian poetry discussed in the two special issues of this journal entitled "Whither Victorian Poetry?" 41, no. 4 (2003) and 42, no. 1 (2004), edited by Linda K. Hughes. As implied by his title, Rampton suggests that in addition to considering the wide range of new ideas for expanding the canon and introducing new theoretical approaches, scholars and teachers in the field might consider a backward glance at the work of some important critics over the past fifty years that remains relevant today and still has the potential to interest students. For Rampton, Trilling's discussion of Arnold's "The Scholar-Gypsy" in his 1955 book The Opposing Self is exemplary. Trilling calls this poem the most "comprehensive and comprehensible delineation of the modern self in its relation to the culture," and Rampton compares Trilling's reading with those of other Arnold scholars through the years as he discusses aesthetic and ethical issues raised by the poem. Rampton argues that contemporary students taking the "new directions" advocated by contributors to the "whither" discussion should be aware of ideas concerning individual identity, culture, art, and society that have been central to earlier approaches to the study of Victorian poetry in order to place their own ideas in historical context. He points out that Trilling did not find in his study of Arnold a way of achieving his goal of reconciling "the sublime and the everyday" but his insights into the "contradictory nature of individual self-realization" were valuable and still have relevance to anyone searching for a balance between individualism and ideological commitments. Defending Trilling against those who believe he supported a "myth of consensus," Rampton points out that his work consistently deals with the "inadequacies of any such myth." He reminds the reader that literary criticism today has lost the popularity that it once had outside the academy and suggests that "those who regret what they perceive as the marginalization of their subject might want to think harder about the merits of connecting their new projects with the work of those who once helped make it central." His example of Trilling's reading of Arnold's "The Scholar-Gipsy" in this context recalls the controversial status of Arnold in some quarters as discussed earlier in this essay.
Rampton's image of Arnold can also be compared to that presented in Ortwin DeGraef's "Grave Livers: On the Modern Element in Wordsworth, Arnold, and Warner" (ELH 74, no. 1: 145-169). Here is an interesting generalization from the essay: "Postmodernism grounds itself by inventing modernism as a shared past suffering representation as the paroxysm of a disease ignored by modernism's own past, itself variously known as The Nineteenth Century, The Victorian Period, or just plain Matthew Arnold." It does appear that for DeGraef Arnold is a representative figure. He goes on to describe Arnold as the "dunce on duty" in Peter Childs's Modernism (Routledge, 2000). Childs sees Arnold's version of the modern in his 1857 lecture "The Modern Element in Literature" as "repose, confidence, tolerance, free activity of the mind, reason and universals." In fact DeGraef notes elements of "disease and desire" in Arnold's formulation but then he points out the "scandalous" absence of references to contemporary English literature in the lecture, which focuses primarily on the literature of ancient Greece and Rome. This is DeGraef's way of coming round to Arnold's discussion of Wordsworth and his "healing power" (in his "Wordsworth" essay), and DeGraef describes Arnold's version of the Romantic poet as "a latter-day Lucretius turned upside down." The emphasis is on the concept of "moral sympathy" associated with the figure of the Leech-Gatherer as developed by Wordsworth in his poems "The Leech-Gatherer" and "Resolution and Independence," and DeGraef goes on to compare the works of Arnold and Wordsworth to the 1995 novel Morvern Callar by Alan Warner in terms of a problematic linguistic representation of human sympathy when the concept of (social) injustice cannot be framed in terms of religion or nature.
DeGraef refers to Arnold's idea that the Roman Lucretius was "modern" but not an adequate interpreter of his age because he was not in sympathy with it. I have long thought that Arnold's special interest in Lucretius is a topic deserving further attention, and I was pleased to see Donald Mackenzie's "Two Versions of Lucretius: Arnold and Housman" (Translation and Literature 16, no. 2: 160-177). While writing the poems that made up The Strayed Reveller (1849) Arnold was reading Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) and dreaming of someday writing a major poem on the Roman poet and philosopher. Arnold did not finish his grand poem on Lucretius, but the ambitious Empedocles on Etna, composed during the period 1849-52 along with several other major poems, represents his most substantial effort to develop a "classical" poet-philosopher figure who would address the spiritual ailments of mankind in the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, Arnold converted stanzas originally intended for "Lucretius" into his poem about the skeptical philosopher-poet of Sicily in the fifth century B.C., who, according to legend, despaired of attaining truth and flung himself into the crater of Mt. Etna. He returned to the Lucretius project again and again, however, as documented in letters to his mother, and an epigraph to "Thyrsis" (his elegy on Arthur Hugh Clough) in the 1867 and 1868 editions (but deleted in later ones) is identified as being from "'Lucretius', an unpublished tragedy." Arnold was annoyed and frustrated when Tennyson published a poem about Lucretius in 1868, and his own pet project of completing his verse tragedy was never realized. Mackenzie points out that the poet A. E. Housman, who "knew Arnold's poetry by heart" and was deeply influenced by his criticism, shared Arnold's interest in Lucretius, but he finds important differences in the way they made use of the Latin poet's De Rerum Natura: Arnold is primarily interested in "cultural history and the adequacy ... of Lucretius as a magister vitae" while Housman "mines particular images and stances" but both poets respond "to that radical focus on 'the elementary reality, the naked framework of the world' which is one source of the DRN's continuing power."
After commenting on studies that connect Arnold with authors as various as Ian McEwan, S. T. Coleridge, William Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, Alan Warner, A. E. Housman, and Lucretius (and there will be references to Arnold and Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, among others, later in my essay), it seems appropriate to refer to Susan Bassnett's "Influence and Intertextuality: A Reappraisal" (Forum for Modern Language Studies 43, no. 2: 134-146), which begins with a quotation from the same Arnold lecture discussed by DeGraef, "The Modern Element in Literature": "Everywhere there is connection, everywhere there is illustration, no single event, no single literature is adequately comprehended except in relation to other events, to other literatures." After citing Arnold's early insights into the concept of comparative literature, Bassnett discusses the relationship of James Joyce and Italo Svevo (to illustrate the difficulties of proving direct influence); Seamus Heaney's use of Dante (to show how one poet can incorporate the work of another in creative ways); and the reception of Ezra Pound's Cathay (to show how the context in which a work appears helps to determine readers' response).
Arnold's continuing influence in other cultural genres and disciplines is also reflected in publications last year. Luke Ferretter contributes a chapter on Arnold to the new Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology. Emphasizing St. Paul and Protestantism (1870), Literature and Dogma (1873), and God and the Bible (1875), Ferretter concludes that "Although there are few card-carrying 'Arnoldian' critics writing in literature and theology today, the broad outlines of the discipline continue to be those sketched out by the work of one of its first great practitioners." In "The Ghost of Matthew Arnold: Englishness and the Politics of Culture" (Nineteenth-Century Contexts 29, nos. 2-3: 187-199), Simon Gikandi argues that "reflecting on how colonial subjects understood the relation between culture and Englishness can help us sort through the theoretical quagmire in which students of the idea of culture find themselves when they turn to colonial questions." Disagreeing with Terry Eagleton, who in The Idea of Culture (2000) assumes that cultural politics is "out of place in the politics of everyday life," Gikandi shows how many colonial subjects were "major inheritors, even beneficiaries" of English culture and influenced in important ways by advocates of "Englishness" like Matthew Arnold. For example, "key advocates of Pan-Africanism and nationalism ... believed strongly in the redemptive power of culture ... in the liberation of colonial subjects in Africa and the Carribean."
Finally, there was a special issue of Nineteeth-Century Prose (34, nos. 1-2) on Arnold last year for which I served as guest editor. In the first essay, "Passionate Reporting: Arnold on Elementary Schools, Teachers, and Children," Linda Ray Pratt takes a fresh look at Arnold's thirty-five-year career as school inspector--traveling widely, inspecting elementary schools and training colleges conducted by Nonconformists and Methodists-and its profound influence on his life and works. She quotes from Arnold's annual reports that are not included in R. H. Super's standard edition of the prose works and offers readers a biographical portrait of Arnold's deep commitment to "education" in the broadest sense. The second essay, "Matthew Arnold on Victorian Theatre" by Ignacio Ramos Gay, focuses on Arnold's historical role in the development of the British theater and, in particular, his appreciation of the French influence. This might also be classified as a "background" study, though of a very different kind, showing Arnold's involvement and influence in a broad historical and cultural context.
The next four articles offer fresh analyses of Arnold's prose works from various points of view. Applying the objects-relations theory of Sara van den Berg and Christopher Bollas' concept of the transformational object, Katherine Bahr in "The Function of Matthew Arnold's Criticism: Resolution and Independence" argues that Arnold's culture is a "rationalized maternal function." This is one of several essays in the issue that are concerned in some way with Arnold and the feminine, and it is followed by "Matthew Arnold's Pregnancy," Julie Carr's study of Arnold's use of figurative language related to pregnancy and the pregnant body, language that Carr reads as a key to complexities and tensions in his poetics. Mark Allison's "Prematurity, Periodicity, and Agency in 'The Function of Criticism at the Present Time'" is also concerned with issues of artistic creation, and he invites readers to share his reconsideration of Arnold's essay and question Arnold's perceived "role as a proponent of middle class hegemony." (Readers might usefully compare his views with those of Sandhu as discussed above.) In "Arnold and the Irish Question: Anticipating Communitarianism" Frances Frame also is interested in Arnold's political philosophy, finding in his works "a remarkably coherent vision" which anticipates the modern movement known as Communitarianism.
Arnold's religious and Biblical criticism grows directly out of his writings about literature and culture, as pointed out in my earlier reference to Ferretter's chapter on Arnold from The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology. In "The Language of Criticism in Arnold's Religious Writings" Joe Phelan finds in Arnold's Biblical criticism "his most sustained and detailed exercise in textual analysis" and shows how Arnold anticipated the work of I. A. Richards, William Empson, and other members of the "Cambridge School" in the first half of the twentieth century, arguing that Arnold's critical methods are still relevant in the field of philosophical aesthetics.
Brian Crick and Michael DiSanto are Canadian scholars who have recently published a co-edited selection of Arnold's essays, and their essays in the special issue show how Arnold's critical ideas influenced two major novelists. In "Henry James and 'the critical arms of Matthew Arnold': Restoring the Perverted Balance of Truth," Crick focuses on the "conversation" between Arnold and Henry James and in a larger sense suggests significant links between English and American literature in the nineteenth century. DiSanto in "Matthew Arnold under Conrad's Eyes: Lord Jim as Literary Criticism" argues that Joseph Conrad was also deeply interested in Arnold's criticism and reads the novel Lord Jim as Conrad's reworking of Arnoldian concepts.
The last full-length essay in the special issue, "A Reading in Comparative Aesthetics: Arnold as Indian Sage?" focuses on comparative literature and aesthetics. Ranjan Ghosh compares Arnold's ideas about poetry and the poet with those expressed by the celebrated Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and several influential Sanskrit thinkers. His attempt to "refigure Arnoldian poetics on a hitherto unexamined grid" is consistent with other efforts to relocate Arnold's key critical works, familiar to British and American literary scholars, in a wider international context.
The special issue concludes with two short articles or notes. The first, by Michelle Hawley, records a little-known radical response by Charles Bradlaugh to Arnold's attack on political radicals in Culture and Anarchy. The second, on a bibliographical issue--the misascription of an 1844 "Advertisement to Dr. Thomas Arnold's Fragment on the Church" to Matthew Arnold rather than his mother, the widow Mary Arnold--is by Roger L. Brooks.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Material under review for 2008 includes Volume 16 of The Brownings' Correspondence; Laura Fish's Strange Music, a novel treating the Barrett family's slave-holding history from a postcolonial perspective; six essays in a special issue of the Victorian Review on "Elizabeth Barrett Browning: History, Politics and Culture"; plus twenty additional book chapters and articles. Two new readings of Aurora Leigh as epic join studies of it in relation to literary fandom, Romantic influences, women's work, Roman Catholicism, and its American reception. Two articles publish and discuss ms poems by EBB relating to Italy, Casa Guidi Windows, and Aurora Leigh. Analyses of EBB's sonnets, especially though not only Sonnets from the Portuguese, underscore her contributions to a genre now receiving considerable attention. "The Cry of the Children" figures here as the pivot of an important exchange on critical approaches in the journal Victorian Studies; "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" (the catalyst for Fish's novel) and "Mother and Poet" also continue to attract attention. Additional topics include EBB's engagement with nineteenth-century historiography; the 1851 Great Exhibition; her representations of blindness and disability; her proto-modernist treatment of elegy and the American modernist poet Amy Lowell's (mis)construction of her as a fore-sister; her disappearance from early twentieth-century teaching anthologies; and, once again, that most literary of dogs, Flush.
The Brownings' Correspondence: Volume 16
Since The Brownings' Correspondence is the single most important resource for those working on EBB, I begin with the latest volume from Wedgestone Press (2007), impeccably edited by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, and Edward Hagan. Covering the eventful period from September 1849 to January 1851, the letters here concern, among much else, EBB's work on her collected Poems (1850), as she rewrote "pages upon pages" of earlier poems (p. 200), especially those in The Seraphim, and Other Poems (1838). Appendix III to Volume 16 includes the many English and American reviews that greeted her 1850 collection. This volume also reflects the discussion following Wordsworth's death in April 1850, concerning EBB as a potential nominee to replace him as Poet Laureate; her relationship with the American transcendentalist author Margaret Fuller; and her response to the questions greeting Sonnets from the Portuguese--especially the "'blind'" of its title (p. 263). Threaded through the volume are the references to her contemporaries that make EBB's correspondence such an index of the times; in this case, the authors discussed include Tennyson, Arnold, Clough, Carlyle, Charlotte Bronte, Dickens, Gaskell, and Poe. Other topics include the Great Exhibition, dismissed by some in England as "Prince Albert's 'folly'" (p. 226); the "Puseyite movement" and consequent "Tractarian & Roman hierarchies" or "'Papal aggression'" in England in 1850 (pp. 213, 236, 268); prostitution in England and on the continent (p. 212); and the pirated American edition of EBB's poems published in 1850 by C.S. Francis, which left her very "provoked" for its damage both in terms of "money & reputation" (p. 263).
Many letters in Volume 16 are previously unpublished either in whole or in part, among them a number to Isa Blagden, who was to become one of the Brownings' most intimate friends. There are "198 extant letters from EBB to Isa, mostly unpublished" (p. 276) we learn in Appendix I (pp. 273-284), an extended "Biographical Sketch" incorporating a good deal of original scholarship about the intriguing Isa with her colonial background and her multiple Victorian literary connections. There are also previously unpublished letters to Margaret Fuller, to the critic Henry Fothergill Chorley (letters written both by EBB and by RB), and to the minor poet Thomas Westwood, among others. A newly published letter to Mary Louisa Boyle, written in December 1850, is of special interest in describing the Brownings' experience of "revolution and counter-revolution" in Tuscany and their response to Tennyson's In Memoriam ("how beautiful--how full of pathos, and subtle feeling & thought! Worth two 'Princesses,'" EBB exclaimed), to Carlyle's Latter. Day Pamphlets ("powerful and characteristic"), and to "seventeen numbers of David Copperfield," which the Brownings "both set down or rather set up as Dickens's masterpiece" (p. 38). Other letters here, like those to correspondents such as the art historian and writer Anna Jameson, EBB's sister Henrietta, and her friend the writer Eliza Ogilvie, have previously appeared, but only in part, in Frederic G. Kenyon's The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1897), in Leonard Huxley's Elizabeth Barrett Browning: Letters to Her Sister, 1846-1859 (1929), and in Peter Heydon and Philip Kelley's Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Letters to Mrs. David Ogilvie (1973). We now see these letters in full, accompanied by much more extensive annotation. The letters to EBB's other sister Arabella and to Mary Russell Mitford have also previously appeared in full in exemplary scholarly editions edited respectively by Scott Lewis (2002) and by Meredith B. Raymond and Mary Rose Sullivan (1983). However, many details in these acquire added resonance from reading them in conjunction with newly published letters, with RB's much less numerous letters, and, in some instances with letters not from but to EBB, as in the case of a letter from Mitford including the latest gossip on the author of Jane Eyre as "a clergyman's daughter, diminutive almost to dwarfishness" (p. 86). One can thus track EBB's interest in acquiring and reading Tennyson's In Memoriam, or consider how her comments in a newly published letter to Isa on Bronte's Shirley ("very clever,--not as interesting to me as Jane Eyre was, but better written") are developed at fuller length in a subsequent letter to Mitford, underscoring her preference for the "qualities, half savage & half freethinking" that she had earlier noted in Jane Eyre (pp. 85, 90, 58).
Biographically, Volume 16 casts new light on subjects such as EBB's health in her early years in Italy, the third and fourth miscarriages she experienced, the Brownings' relationship, and most especially the poet's relationships with her sisters, brothers, and father. She exclaims in a newly published letter to Westwood, "I am wonderfully well & able to walk, & ride even--have made excursions into the mountains five miles deep riding" (p. 16), but despite this vitality, her fourth miscarriage proved nearly fatal, resulting in her being "packed in ice" for "two days & two nights" (p. 181). The poet's frank discussion of her pregnancies and related subjects edited out of the letters published by Kenyon in 1897 (as the British library typescript of Kenyon's ms. makes patently clear) opens an interesting window on Victorian discourses of the body. The most revealing new biographical material in this volume, however, relates to the Barrett family's response to EBB's sister Henrietta's marriage to her second cousin William Surtees Cook on April 6, 1850, against her father's wishes and following his formal refusal of Cook's suit. The objections were Cook's "tractarian principles, and the want of money," as EBB explains in a previously unpublished letter to the close family friend Julia Martin (p. 96) that narrates the story of the marriage in lively detail. This is a story that Kenyon summarily passed over in his 1897 edition because it was "of interest ... mainly as illustrating Mr. Barrett's behaviour to his daughters" (vol. 1, p. 443). Ironically, the subject has been of intense interest to biographers, some critics, and the broader public ever since. As newly published material here makes clear, the family furor over Henrietta's marriage is very revealing because it replays and evokes so many details about the Barrett family's earlier response to EBB's ("Ba's") secret marriage to RB. It did not escape the poet's notice that her brothers were much quicker to accept Henrietta's marriage to Cook and to treat him as a relation than they had been to accept her marriage and RB's position as a brother-in-law. "Dreadful scenes" involving Mr. Barrett's fury were largely avoided in Henrietta's case (p. 95): indeed, he "was not nearly so violent as he was in the case of poor Ba--not nearly so," Arabella wrote to Henrietta (p. 294). There was "a grand battle scene in the drawing room" (p. 292) nonetheless between Mr. Barrett and his sons, according to EBB's brother Alfred, as Mr. Barrett reproached them for knowing of Henrietta's long attachment. Readers interested in the family dynamics should consult, in particular, the "Supporting Documents" included in Appendix II, which include copious and colorful extracts from unpublished letters by EBB's siblings concerning Henrietta's trials and triumphs, Ba's earlier marriage, and the overbearing father termed "the Padre" by EBB's brother Henry (p. 291). Another letter from Alfred records Mr. Barrett's exclamation, "'Thank God I have only one more daughter left & I suppose she will do the same'"--which provokes Alfred's sardonic comment, "Patterns of monkish excellence are his sons, suited for eunnuchs offices in Turkish harems" (p. 292). The SDs also include Alfred's satire of the paterfamilias in a rollicking seventy-two-stanza ballad on Henrietta's marriage, describing how the "'gov'nor' lay snug in his cot ... [u]nconscious of the secret plot," dreaming of Corn laws, "slaves released, white men in chains," and 'the Jews' emancipation" (p. 300).
Laura Fish's Strange Music
The picture of Mr. Barret locked in dreams of "slaves released" evokes the world that Laura Fish recreates with compelling depth in her new novel, Strange Music (2008). An advance excerpt from the novel, together with Fish's reflections on the postcolonial black woman writer's imagination in the 2006 special issue of Victorian Poetry on EBB (see the 2007 "Year's Work") provides an index of the work's subject matter and reflections on its composition. A scholar as well as a creative writer, Fish fruitfully draws on her combined Caribbean and British heritage, together with the rich resources of The Brownings' Correspondence, studies of the Barrett family's slave-holding roots such as Jeannette Marks's The Family of the Barrett (1938) and R. A. Barrett's The Barretts of Jamaica (2000), and additional historical research (for example, into the missionary Hope Waddell's evangelical work on the Barrett family plantations and the conflicts it precipitated with slave-holders). Much as Jean Rhys writes back against the imperializing perspectives of Jane Eyre in Wide Sargasso Sea, Fish writes a lyrically poetic novel that doubly decenters conventional stories of EBB's life, both in time and in space, producing the most strikingly original fictional treatment of the subject yet to appear. First, Fish swerves away from popularized narratives of the romantic heroine of Wimpole Street by shifting the focus backward in time, well before RB's salute in January, 1845, to the "fresh strange music" of EBB's poetry and the celebrated courtship years; she fictionally depicts instead "Elizabeth's" experience as an invalid woman and poet in Torquay between 1838 and 1840, culminating in the death of her brother Sam from fever in Jamaica in February, 1840. Secondly and more importantly, Fish reframes this narrative of the poet within the stories of two fictional slave women on the Barrett family Cinnamon Hill estate within the same time period: Kaydia, a Creole house slave who nurses Sam in his dying hours with the intensely mixed feelings bred from his sexual oppression of herself and her daughter; and Sheba, a black field slave whose experience of rape and subjection resonates with echoes of "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" (the 1856 text of the poem is printed as an epilogue to the novel). The chronological focus is strategic (inviting comparison with Toni Morrison's in Beloved), enabling Fish to portray how the "system" of slavery persisted in its pernicious effects after emancipation was enacted in British colonies in 1833, despite the introduction of the "apprenticeship" system ostensibly designed to effect a transition to a state of freedom for the slaves.
The three women in Strange Music live in separate though tangentially conjoined worlds as Fish employs her novelistic skill to convey the thoughts and sensations forming the texture of their daily lives. In the case of the field slave Sheba, we encounter the heavy smells of sugar cane processing and rum, the intense heat of the Jamaican sun, the color of the reddened skin on the back of the buckra's neck, and the sight of her black lover's blood in the dust. The house slave Kaydia's experience includes the sight of centipedes ground on the floors of Cinnamon Hill great house, the sounds of cracked naked feet "like leather on yacca floor," the smells of "rum and coconut oil polish" on mahogany, and the spectacle of Sam writhing in his tormented death bed. The patterns of Elizabeth's diurnal existence as an invalid at Torquay are evoked through her animated letters to siblings and to correspondents such as Mary Russell Mitford, her conversations and conflicts with her siblings and doctors, and the fluctuating thoughts and visions of a mind that restlessly circles at times like an "imprisoned bird, impotently beating and fluttering at all of the doors and windows to escape" (p. 61). The novel's differing settings are evoked as powerfully as its characters, with Cinnamon Hill great house becoming a brooding, at times menacing character itself. The differing voices and perspectives of Kaydia the house slave and Sheba the field slave are also adeptly rendered, as Fish explores the complexities of family relationships twisted by slavery, and the two women's attachment and estrangement from what constitutes "home." Despite occasional anachronisms in diction, the Elizabeth sections of the letters convincingly recreate the poet's voice by combining extracts from the letters with larger fictionalized sections in which echoes from the letters run beneath the surface, like a submerged stream. Throughout Fish exercises the novelist's licence that her "Author's Note" underscores by emphasizing that Strange Music is a "work of fiction," though "inspired by historical events and personages." One can imagine some lively debates arising from the particular mix of fact and fiction in this case, especially in relation to the portrayal of EBB's brother Sam, whose behavior in Jamaica did, it is true, arouse concerns reflected in the family correspondence. But whether his behavior was as morally troubling as that of the fictional Sam in Fish's novel is much more open to question. The depiction of Elizabeth herself as an incipient abolitionist as early as 1838, with a deepening conviction that her family is "cursed" by the stain of slavery, is, by comparison, relatively positive and sympathetic.
The Victorian Review, Special Issue
While Fish's novel stimulates a reconsideration of EBB's vexedly complex relationship with slavery and race issues through its postcolonial reframings, gender remains a primary dimension of the experiences she portrays. In the special issue of Victorian Review on EBB (Issue 33, no. 2) guest-edited by Michele Martinez, gender is a more intermittent concern. In her "Introduction," Martinez points out that the six essays draw "on diverse fields of inquiry--English historiography, archive theory, cultural studies, political theory, and disability studies," going beyond earlier feminist recuperations of the poet, as well as "[b]iographical and critical monographs that have tended to dwell on the psychodynamics of EBB's family life and her 'marriage of true minds' with Browning" (p. 9). The most wide-ranging essay is the lead article by Simon Avery, "Mapping Political History: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Nineteenth-Century Historiography," which succinctly analyzes works from The Battle of Marathon (1820) to Poems before Congress (1860), showing how EBB "engages with various nineteenth-century models of history and contemporary thinking on historiography and historical metanarratives" (p. 17). Avery's claims regarding EBB's engagement with historiography are borne out, not only by the published works that he so ably treats, but also by the unpublished extended notes on her reading in various archives, which, together with further notes on the same subject in her 1824-26 notebook, speak to her keen interest in works such as Lord Kaimes's History of Man--mistakenly catalogued in The Browning Collections: A Reconstruction (1984) as "Raimer History of Man." Building on the foundation of his earlier work in Elizabeth Barrett Browning (2003), co-authored with Rebecca Stott, Avery demonstrates how EBB moved away from the "nationalistic and Anglocentric" progressive "Whig model of history" underlying her earlier writings (pp. 19-20), manifested in her salutes to Newton, Bacon, and Locke in An Essay on Mind (p. 22). In the 1840s her "commitment" to this Whig model "started to fracture," as, influenced by Carlyle, and "the impact of industrialization and slavery," she critiqued "Whig notions of development and 'civilization'" in key poems such as "The Cry of the Children," "The Cry of the Human," and "Lady Geraldine's Courtship" (pp. 26-28). Although Avery does not note that EBB also critiqued Carlyle in the last of these poems, his over-arching argument is persuasive. By the time she wrote Casa Guidi Windows, EBB was engaging in an "explicit interrogation of history," emphasizing the need for "transformative political action" to escape from the "weight of the past" (pp. 29-30). More briefly noting how Aurora Leigh critiques "historiographic models such as socialism, Fourierism, and Comteanism," Avery concludes by treating the "fragmented," indeed "modernist" vision of history in the dramatized voices of Poems before Congress, arguing that "the further she moves through her career, the more skeptical EBB is about totalizing, overarching historical meta-narratives" (pp. 31-32).
Two other essays in the Victorian Review issue publish ms. poems by EBB relating to Italy that, taken together, further exemplify the evolution charted by Avery from an Anglocentric, Whig interpretation of history to the more complex, cosmopolitan vision of history and culture the poet embodies in her later works. In "Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Transnationalism: People Diplomacy in 'A Fair-going World,'" Beverly Taylor approaches the often-cited description of the Great Exhibition in Casa Guidi Windows through the lens of the "people diplomacy" that historians such as Alex Tyrrell have mapped in the transnational civil society movements of the 1840s and 1850s. Taylor also juxtaposes EBB's published representation of this British "fair-going world" with a previously unpublished poem of fourteen lines dated 1852 in ms. and titled "Our Journey to Sinigaglia." The poem vividly evokes "an annual merchant fair in the Italian town of Sinigaglia (or Sinigallia) on the Adriatic coast" (p. 59), represented by EBB (who had not actually visited the fair) as a "world-bazaar" "[w]here circumcized & turbaned met the christened / And heaped up jewel, silk, & common ware" (cited, p. 63). Insightfully analyzing images of the Great Exhibition from popular journalism and exhibition catalogues in her richly illustrated essay, Taylor documents the xenophobia that marked representations of "othered" races and peoples in this body of discourse, despite the exhibition's failure to attract the "influx of foreign visitors" expected (p. 72). The fair at Sinigaglia, by contrast, did involve a mingling of cultures, "orientals & Greeks" with "Italians, Swiss & French," as EBB described it in her letters (cited, p. 74), manifesting a longing to visit it that speaks to her "lively interest, curiosity, and receptivity regarding racial and cultural otherness," notwithstanding her identification of Jews and Muslims through "cultural practices inscribed on the body" (p. 75). Amassing biographical, archival, and contextual evidence, Taylor concludes that "EBB's disappointment in the Great Exhibition may well have contributed to her composing 'Our Journey to Sinigaglia'" (p. 74). An earlier ms. poem of some ninety lines dating from the early 1840s and beginning "Italy! world's Italy!" is published and analyzed in my own contribution to the Victorian Review issue, "Constructing the Archive and the Nation in 'Italy! world's Italy!': My Last Duchess, Aurora Leigh, and an Unpublished Manuscript by Elizabeth Barrett Browning." Approaching this fragment (evidently the ambitious opening to a projected long poem) from the perspective of theories of the archive, the essay analyzes the indeterminacies generated by attempts to transcribe the ms., locates its subject matter within the context of English "Italomania" in the 1830s and 1840s, and explores its connections to Browning's "My Last Duchess" (EBB's projected poem's setting is Ferrara), as well as to passages in Casa Guidi Windows, Aurora Leigh, and "Italy and the World" in Poems before Congress. If"Our Journey to Singaglia" manifests EBB's developing cosmopolitanism after her move to Italy, "[Italy! world's Italy!]" reveals her at an earlier stage, when she imagined Italy principally as the glorious graveyard of dead English poets such as her beloved Keats.
Julia Miele Rodas breaks new ground in a fourth Victorian Review essay, "Misappropriations: Hugh Stuart Boyd and the Blindness of Elizabeth Barrett Browning" by analyzing the completely neglected poem "The Mourning Mother (of the Dead Blind)" (1844) in the context of disability theory and EBB's complicated relationship with the blind Classical scholar who figures so prominently in her 1831-32 Diary and correspondence. Christine Kenyon Jones was the first to mobilize disability theory in a treatment of EBB, but Rodas draws on it more extensively and frames her analysis within her own very suggestive theory of "the satellite," a figure whose identity resides in his or her "connection to the central 'disabled' subject" (p. 106). Although she begins by arguing that EBB's interest in Boyd's disability was related to the "special status" and power that his blindness conferred on him, Rodas places much more emphasis on EBB's assertions of power over Boyd, showing that the poet infantilized the blind scholar in order to reinterpret "her own disabled body as comparatively strong and healthy" (p. 105). Rodas then reads "The Mourning Mother" and its portrayal of a passive, dead "blind" (child) denied even a gender or a human name as "symbolically" expressing EBB's desire to "master, control, or own" Boyd's blindness (p. 112). Not surprisingly, she also links this pattern in "The Mourning Mother" to the "problematic fantasy of power" reflected in Romney's blindness in Aurora Leigh (p. 113). One dimension missing from Rhodas' analysis of EBB's relationship with Boyd is the intellectual camaderie expressed in their spirited epistolary debates and in EBB's graceful anacreonic tribute to Boyd, "Wine of Cypress," published in the same collection as "The Mourning Mother."
Karen Manarin's "Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Canon Formation, and the North American Literary Curriculum" forms an apt bookend to Avery's in concluding the Victorian Review special issue, by showing how the historical agents and narratives that EBB grew more skeptical of as she matured acted to erase her own role in literary history from the North American school curriculum. Rightly noting the failure of earlier studies of EBB's reception history to take into account "scholastic editions" and the institutional and political factors shaping their selection and access (pp. 121-122), Manarin argues that there "were few scholastic editions of Barrett Browning in the early decades of the twentieth century because her work was not required for Canadian or American college entrance examinations" (p. 125). These requirements were shaped by organizations like the U.S. "National Conference on Uniform Entrance Requirements" and committees composed of influential academics like W. J. Alexander of the University of Toronto and Hiram Corson of Cornell University (p. 126). Alexander and Corson were both Browning scholars who sidelined EBB (when they mention her at all), because, Manarin contends, "the project of canonizing Robert Browning required, at least in part, the separation of his reputation" from his wife's (p. 128).
Eric Eisner's witty and engaging "Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Energies of Fandom," also in the Victorian Review issue, forms an apt introduction to several new essays on Aurora Leigh this year, while also revealing the "energies" that contributed to her nineteenth-century reputation. Noting the "vexed" relationship between "the critic and the fan," Eisner argues that we nevertheless need to examine how EBB participated in "the mid-Victorian culture of literary celebrity" "both as an object of passionate interest and as a fan herself' (pp. 85-86). She could mock her own behavior as a lionizer of genius, playfully commenting to Mitford that she might, if tempted, seek to gather "a thistle because Wordsworth had trodden it down" as "eagerly" as "his own ass [in Peter Bell]" might seek to do so (cited, p. 86). At the same time, like Robert Browning, she strategically uses displays of hero-worship to create a mythology of self," Eisner argues, as she both expresses and parodies the fandom growing out of mass culture (p. 87). He offers an illuminating exploration of the ways in which fandom entails "a risky, passionate, and sustained transferential exchange with an authorial subjectivity imagined as a body" (p. 88), analyzing several such moments of such exchange in Aurora Leigh conveyed through a "sexualized, interiorizing language" (p. 89) in "scenes of idealized and satiating intersubjectivity" (p. 92). The second half of his essay treats "the formal codes of idealism and realism" in Aurora Leigh, as he considers how the poem mobilizes "a formally anti-realist impulse to challenge from within its own impulse to mimetic realism," requiring us to re-evaluate its "structures of political idealism and psychological idealization" as these are manifested, for example, in "the controversial idealization of Marian" (pp. 90-91). This phase of Eisner's innovative argument concludes with a reading of the poem's much debated ending, building on Herbert F. Tucker's earlier analysis of the poem's terminal images (p. 96).
Tucker's massive and magisterial study Epic: Britain's Heroic Muse 1790-1910 (2008) includes a new discussion of Aurora Leigh as epic (pp. 377-384), as well as a briefer treatment of EBB's juvenile epic The Battle of Marathon as an expression of a "filially masculine teenage imagination" (pp. 238-239). Unlike Simon Dentith in Epic and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Britain (see the 2007 "Year's Work") who situates Aurora Leigh in the context of mid-Victorian debates over modernity, the Homeric controversy, and works by George Eliot, Tucker approaches what he terms "the most accomplished epic of the mid-century" (p. 377) in the context of a provocative reinterpretation of the often satirized and seldom read spasmodic epics: Philip James Bailey's Festus (1839, 1845, et seq.), Alexander Smith's A Life-Drama (1852), and Sydney Dobell's Balder: Part the First (1854)--a group that also includes R. H. Horne's "penny-epic" Orion (1843), according to Tucker (p. 348). Although he describes Aurora Leigh as a "compendium of nineteenth-century epic modes" (p. 377), for Tucker it is primarily a work that appropriates and harnesses the "authentic power" of spasmodic epic as a "platform" for women's poetry (p. 378). Like the spasmodic epics, it "sports an eponymous title," keeps "its action flush with the writer-protagonist's consciousness," grafts a "closet-drama format onto the first-person narrative," and is "awash in the juices of an inexhaustibly fluent imagery" (p. 378)--though unlike these masculine works it grounds "spasmody in female physicality" (p. 380), and subjects its "migrant narrative viewpoint" to "structural irony" (p. 382), even though its plot is "a sequence of melodramatic flareups" (p. 380). Tucker advances this argument with his usual panache and force, although his categorization of Aurora Leigh as a spasmodic epic foregrounds certain aspects of the work at the cost of relegating other equally important ones to the background, much as his larger historical interpretive grid does in the case of epics collectively, with different types of epics allotted to successive decades of the century (e.g., apocalyptic epics to the 1820s, forensic epics to the 1830s, spasmodic epics to the 1850s--even though Festus was first published in 1839). Tucker notes that EBB takes her "bearings from myth" (p. 380). Although he does not greatly develop this aspect, some might see it as a dimension of Aurora Leigh allying it with the mythological epics by Tennyson, Browning, and Morris that he associates with the 1860s, as much as with the spasmodic epics of the 1840s and 1850s.
Peggy Dunn Bailey's "'Hear the Voice of the [Female] Bard': Aurora Leigh as a Female Romantic Epic" forms an interesting contrast to Tucker's approach, as does the collection it appears in, Approaches to the Anglo and American Female Epic, 1621-1982 (2006), edited by Bernard Schweizer, with its mapping of "the salient formal and thematic aspects that characterize female epics" (p. 10). Whereas "male poets at the top of their powers" are described as the "usual agents" of epic poetry by Tucker (p. 237), EBB features prominently in Schweizer's "Introduction: Muses with Pens" as a "founding mother" for "later female poets with epic aspirations" (p. 6), and a key transitional figure between "earlier epic women writers like Lady Mary Wroth" and "twentieth-century women writers" (p. 14). Aurora Leigh, categorized as a "touchstone of the female epic to this day," Is identified as the "most celebrated" work treated in this wide-ranging collection (pp. 12, 15). Bailey suggestively complicates the place of Aurora Leigh in the chronological tradition the Schweizer collection charts by advancing a vigorous argument for it as a Romantic, not a Victorian (or a spasmodic) epic. "To miss Aurora Leigh's Romanticism is to miss, to a great extent, its epic tone and scope and the significance of its commentary on gender," Bailey observes (p. 212), supporting her claim by demonstrating that EBB's novel-epic exhibits "Promethean aspirations" and a "Romantic relationship with Nature" (pp. 128-129), along with all of the distinguishing features M. H. Abrams employs to identify Romantic literature: revolutionary thought; the figure of the inspired bard; an oracular approach to the great events of the age; a focus on the "apocalypse of imagination" registered in images of "purging fire," the "emerging sun," "the dawn," and the "restoration of Paradise ... symbolized by a sacred marriage" (pp. 121-124). The very epic simile that Tucker cites as the most spasmodic (p. 379) in Aurora Leigh (Book I, 11. 845-854: "As the earth / Plunges in fury ...") is cited by Bailey as an instance of EBB's Romantic "visionary" and "prophetic" imagery (p. 122). There may be less contradiction between these positions than one assumes, if one accepts Tucker's view that Spasmodism is Romanticism "enlarged upon, and inevitably vulgarized" (p. 340). But Bailey is not arguing that we encounter a vulgarized Romanticism in Aurora Leigh. While earlier critics (e.g., Kathleen Blake) have noted the parallels between Aurora Leigh and Wordsworth's The Prelude, Bailey pursues these more intensively and includes numerous comparisons between EBB and other Romantic poets such as Blake. She also presents a spirited reinterpretation of the ending of Aurora Leigh in reading it as a Romantic epic.
If one holds the view that Victorian works inspired by Romanticism also share its features, there is indirect support for Bailey's reading in "Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Victorian Versions of Byron and Wollstonecraft: Romantic Genealogies, Self-Defining Memories and the Genesis of Aurora Leigh," an essay of my own in Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era (2008), edited by Andrew Radford and Mark Sandy. Building on Dorothy Mermin's important work on Byron's influence on Victorian women writers, and EBB's characterization of her novel-epic as "a Don Juan, without the mockery & impurity" (cited, p. 125), this essay explores some of the key passages in EBB's letters of the 1840s expressing her desire to write the work that would become Aurora Leigh. The essay links these passages to others in which EBB vividly and repeatedly recalls her adolescent passion to become "Lord Byron's PAGE" (cited, p. 123), a desire she associates with the impact of reading Wollstonecraft's Vindication. Approaching these reiterated recollections as "self-defining memories" (a term taken from the cognitive psychologists of our own time), the essay argues that these two powerful Romantic writers are central to the genesis of Aurora Leigh, notwithstanding the mid-Victorian reaction against Byron and the cultural forgetting of Wollstonecraft in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, historical developments that EBB's correspondence both reflects and resists.
However much Aurora Leigh may have been shaped by Romantic roots, it entered energetically into mid-Victorian debates about women's work and women artists, as Patricia Zakreski demonstrates in Representing Female Labour, 1848-1890 (2006). Exploring transformations in the "middle-class woman's relationship to work" (p. 7), as well as in the "reporting and quantifying" of it (p. 15), Zakreski chooses to focus on "four professions ... consistently associated with the high cultural domain of art": "sewing, painting, writing, and acting" (p. 8). Chapter 1, on seamstresses, opens with a quotation from Aurora Leigh (the satire on sewing as "symbolical" in Book I) and includes an analysis of Marian as a complex type of the "saintly seamstress" (pp. 44-51), deployed by EBB to demonstrate the "moral relativism of needlework" (p. 49). In Chapter 3, on the "Writing Woman," Zakreski analyzes Aurora Leigh as one of the "few narratives from the mid-Victorian period that features an authoress as a heroine" (p. 98), exploring the depiction of Aurora's central conflict between "masculine and feminine forms of writing" within changing paradigms of women's life-writing, and attempts by female authors to "control the public perception of their own authorial identities" (p. 112). Despite a slightly inaccurate reference to what EBB means by "double vision" in Book V, 1. 183 (p. 114)--a term that critics often employ very loosely--Zakreski's well-researched book provides a valuable context for understanding a central theme in EBB's novel-epic.
Maria LaMonaca turns her attention to another central, though much less discussed theme, in Aurora Leigh in Masked Aetheism: Catholicism and the Secular Victorian Home (2008), a wide-ranging study of nineteenth-century representations of Catholicism as a "'feminized' religion" that was, moreover, of particular interest to Victorian women writers (pp. 2-3). Chapter Four juxtaposes Aurora Leigh and Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market as works that employ Eucharistic imagery of Roman Catholic transubstantiation (the doctrine of the literal transformation of bread and wine into Christ's body and blood) to represent "a female body that is at once sexualized and sacred" (p. 29). Approaching both poems in the context of heated debates between Catholics and Protestants over transubstantiation (pp.128-133), LaMonaca explores EBB's ambivalent response to Catholicism, while at the same time arguing that "Catholicism profoundly influenced" Aurora Leigh (p. 136). She points out that "almost every woman in Aurora's story is figuratively linked with Rome in either attractive or repellent forms" (p. 138). This claim is persuasively supported by analyzes of Aurora's dead Catholic mother, Marian as a Madonna figure, Lady Waldemar "who plays the Whore of Babylon to Marian's Madonna" (p. 139), and Aurora herself. "While Jane Eyre must work to suppress her 'inner Catholic,' Aurora Leigh's primary challenge is to acknowledge and embrace hers," LaMonaca argues: both in order to embrace "her own sexual nature," and to become a poet capable of integrating the material with the spiritual worlds (p. 141). "The blissful merging of female body and spirit at Aurora Leigh's conclusion is achieved, in part, through the verse-novel's appropriation of Catholicism and, in particular, its doctrine of transubstantiation," LaMonaca further contends (p. 250). While LaMonaca restricts her attention to Aurora Leigh, the Catholic and anti-Catholic discourses she insightfully explores provide a suggestive framework for EBB's Gothic ballad of a cursing nun, "The Lay of the Brown Rosary" (1844), and her monodrama exploring Mary's flow of thoughts and feelings after Christ's birth, "The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus" (1838): more especially because the latter poem was reprinted in a pamphlet entitled The True Mary in 1868 (2nd ed., 1870), with notes and commentary defending EBB's work as a vindication of the Protestant interpretation of Mary.
Cheryl Stiles contributes to reception histories of Aurora Leigh in "'Different Planes of Sensuous Form': American Critical and Popular Response to Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh and Last Poems: Annotated Bibliography, American Periodicals, 1852-62" (VPR 40, no. 3 : 239-255). Using a chronologically limited search with "a new electronic database, the American Periodicals Series (APS), available from ProQuest" (p. 239), Stiles uncovers and summarizes "23 new entries" to supplement the "68 articles and reviews published in American periodicals during 1856-62" (p. 243) in Sandra Donaldson's Elizabeth Barrett Browning: An Annotated Bibliography of the Commentary and Criticism, 1826-1990 (1993). The reviews she finds have many similarities with those Donaldson annotates--reflecting debates over the genre and style of Aurora Leigh as well as EBB as a woman writer, and her combination of "manly" and "womanly" qualities (cited, p. 246). At the same time, they show how the impact of EBB's novel-poem extended to provincial publications, as well as magazines. In the Ohio Farmer Anna Hope writes as the kind of fervent fan Eisner describes, terming EBB "a writer who has moved the hidden depths of my nature," a "friend whom I earnestly love" (cited, pp. 247-248). The Lady's Home Magazine, in contrast, commends the "antisocial" [i.e., anti-socialist[ politics of Aurora Leigh, while bluntly condemning its "irreverent flights of bold thought" (cited, p. 146). Stiles notes that the APS contains "more than 1500 records" for EBB (in comparison to 800 for Christina Rossetti; 1,100 for Tennyson; 1,800 for RB; and 17,000 for Dickens, the hands-down winner). Extrapolating from her own search, she speculates that "one third" of the 1500 for EBB "could prove to be new" (p. 243). Stiles's article sometimes reads a little too much like promotional literature for ProQuest, as in "ProQuest continues to be a pioneer in offering electronic access to a growing body of digital resources" (p. 241). Yet her research indicates how reception studies may be expanded by electronic technologies.
Digital technologies are also stimulating the globalization of Victorian literature studies, as new work on Aurora Leigh attests. Two articles in Korean by Hongsang Yeo add to earlier work by the same critic noted in the 2006 "Year's Work." Both in Nineteenth Century Literature in English, the articles have intriguing titles: "Problems of Different National Cultures and Women's Education in Aurora Leigh" (9, no. 2 : 53-73), and "Ecofeminist Poetics in Aurora Leigh" (10, no. 1 : 85-115). The latter would appear to entail the first application of eco-critical theory to EBB's poetry. From a journal published at Ankara University in Turkish, my search this year also turned up the following article by Fahri Oz: "Auro Leigh'de Tursel Birlesim ve Melezlik," Dil ve Tarih-Cografya Fakaltesi Dergisi (44, no. 2 : 111-130).
Among the four new studies of sonnets by EBB this year, Amy Christine Billone's Little Songs: Women, Silence, and the Nineteenth-Century Sonnet (2007) is by far the most extended and original. Concentrating "on nineteenth-century female sonneteers," Billone juxtaposes "well-established figures" like Charlotte Smith, EBB, and Christina Rossetti "with overlooked poets such as Anna Maria Smallpiece and Isabella Southern," arguing that "the sonnet, more than any other form" allowed these women poets "to investigate and promote gendered interpretations of silence" (pp. 2-3). Billone's second chapter presents a subtle reading of EBB's turn to the sonnet form in the 1840s to represent "silence and grief" (the profound and tearless grief precipitated by the death of her closest brother "Bro"), and to engage in a "revisionary" reevaluation of the "Wordsworthian sublime": a reevaluation with a "non-recuperative" and radical "negativity" at its core (pp. 47-48). A portion of this chapter, including Billone's reading of EBB's "Grief" as a poem in complex dialogue with Wordsworth's "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge," appeared in Victorian Poetry in 2001. In Little Songs, Billone extends and enriches her analysis of the poetics of silence and grief in EBB's sonnets by an analysis of Sonnets from the Portuguese that argues against the critical tradition in demonstrating how, "rather than renouncing death in favor of love, the speaker remains haunted by death from the beginning to the end of her sequence" (p. 64). Chapter four of Billone's book treats later nineteenth-century poets such as Maria Norris, Dora Greenwell, and Isabella Southern, as they pay tribute to, and more ambivalently question or write back against EBB and Christina Rossetti. Billone's detailed treatment of Southern's sonnets "Past and Present" and "The Future" in relation to EBB's pivotal 1844 sonnet "Past and Future" and its companion sonnet "Future and Past" (Sonnet XLII of Sonnets from the Portuguese) is especially ground-breaking--though Billone does not relate Southern's revisionary dialogue with EBB's two linked sonnets to Christina Rossetti's earlier textual engagement with the same works in "They Desire a Better Country."
The other three discussions of EBB's sonnets noted this year all focus on Sonnets from the Portuguese. Considering female sonneteers from Mary Wroth to Edna St. Vincent Millay, Natasha Distiller in Desire and Gender in the Sonnet Tradition (2008) develops a feminist, "post-Lacanian framework" to examine the "language system which comprises Petrarchanism," the "gendered" rules that constitute its "poetic subject," and "the place within Petrarchanism from which the female subject found a possibility ... to speak" (pp. 4, 5, 17). Distiller emphasizes the ways in which Sonnets from the Portuguese "offers an alternative model of the desiring subject, one who need not occupy the position of the dominating speaker"; because the speaker's desire "is never socially transgressive," EBB "is able simultaneously to rework Petrarchan subjectivity and leave unchallenged aspects of the Petrarchan Symbolic" (pp. 116, 117). Distiller's reference to "the 43 poems in Sonnets from the Portuguese" (p. 115) is true of the sequence as published in Poems (1850), but not of it in the final form it was given in EBB's 1856 edition. A larger issue, however, is that Distiller does not explore the linguistic and allusive complexities of individual sonnets to the degree that her sophisticated theoretical framework invites. For example, in commenting that EBB's sonnets to a male Beloved are not initiated "by her desire," but "by his" (p. 118), Distiller passes over the subtleties of Sonnet I brought out by Billone's reading of it in terms of doubleness, irony, and allegory (pp. 73-74), as well as the gender reversals in the allusion comparing the male Beloved to a "mystic Shape" drawing the female speaker "backward by the hair": an echo of Athene drawing the hyper-masculine Achilles "backward by the hair" in the Iliad, as Charlotte Porter and Helen A. Clarke note in their 1900 edition of The Complete Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
In "Covert Appropriations of Shakespeare: Three Case Studies" (PLL [Winter 2007]: 45-67), James Hirsh underscores the allusiveness of the most famous sonnet in the sequence, "How do I love thee," by tracking the multiple echoes connecting it to an exchange between King Lear and Goneril in Shakespeare's play (pp. 46-53)--an exchange in which love is eloquent but insincere. Arguing that EBB's "artistic daring" involves her "not plagiarizing Shakespeare" but using "the speech as raw material to produce something new and different" (p. 48), Hirsh describes a pattern of textual engagement with Shakespeare resembling the one more comprehensively explored by Gail Marshall in her article on EBB and Shakespeare's "language of intimacy" (see the 2007 Year's Work). In another article this year on the Sonnets from the Portuguese C. C. Barfoot claims that the collection (like the sequences by Lady Mary Wroth, Mary Robinson, and Christina Rossetti he also treats) has "an erotic power and a sexual appeal that the great male sonneteers do not achieve" ("'In This Strang Labourinth How Shall I Turn': Erotic Symmetry in Four Female Sonnet Sequences," "'And Never Know the Joy': Sex and the Erotic in English Poetry , ed. Barfoot, p. 223). With almost no engagement with the very large body of scholarship on the Sonnets from the Portuguese, Barfoot adds little to the appreciation of its eroticism, a dimension much more effectively brought out by Dorothy Mermin's and Glennis Stephenson's analyses in their 1989 books on EBB. More troublingly, Barfoot cites Edmund Gosse's gossipy and suspect story about the Sonnets from the Portuguese (p. 236), as well as a headnote from the 1900 Cambridge edition of EBB's poems referring to the first publication of the sequence as a pamphlet in Reading in 1847, without noting that the pamphlet is one of the most notorious forgeries in English literary history.
"The Cry of the Children" and Other Topics
In strong contrast to this recycling of old errors, we see literary criticism at its most challenging and innovative in a stimulating exchange between Caroline Levine and Herbert F. Tucker in Victorian Studies involving another of EBB's most often cited (but seldom substantively discussed) works, "The Cry of the Children." In "Strategic Formalism: Towards a New Method in Cultural Studies" (VS [Summer 2006]: 625-657), Levine proposes a method she terms "strategic formalism" to integrate formalism and the literary forms it privileges with the larger "social formations" and "major cultural political categories" of historicist and cultural studies "such as gender, race, and class." The "complex relations among identity categories" like these are "most intelligible" if they are approached as forms in their own right, she proposes, illustrating the methodology she theorizes with a reading of "The Cry of the Children" as a "site where literary and social forms collide to produce surprising and unintentional effects" (pp. 626-627). This collision occurs because the literary forms EBB mobilizes "to reveal oppressive and corrupt social formations," in particular the "metaphor of the family in three registers-the family as kin, the family of the nation, and the universal 'Christian' family"--do not "work together to create a more just and loving England," as the poet, according to Levine intends. Instead, these family metaphors "support contradictory political aims and produce a profoundly unstable political-cultural field" (p. 640). Analyzing "dissonance" as "one of the major formal and polemical strategies of the poem" (p. 641), Levine argues that through its "formal techniques--inversion, contradiction, rhyme, and irony," the poet takes on the larger formations of "gender and class, domesticity and nationhood, politics and religion, patriarchy and paternalism, a divided nation and an absent God" (pp. 644-645). Levine insightfully treats particular dissonances that act as hinges between the literary and the social, such as EBB's subtle rewriting of Euripides' Medea, which replaces "the guilt of mothers with the responsibility of fathers and brothers" (p. 643), or the inversions of youth and age in the poem's imagery. However, she does not consider what some might consider the most concrete and somatic aspect of literary form, the poem's fractured meter and dissonant sound (Edgar Allen Poe exclaimed that the poem would not scan). Tucker focuses on this "exceptionally confrontational prosody" (p. 87) in "Tactical Formalism: A Response to Caroline Levine" (VS [Autumn 2006]: 85-93). Adeptly analyzing the poem's "industrial meter" as trochaic, with an overlaid (or underlying) pattern of "the first paeonic, rove over" (p. 92), he shows how it is asymmetrical in its "alternation of six-foot with four-foot lines," yet at the same time "precociously laboring, mechanically driven, metronomically merciless" in its "headlong" rhythm (pp. 87-88). Ironically, he suggests, the metrical registers of the poem may remain captive to the industrial system it critiques (p. 91). Yet the very metrical irregularities that Tucker maps as instances of what Hopkins might have called "outrides" and manifestations of "the abused body" in the poem (p. 90) suggest that its rhythm may be less mechanical than he concludes. In other words, it may owe its power to what EBB elsewhere referred to as "the cry of the human" in counterpoint to the meter's uncanny replication of the relentlessly turning beat of factory machines.
While Tucker's analysis suggests how the rhythm of "The Cry of the Children" resembles Hopkins' "sprung rhythm," Donna Decker Schuster argues that EBB helped "carve the road toward literary modernism," and modernist elegy in particular (pp. 65-66) in "Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Rhetorical Location: Modern Rhetors, Transgressive Culture and Transforming Genre" (in Women's Literary Creativity and the Female Body, edited by Diane Long Hoeveler and Schuster ). Schuster discusses rhetorical locations and acts, as well as elegiac language and agency in the context of "gendered discourse communities" (p. 66) in "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point," "Mother and Poet," and, more briefly, "A Curse for a Nation." Her arguments concerning rhetorical acts and agency and their complications by gender in the first of these poems parallel, to some degree, earlier astute readings by Susan Brown and E. Warwick Slinn that she does not cite. Schuster is more original in considering how "The Runaway Slave" and "Mother and Poet" subvert "the tradition of nineteenth-century women's elegies" (p. 68), in part by resisting resolutions of anger and grief and the consolation such resolutions might provide.
If the revisionary swerves in these two poems anticipate modernist treatments of elegy, as Schuster contends, it is doubly ironic that such features in EBB's poetry were in many cases not recognized by early twentieth-century women poets. This is a point brought home by two essays in a book I overlooked in earlier "Year's Work" essays: Amy Lowell, American Modern (2004), edited by Adrienne Munich and Melissa Bradshaw. Munich's own contribution to this collection, "Family Matters: Genealogies and Intertexts in Amy Lowell's 'The Sisters'" shows how the modernist poet so important in the development of Imagism "chose to exaggerate" the "social conventionality" of "Mrs. Browning" in her ambivalent poetic tribute to three female precursors, while also ignoring EBB's "powerful political poems" (pp. 17-18). In her discussion of "The Sisters" in "Amy Lowell and the Unknown Ladies: The Caryatides Talk Back," Elizabeth J. Donaldson similarly notes Lowell's not very complimentary representation of Mrs. Browning as a "pathetic creature," a "hysteric on the couch" whose poems were "fertilized" by Robert Browning (p. 32).
The recovery of EBB's works in the last forty years has counteracted the historical erasure Lowell's "The Sisters" reflects, bringing ample attention to many of her more major or influential works. Numerous other poems influential in the nineteenth century remain relatively neglected, however, together with other aspects of her works, like the "abilities as a translator" and as a "critic of foreign literature" that Berry Chevasco discusses in "'La Prude Angleterre': Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Cultural Relativism" in the collection Translators, Interpreters, Mediators: Women Writers 1700-1900 (2007), edited by Gillian E. Dow. Chevasco argues that EBB's "familiarity with foreign literature" reinforced "her intellectual independence" and fostered "her inclination to consider many contemporary issues ... from outside the bonds of Victorian convention," a claim she supports through considering the poet's response to French fiction by George Sand, Eugene Sue, Balzac, and other writers (p. 210). Portions of Chevasco's essay incorporate material earlier treated in her article on EBB's response to Sue in 2003 in Browning Society Notes (see the 2004 "Year's Work"), but newly framed for this collection.
A final work to be noted this year is Maureen Adams' Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edith Wharton, and Emily Bronte (2007). EBB leads off the group of writers inspired by "shaggy muses" in this book, written for a popular audience. Adams details Flush's role in consoling EBB after Bro's tragic death; the poet's ironic recognition of the parallels between dogs and women in her society ("Why, what is Flush but a lapdog? And what am I but a woman?" [cited, p. 22]); Flush's jealousy of RB, his rival for his mistress' affections; his capture by London dog thieves; and his travels to Italy, companionship with Pen, and burial in a Florence vault. Adams also notes EBB's poem "To Flush, My Dog" and her sonnet "Flush or Faunus," though without exploring their subtler undercurrents and probing of the human-animal divide. Readers will probably miss the ironies and gracefully playful prose of Virginia Woolf's Flush, a hard act to follow. I would like to thank Cynthia Burgess of the Armstrong Browning Library for drawing my attention to some of the studies covered here, and Lesley Newhook for assisting in obtaining materials for review.
The past year has been a busy one in Browning scholarship, with new volumes in two of the ongoing editions of his poems, one volume of The Brownings' Correspondence, a biography, a short monograph, and a good number of articles and contributions to essay collections, which use critical paradigms ranging from the Gothic to cognitive psychology. It is heartening to see that, in addition to The Ring and the Book and the popular poems on love and music, Browning's neglected later works receive a significant amount of attention. With the waning of the critical fashion for the death of the author, analyses considering the impact of the poet's personality and experience on his work are also much in evidence.
The most substantial among the book-length publications is volume 3 of The Poems of Robert Browning in the Longman Annotated English Poets series, edited by John Woolford, Daniel Karlin, and Joseph Phelan (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2007). As always in the Longman edition, which works from the first published version of a text rather than the last lifetime edition, the poems are presented in the order of their (assumed) composition. This editorial choice highlights the importance of the biographical context from which the poems emerged, and this biographical emphasis is also apparent in the period covered by the volume: it comprises all of the works written during the Brownings' marriage, that is, Christmas-Eve and Easter Day and Men and Women as well as the "Essay on Shelley."
As the last of the three multi-volume critical editions of Browning's work to reach these texts, the Longman edition can build on previous editorial work and draw on recently published letters. But this is not the only reason which gives it the edge over the very thorough Ohio and Oxford editions. It is also the most fully annotated of all critical editions. Aimed at a broader readership than the Ohio edition, where all notes appear at the end of the volume, the Longman edition presents its annotations alongside the poems. Lucid introductory notes cover historical and literary contexts, sources and influences, comment on formal features and often summarize important criticism on a poem. This kind of material helps the reader appreciate the religious context of a poem such as the relatively unread Christmas-Eve and Easter Day, making it easier to see how it prefigures Browning's later, better-known poems on religious subjects. Browning's research for the famous painter monologues and their position within the Victorian debate about medieval and Renaissance painting are also presented in great detail. Cross-references to letters, especially those by Elizabeth, repeatedly allow for more precise datings of poems than have so far been proposed, as well as for fresh insights into a poem's inspiration. A major strength of the edition is its alertness to parallels with other works by Browning and other authors. Such notes allow the researcher to trace recurring ideas over the course of his career and to follow up the intertextual links that are vital to an understanding of a poet who takes such pains to situate himself in relation to the poetic tradition.
Alongside the well-known poems from Men and Women, the volume also contains a handful of, usually comical, occasional poems that were not published by Browning. These are of little aesthetic value, but give an insight into his moods and preoccupations. The notable exception to this rule is his translation of an Italian sonnet by Giovanni Zappi about Michelangelo's sculpture of Moses, which provides another instance in addition to Sordello and "One Word More" of Browning's identification with Moses in order to portray himself as an unacknowledged prophet figure.
Alongside the Longman volume, it is interesting to read Volume 16 of The Brownings' Correspondence, edited by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, and Edward Hagan (Winfield: Wedgestone Press, 2007), as the periods covered by both overlap. This volume of the Correspondence spans from September 1849 to January 1851. These seem to have been a fairly unproductive fifteen months for Browning, but they saw the publication of two volumes, the 1849 Poems and Christmas-Eve and Easter Day. Reviews of these works make up over 60 pages of the "Contemporary Reviews" section. This wealth of material in the appendix is complemented by some vexed remarks by Elizabeth about the reception of Christmas-Eve and Easter Day, which was accused of irreligion. There are also occasional references in her letters to the interest both Brownings took in the Papal Aggression, to which Robert responds in Bishop Blougram's Apology and "The Heretic's Tragedy." Both poets also write about Robert's purchases of paintings, most of which Seymour Kirkup misattributed to famous Old Masters and which feature in "Old Pictures in Florence." We also witness the couple's first encounter during their summer residence at Siena with the eponymous anti-hero of "Of Pacchiarotto, and How He Worked in Distemper." Elizabeth responds to his work with enthusiasm, while there is no indication that Robert disagrees with her. Surprisingly, the notes to these letters make no reference to his later satirical poem on the painter. Such a missing cross reference to the poets' work is one of the very few instances where more annotation would be useful. On the whole, the notes are very full and elucidate meticulously the Brownings' allusions to their reading, acquaintances, and political events.
As in the previous volume, letters by Robert are few. Most of the letters are taken up by Elizabeth's fond reports about young Pen's exploits and dress, her health and miscarriages, her family matters, and their small circle of Anglo-American acquaintances in Florence. The most important of these is the Brownings' close friend Isabella Blagden. She is the subject of an extended biographical sketch in the appendix, which for the first time establishes the identity of her father and also gives an insight into her writing and social circle. Her portrait is another prime instance of the editors' painstaking research into the Brownings' circle that makes the Correspondence so invaluable to the researcher.
Volume 15 of The Complete Works of Robert Browning by Ohio University Press (Athens, 2007) comprises three late and largely unappreciated collections, Dramatic Idyls, Second Series (edited by David Ewbank), Jocoseria and Ferishtah's Fancies (both edited by Allan C. Dooley, drawing on the work of the late Paul Turner and Jack Herring). In line with the editorial policy of the Ohio edition, this volume meticulously lists all textual variants in the lifetime editions of the three collections. A good amount of the information provided by the annotations can already be found in a condensed form in the two-volume Yale/Penguin edition by Pettigrew and Collins, but Ewbank and Dooley include generous quotations from sources and relevant paratextual material where Pettigrew and Collins usually restrict themselves to mere references. An important improvement on the Yale/Penguin edition are the annotations concerning Browning's use of Hebrew sources. The editors draw here on a 1934 study by Judith Berlin-Lieberman, which sheds more light on an aspect of Browning's work that is inaccessible to most readers.
The editorial policy within this volume seems at times a bit uneven: Dooley on a few occasions makes suggestions for the interpretation of the poems, whereas the Ohio edition generally steers clear of this; and Ewbank includes a useful paragraph on the reception of Dramatic Idyls, while Dooley does not offer any information on the reception of the two collections that he edits. More editorial material on these poems might help generate greater critical interest in them. Donald Hair's discussion of Browning's versification in the biography I review below suggests for instance how the formal aspects of the later poems can be relevant to the appreciation of Browning's overall poetics. But providing such a textual apparatus is not within the remit of the Ohio edition, so we will have to wait for the Oxford and Longman editions on these texts with their more extended notes. As it stands, the Ohio edition offers Browning scholars a reliable, carefully presented text with all textual variants.
The latest addition to the flourishing field of Browning biographies is The Dramatic Imagination of Robert Browning: A Literary Life (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 2007). The story of Browning's life up to 1856 is told by the late Richard S. Kennedy. The remaining third of the book is by Donald S. Hair, who "inherited" the incomplete manuscript. The two authors' differences in approach and interest are plain to see, but they do not diminish the value of the book. Kennedy's emphasis is on the chronological narrative of Browning's biography, although key poems are also given due attention, whereas Hair is more interested in critical analysis and prefers general discussion of themes in the poet's life and work to a comprehensive coverage of events as they occur. Highlights of Kennedy's section are his informed depiction of the religious climate in which the young Browning moved in the Camberwell of the 1820s and 30s and the poet's early reading. Careful consideration is also given to his ill-starred aspirations as a playwright and his relationship with the actor/ manager William Macready. Kennedy makes good use of recently published letters, while also including several tantalizing references to as yet unpublished letters in the Armstrong Browning Library. His readings of individual poems are accessible and do not shy away from clear value judgments, such as the view that Dramatic Lyrics is "worth a hundred Sordellos" (p. 97) or that Browning's New Year's resolution in 1853 to write a poem a day produced "one masterwork and two poems of great interest," namely "Childe Roland," "Women and Roses" and "Love among the Ruins" (p. 228).
These evaluations might be Hair's rather than Kennedy's, as Hair admits in the preface to having replaced some of Kennedy's critical opinions with his own. Hair does, however, remain true to Kennedy's overarching argument that the chief characteristic of Browning's poetry is his "dramatic imagination," which aims for the revelations of the inner lives of his men and women. But Hair qualifies this argument by stating that Browning's ambitions went beyond this: he considered the "good of poetry" to lie in its development of the immortal and immaterial soul, a belief which, as Hair concedes, causes today's readers some embarrassment (pp. 302-303). Browning does not just have the spiritual development of his fictional characters in mind but also that of the reader and the poet. It is for this reason, Hair suggests, that a concern with intertextuality and interpretation becomes a central feature of his later works, which are often responses to other texts or reflections on the relations between texts (p. 304). Among these late works which Hair champions, Balaustion's Adventure and its companion piece, Aristophanes' Apology, take pride of place. "Balaustion," Hair declares, "is Browning's ideal reader." She responds fully to Euripides' texts because she loves them and is able to create a new text that encapsulates her interpretation of the original (pp. 372-373). Sections about Browning's dealings with F. J. Furnivall and the Browning Societies and about his attitude towards his reception add a further facet to the discussion of his ideas about the author-reader relationship.
Returning to his preoccupations in Robert Browning's Language (1999), Hair pays close attention to the poet's use of meter and rhyme in the later works. He thus opens up a new perspective on these poems through formal aspects which are largely overlooked as critics try to grapple with the obscure subjects. In response to such readings and invoking the authority of Browning himself, Hair warns us not to be distracted by a search for facts and sources and instead to concentrate on the poem's text. Hair's part of the book offers the reader more critical analysis and insights into Browning's aesthetics than Kennedy's, while the merit of Kennedy's contribution lies in its objective depiction of the younger Browning.
Just as Hair's part of the book offers more than the reader might expect after Kennedy's straightforward narrative, so also does John Woolford's Robert Browning in the Writers and their Work series (Tavistock: Northcote House, 2007). Instead of providing a general introduction to the poet in the style of previous contributions to this series, this slim volume is actually a very focused study arguing for the importance of the grotesque as an aesthetic category for understanding his poetry. The appeal of this subject to the series editor, Isobel Armstrong, is not surprising, given her discussion of Browning's grotesque in Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (1993), the first notable treatment of the subject since George Santayana's in 1900. Drawing primarily on Walter Bagehot, who first labeled Browning as grotesque, on Ruskin's classification of types of the grotesque in "The Nature of the Gothic," and on the French Romantic manifesto, Victor Hugo's preface to Cromwell, Woolford defines the grotesque as a repudiation of the Romantic poetics of the sublime which supplants the self-consciously beautiful of the sublime with the self-consciously ugly (Hugo). Elaborating on Ruskin's ideas, Woolford also reads it as a response to social conditions which is paralleled by the Victorian novel, arguing that the rejection of the sublime's "fetishisation of power" (p. 15) is due to a climate of liberalism and the advent of democracy. Browning develops from a political radical into a liberal, and encodes his dissatisfaction with the "tyranny of single meaning" (p. 27) in his poetry with its multiplicity of characters, indeterminate semantics, and subversion of official norms. The latter point especially aligns Woolford's reading with Bakhtin's highly politicized definition of the grotesque in Rabelais and His World.
The study makes a convincing case for the grotesque as an aesthetic category accounting for key aspects of Browning's poetics, such as his celebration of imperfection, his concern with the world of objects and ugliness, his championing of subjectivism and relativism, and his call for an active reader who needs to participate in the constitution of meaning. These features are illustrated by poems ranging across his career, with The Ring and the Book taking center stage. Some attention is also accorded to the later works and their tentative orientation from monologism towards a dialogism which manifests a "desire to emancipate and empower the interlocutor" (p. 76). Woolford manages in only eighty-four pages to map out the poet's position as a self-conscious post-Romantic, a representative of Victorian ideas and a precursor of the postmodern suspicion of absolutist epistemologies. Chief merits of the study are its consideration of the grotesque as a category with much wider aesthetic implications than just the representation of the ugly and deformed and its coverage of some of Browning's more recondite texts. By contrast, there is little discussion of famous examples of Browning's grotesques such as "Caliban upon Setebos" and "Childe Roland." The study is so rich in insights for the reader not to be disappointed by the brief treatment of these frequently analyzed texts. However, the absence of any reference to Isobel Armstrong's well-known examination of Browning's grotesque may surprise. It would certainly have been interesting to see Woolford respond to her position. The book is part of a more comprehensive project on the Victorian grotesque. Judging from the occasional references to a variety of Victorian texts--ranging from a comparison between the strange diction of "Caliban" and Henry Mayhew's transcription of the idiom of London street boys to a discussion of the analogy between Browning's indeterminacy and the rising genre of detective fiction (p. 7)--this broader study promises to be an intriguing read.
Another publication by Woolford, "Browning on the Romantics on Mont Blanc" (BSN 33 [April 2008]: 3-20), offers a sensitive analysis of intricate intertextual dialogues about the sublime in relation to the Great Mountain. Having discussed Shelley's "Mont Blanc" and Canto III of Byron's Childe Harold as critical responses to Wordsworth's and Coleridge's concepts of the sublime in landscape, Woolford turns to La Saisiaz. He argues that Browning here presents a corrective both to Wordsworth's notion of the sublime as a source for poetic utterance and to Shelley's critique of Wordsworth, which suggests on the contrary that the sublime experience is divided from the social and does not facilitate communication. When Browning rejects the temptation of literary fame at the close of La Saisiaz, he satirizes the Wordsworthian "ideology that derived poetic authority from landscape" (p. 13). But at the same time he distances himself from Shelley by reintroducing the "human dimension" which is absent from the sublime in "Mont Blanc." He achieves this through his references to the eulogy of Rousseau's social love in Childe Harold. The article enhances our understanding of the apparently incongruous ending of La Saisiaz and adds another facet to Browning's life-long confrontation with Shelley's poetics, in a poem which "as if to punish Shelley for inhumanity or petulance, eliminates him from the scene" (p. 12).
Among this year's articles, Suzanne Bailey's "'His Centre is Not in the Middle': Reading Browning, Genius, and ADHD" (SBHC 27 [December 2006]: 91-110) takes the most original approach. Bailey examines the case for reading Browning as affected by Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, arguing that his visual imagination and his convoluted, digressive style may be symptoms of ADHD. However, she also stresses that the use of visual imagery rather than language in cognition and increased attention to peripheral information are associated with high creativity. She cites comments by contemporaries on the poet's exceptional energy and impulsiveness and on the discrepancies between his oral communication and his difficult written style, as well as passages from the courtship correspondence which demonstrate or reflect on his habit of thinking by involuntary association. ADHD might also, she ventures, account for his difficulty in revising his work and for his tendency to restrict himself to surface revisions such as punctuation--a characteristic of ADHD patients, who struggle to reconnect with their original line of thought. This interpretation of behavior which does not seem particularly unusual for an artist as evidence of a neurological condition is problematic, and Bailey has her own reservations about the ADHD diagnosis. Nevertheless, such a cognitive approach points to alternative ways of examining Browning's lifelong struggle to put his ideas into words and his celebration of the "infinite moment" in which verbal communication becomes superfluous.
The anticipation of such an ideal moment in the lovers' encounter in "Love among the Ruins" forms the subject of Peter Merchant's "Winking through the Chinks: Eros and Ellipsis in Robert Browning's 'Love among the Ruins'" (VP 45, no. 4 [Winter 2007]: 349-368). The article approaches the poem and its closing line, "Love is best," through a consideration of the possible sources for the setting of the ruined ancient city and the girl who awaits the speaker at the end of the poem. For both of these, Merchant adds plausible new sources to those that have already been proposed. The ruined city may be based on an account by Browning's acquaintance Charles Fellows of his discovery of Aphrodisias, a city dedicated to the goddess of love. The poem could therefore be a case of erotomania and the girl a fantasy of Aphrodite. Merchant also points out similarities with a tale by Theophile Gautier, which further suggest that the girl should be read as an imaginary ideal rather than an actuality. Peggy Dunn Bailey also considers Browning's love poetry. Her "Robert Browning's Dramatic Dialogue: Romantic Revision in 'By the Fire-Side' and 'Any Wife to Any Husband'" (Philological Review 33, no. 2 [Fall 2007]: 23-36) reads the two poems as a juxtaposition of the Romantic idealization of love with Victorian realism.
Moving from love to death, Francis O'Gorman has published two articles on the theme of death in Browning's poetry. "Robert Browning's Men and Women (1855) and the Idea of Posterity" (SBHC 27 [December 2006]: 75-90) reads Men and Women as an exploration of the question whether an artifact can preserve an individual's personality after their death. Covering a broad range of poems from the collection, the article discusses how texts like "A Toccata of Galuppi's," "Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha," and "How It Strikes a Contemporary" reveal posterity's inability to apprehend the artist's self through their work. These poems thus demonstrate the artist's loss of control over the interpretation of his work. As Browning's paratextual comments on "Childe Roland" show, he denied even his own ability to construe the meaning of his own work. O'Gorman points out that this separation of artist and work distinguishes Browning's aesthetics from those of the Romantics: "Browning's sense of the inadequacy of the artifact to convey authorial identity is precisely that which helps define his post-Romantic identity and his distance from the Romantic lyric with its myth of coincidence between self and text" (p. 82). The artist's realization that his personality cannot survive in his work is central to "Cleon," which suggests the Christian afterlife as the only way of preserving not earthly, but spiritual identity.
In his other article, "Browning, Grief, and the Strangeness of Dramatic Verse" (Cambridge Quarterly 36, no. 2 : 155-173), O'Gorman observes that Browning's poetry is "replete with the living influence of the departed" (p. 156) without sharing the Victorian preoccupation with mourning. The article focuses on Browning's claim that his dramatic poetry has the power to resurrect the dead (most explicitly spelt out in Book I of The Ring and the Book), objecting that most of his poetry contains no acknowledgement that poetry cannot actually bring the dead back to life. Poems such as Balaustion's Adventure and La Saisiaz, through which Browning comes to terms with his own bereavement, in O'Gorman's analysis lack an ironically self-conscious recognition that poetry's ability to resurrect is an illusion. By contrast, the earlier "The Bishop Orders His Tomb" is able to ironize "what would become the apparently sincere foundation of his poetics [and to] make up for future decades of irony's absence" (p. 166). The article also includes a fine reading of "Eurydice to Orpheus," in which the moment of seeing the resurrected Eurydice coincides with her loss. Taken together, both articles put forward a compelling argument about Browning's concern with the poet's posterity and poetry's power to overcome death, shedding light on key preoccupations throughout the second half of his life.
A very different approach to Browning's representation of the dead is taken in Randa Helfield's "Dead Women Do Tell Tales: Spiritualism, Browning, and the Dramatic Monologue" (SBHC 27 [December 2006]: 7-25). Helfield sees an analogy between Mr. Sludge and some of Browning's most famous monologists, who can be said to act like mediums. While Sludge "invents" his spirits but seems at times like an artist inspired to utter truths, the speakers of "My Last Duchess" and "Porphyria's Lover," and Guido in The Ring and the Book, are men who try to misrepresent the woman they have murdered to suit their designs, but they inadvertently become the medium through which their victim's spirit is revealed to the reader. Helfield bases her interpretation on a Freudian reading of repetition as a sign of the return of the repressed. This works quite well in the case of "My Last Duchess," where she interprets the Duke's repeated references to those aspects of his wife which he wants to hide and the aural repetition in the rhymes as places in which the dead duchess manifests her presence. The analysis of "Porphyria's Lover" is less convincing, particularly since Helfield works on the assumption that the poem is in stanzas, although Browning chose not to present it in that form. The analysis of The Ring and the Book, which refers only to Guido's second monologue, would have benefited from some consideration of his first monologue.
Browning's representation of masculinity is a concern shared by Thomas C. Crochunis and Michael Ackerman. In "Literary Homosociality and the Political Science of the Actor's Closet" (VS 49, no. 2 [Winter 2007]: 258-267), Crochunis compares the "homosocial tensions" between the two male protagonists of A Blot in the 'Scutcheon with the fraught relationship between Browning and Macready, who produced the play. The article sketches out some aesthetic and interpersonal disagreements between the two men. Ackerman considers masculinity through Gothic paradigms. His "Monstrous Men: Violence and Masculinity in Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book" (in Horrifying Sex: Essays on Sexual Difference in Gothic Literature, ed. Ruth Bienstock Anolik, [Jefferson, NC: McFarland], pp. 122-134) concludes that, while fulfilling the pattern of the Gothic male villain who generates fear in women, Guido is also a victim. He is emasculated and cannot dominate his wife and live up to the expectations of the two exponents of patriarchal power, the state and the church. Drawing on Early Modern discourse linking the female tongue with the male organ, Ackerman suggests that Pompilia's speech before her death is her "unlawful appropriation of phallic authority" (p. 129).
Another article on The Ring and the Book, Stephen Jeffcoate's "Stranger than Truth: Retrieving the Fictions of The Ring and the Book" (SBHC 27 [December 2006]: 63-74), revisits the poem's historical sources, focusing in particular on Pompilia's love letters and asking why Browning ignored their authenticity and chose to present them as Guido's forgery. Referring to the much discussed polysemy of "truth" in the text, Jeffcoate goes along with the reading that Browning decided to represent spiritual truth rather than objective fact. He characterizes Browning as reasoning by deduction rather than by induction, as a scientist would. In his conclusion, Jeffcoate is rather unfair on Browning when he states that contemporary developments in the sciences and theology "largely passed him by" and that he "retreated into a child-like refusal to confront anything that could upset his world picture" (p. 71). This is a surprising statement given that there are clear traces of his serious engagement with theology in Book X of The Ring and the Book and ample evidence of the poet's response to contemporary debates in his other works.
One of the poems which engage with Higher Criticism is "A Death in the Desert." Robert Inglesfield's "The Parenthetical Interpolations in Robert Browning's 'A Death in the Desert'" (SBHC 27 [December 2006]: 53-62) is his third article explicating this poem. Together with his examination of allusions (VN 102 [Fall 2002]: 27-28) and interpolated speeches (VP 41, no. 3 [Fall 2003]: 333-347), this article helps elucidate the theological context and complex narrative set-up of the poem.
Literary context is the subject of Joseph Phelan's "Richard Henry Stoddard and the Brownings" (BSN 33 [April 2008]: 58-69), which shines light on the mutual influences between Browning and his minor American contemporary Stoddard. The case of a poem by Stoddard which was mistakenly attributed to Browning and which may have been written as a pastiche of the famous poet's style leads Phelan to a consideration of Browning's influence and reputation in the United States. More surprisingly, Phelan identifies a dramatic monologue by Stoddard which seems to be the inspiration for "Caliban upon Setebos."
Another article which focuses on a single poem is Warren U. Ober and John H. Panabaker's "Browning's 'Home-Thoughts, from the Sea': A Warning against Hubris" (ANQ 21, no. 1 : 37-41). This concisely argued piece takes issue with the common reading of this poem as a straightforward expression of patriotism, suggesting instead that it should be read as a reminder that even the mighty British empire is ephemeral.
Browning features in several monographs on nineteenth-century authors this year. Deborah Scaperoth's Not So Immaculately Conceived: Imagining the Protestant Madonna 1850-1910 (Saarbrucken: VDM, 2007) uses Browning as an example of a Protestant male writer who, through his caricatures of sexualized Madonnas, shapes the perception of this figure in Victorian culture. Scaperoth's analysis could have devoted more space to the complexity of Browning's depiction of female characters that draw on the virgin/whore stereotypes. She reaches her conclusion that "Browning's women do not aspire to their own goals and are used ... to flesh out the failed dreams of the male characters" (p. 118) without having engaged with those critics who interpret Browning's work as much more sympathetic towards women.
David Miller's With Poetry and Philosophy: Four Dialogic Studies--Wordsworth, Browning, Hopkins and Hardy (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2007) reads Browning's poetry in terms of Hegel's ideas, pointing out the centrality of the Hegelian notions of negation, infinity, dialectic, self-consciousness, and history in critical discourse about Browning. Miller dismisses views on the dialectical aspect of Browning's poetry put forward by major monographs on the poet (while surprisingly not referring to Isobel Armstrong's Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics) to present his own reading of Browning as engaging in a truly open-ended dialectic.
Contrasting with Miller's theoretical approach, Kerry McSweeney's What Is the Import? Nineteenth-Century Poems and Contemporary Critical Practice (Montreal: McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 2008) critiques the impulse to impose interpretive patterns on poetry. He uses "Childe Roland," "A Toccata of Galuppi's" and "Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha" as convincing illustrations of his thesis that the possibility of establishing meaning is not the sole criterion of a poem's value.
Browning is also briefly discussed in two contributions to the essay collection Romantic Echoes in the Victorian Era (ed. Andrew Radford and Mark Sandy [Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008]). Julie Crane's "'Wandering between Two Worlds': The Victorian Afterlife of Thomas Chatterton" (pp. 27-37) draws a parallel between Browning's view of Chatterton and the deception practiced by Mr. Sludge. Michael O'Neill's "'Infinite Passion': Variations on a Romantic Topic in Robert Browning, Emily Bronte, Swinburne, Hopkins, Wilde, and Dowson" (pp. 175-189) reads his statement about the difficulty of expressing emotion in "Two in the Campagna" as an elaboration of Shelley's idea in Epipsychidion.
Finally, mention should be made of Serena Marchesi's "'Go, Say This, Pilgrim Dear!': Strutture attoriali dantesche in 'Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli' di Robert Browning" (Strumenti Critici 22, no. 1  [January 2007]: 49-66). This is a painstakingly detailed structuralist analysis of the poem, which seems very remote indeed from the majority of today's Browning criticism and demonstrates the continuing breadth of critical approaches to his work.
I would like to thank Cynthia Burgess of the Armstrong Browning Library for alerting me to some of the publications covered in this review.
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|Title Annotation:||English poetry|
|Article Type:||Recommended readings|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2008|
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