Provocatively "extending its discursive purchase beyond the more traditional locus of humanistic inquiry," Jason David Hall's Nineteenth-Century Verse and Technology: Machines of Meter (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) "examines the ways in which machine culture impacted on fundamental conceptions of what poetic meter was and how it worked" (p. 2). As does Carlyle in "Signs of Times" (1829)--cited as early as p. 1--Hall metonymically enlarges the meaning of "machine" to encompass both literal (the Euphonia automaton) and figurative (Patmore's New Prosody), institutional (schoolboy Gradus grinding) and individual (phrenological analysis of Tennyson's poetic head) phenomena. A similarly capacious definition of "meter" prevails: "meter as understood here denotes considerably more than a pattern of stress or accent in a given line of poetry.... [I]magine it as a set of processes including meter as idea or abstraction, as a mental or physiological predisposition or experience, or as a practice or habit of reading or pedagogical instruction" (p. 3). Rather than devoting its energies to "close readings of poems by major Victorian poets," the book instead "focuses on how particular nineteenth-century 'technologies'--namely, education, manufacture, and experimental science--effected the 'manipulation' of language in the forms of prosody, versification, and rhythm through concrete practices and techniques such as speech instruction and acoustical analysis--in a few cases by means of an actual machine" (pp. 3, 6). Hall's five unnumbered chapters present a series of interconnected case studies illustrating the Victorians' often mechanically inflected approach to metrical thinking. "Measurement, Temporality, Abstraction" examines Coventry Patmore's "Essay on English Metrical Law" (1857) in "relation to three iconic technologies of the age--the railway, the telegraph, and the steam thresher" (p. 18). This is followed by "Meter Manufactories," which reconstructs the eighty years of "education methods and experimental teaching practices" concerned with Latin composition, whose mania for syllabic disassembly and interchangeable phonetic parts connects "nineteenth-century liberal curriculum" with "the nineteenth-century factory system" (p. 63). At the heart of Nineteenth-Century Verse and Technology, bibliographically but also intellectually and even affectively, is the chapter entitled "Automaton Versifier," in which Hall uses John Clark's Eureka machine--constructed to produce perfect, if metrically monotonous, hexameters--to interrogate Victorian ideas of "work, diversion, automation, and intelligence" (p. 113). Brought into "direct and prolonged contact with this truly amazing apparatus" by a grant-supported project dedicated to its conservation and return to working order, Hall provides a fascinatingly detailed account of its inner workings and its prescient anticipations of modern debates over machine intelligence (p. 256). The book's remaining two chapters, "The Automatic Flow of Verse" and "Instrumental Prosody," concern themselves with broadly scientific, including medical, and more specifically audiological approaches to meter, respectively. Whether phrenologist, elocutionist, audiologist, physiologist, or psychologist, Hall asserts, "the 'fact' of meter's manifestation-whether intended or not--was a productive site of analysis at the intersection of literary and scientific perspectives" (p. 197). Unfortunately for these more scientific prosodists, however, even when measured by a kymograph, the "materiality of voiced rhythm and the abstraction of the metrical modulus refused to find resolution in a unified verse theory" (p. 242).
Although its sometimes exuberant pentameters do not appear at all in Hall's text, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh (1856) looms large in The Victorian Verse-Novel: Aspiring to Life (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2017) by Stephanie Markovits. Not only does EBB's midcentury chef d'oeuvre provide the book's subtitle, first literary reference, and most prominent (if problematic) generic exemplar, Aurora Leigh also functions as argumentative infrastructure, the primary load-bearing text on which to hang both works whose affiliations with the form are less secure and those with which twenty-first-century readers may be less familiar. Appropriately, Markovits first deploys Aurora's "burning lava of a song" in the introduction in order to construct a definition: "lineated, ... long, ... show[ing] self-conscious kinship with the novel, even if only the wavering kinship of a prodigal son who refuses to return to the fold" (p. 3); verse-novels, Markovits asserts, manifest Bakhtinian "inconclusiveness," with many--although not Aurora Leigh--interspersing "blank-verse narrative sections with embedded or intercalary songs and short poems" (p. 6), all while "expressing a broad range of cultural concerns that prominently include, but were not limited to, anxieties surrounding gender and marriage" (p. 7). Distinguished from the epic, then, on the grounds of their formal hybridity and concentration on domesticity, verse-novels affiliate with a more recent set of "Romantic period precursor forms," among which Markovits identifies Scott's metrical romances, including both The Lady of the Lake (1810) and his republication of Anna Seward's Louisa: A Poetic Novel in Four Epistles (1784); George Crabbe's less romantic Tales of the Borough (1810) and Tales of the Hall (1819); Byron's Don Juan (1819-1824), especially the later, English cantos; and, most proximately, Wordsworth's poetic adaptation of kiinstlerroman conventions in The Prelude (1850) (p. 18). The numbered chapters of The Victorian Verse-Novel are arranged according to their "temporal" or "spatial" concerns, with chapters 1 and 2 examining the problematic "temporalities of love" in Violet Fane's Denzel Place: Story in Verse (1875) and Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House (1854-1861), respectively (p. 21). Heavily indebted to Aurora Leigh, the former offers one of the "more sympathetic accounts of adultery in Victorian literature," whereas the latter famously glorifies conjugal fidelity (p. 33); both, according to Markovits, employ the "illegitimate" form of the verse-novel in ways that highlight the seriality of romantic love (p. 37). Neither temporal nor spatial, chapter 3 compares how Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King (1859-1885) and Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book (1867-1868) "dramatically fracture narrative form in a way that puts the reader's quest for truth in place of the epic hero's quest" (p. 128). The book's final two chapters are spatial in the sense that chapter 4 offers "a rapid tour through a series of Victorian versenovels"--Arthur Hugh Clough's Amours de Voyage (1858), Owen Meredith's Lucile (1860) and Glenaveril (1885), George Eliot's The Spanish Gypsy (1868), and, of course, Aurora Leigh--"that take travel as both method and subject" (p. 171); chapter 5 itself travels across the pond to consider three American verse novels explicitly influenced by EBB's example: Josiah Holland's Kathrina: Her Life and Mine, in a Poem (1867), Lucy Larcom's An Idyl of Work (1875), and Epes Sargent's The Woman Who Dared (1870). Markovits ends the book with a brief afterword, which asserts that, "rather than the literary dead end it is so often assumed to be, the Victorian verse-novel offered a new model for generic experimentation" that would be taken up in modernist fiction by Virginia Woolf, Henry James, Ford Madox Ford, and James Joyce (p. 275).
If Markovits reconstructs the attempts of some Victorian poets to respond to the increasing popularity and sheer bulk of the period's prose fiction by extending their verse to prodigal lengths, then Victoria Alfano, in The Lyric in Victorian Memory: Poetic Remembering and Forgetting from Tennyson to Housman (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), recovers some of their contemporaries' efforts to "use formal diminution to liberate themselves from novelistic social obligations" and the hegemony of "plot-based literature" (pp. 11, 4). In fact, their respective monographs form a complementary pairing as intuitively satisfying as that connecting memory with forgetting, a mnemonic coupling that, when manifested in lyrics of "amnesiac nostalgia," is the focus of Alfano's study (p. 4). Initially defined by formal and conceptual departures from prose fiction, epic verse, and dramatic monologue, as well as by a lack of length, "lyric," for Alfano, ultimately refers to "small poems in which iteration, enigmatic suggestion, and formal patterning take precedence over character-driven depiction of sequential incidents" and whose brevity, "which can seem self-effacing and inconspicuous, is also the memorable adaptation that lets verse survive in a hostile literary environment" (pp. 8, 26). Invoking earlier work on nostalgia by Nicholas Dames, Helen Groth, and Linda A. Austin, Alfano asserts that the Victorian lyric's "preference for meticulously patterned formal design ... fragments the past it seeks to recapture," often through "a cryptic withholding version of subjectivity that dissociates [the Victorian lyric] from the expressive traits often linked to the Romantics" (pp. 4-6). Rarely Wordsworth's "man speaking to men," the Victorian lyric poet, regardless of authorial gender, was more often identified as (ef)feminine, and Alfano traces the mutual imbrication of gender and genre throughout selected poetry by Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Arthur Symons, and A. E. Housman. Each of these poets serves as the subject for one of the book's chronologically arranged body chapters. "Somewhat perversely," Alfano admits, chapter 2 concentrates on two of Tennyson's longer poems, The Princess: A Medley (1847) and In Memoriam A.H.H. (1850) (p. 37). In the former, "short lyrics," often spoken by or linked with children, "both shape and radically destabilize a lengthy versified narrative regarding women's proper place in society" and "provide a new perspective on issues of both gender and genre when viewed through the lens of memory" (p. 60). Alfano's reading of In Memoriam similarly fastens on the interanimating motifs of childhood, poetry, and memory and the ways in which Tennyson's "disjointed and generically undecided elegy is saddened that it cannot reliably regain the lost days it romanticizes" (p. 141). Chapter 3 pivots from Tennyson to Christina Rossetti, who deploys "anonymous, apparently diffident, iterative smallness," primarily in Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), in a parodie response to the gendered poetic problem of the poetess, constructed by Victorian reviewers, publishers, readers, and often writers as synonymous with lyric itself (p. 166). Alfano finally characterizes Rossetti, with her "preference for short stanzaic poems, her iterative diction, and her elegiac tone," as "a transitional figure: loitering on the way to paradise, she prefigures a Decadent sensibility that eschews heavenly aspirations entirely" (p. 195). This finde-siecle aesthetic is on full display in chapters 4 and 5, which investigate the quasi-photographic retrospection present in Symons's London Nights (1895) and Silhouettes (1896, rev. ed.) and the "determined impersonality, formal conciseness ... and feminized lyric eroticism" of Housman's A Shropshire Lad (1896), respectively (p. 41). Alfano compares the process of initial repression and subsequent "invasive remembrance" present in Symons's poetry to the contemporary technology of instantaneous photography, itself a suspect form of "external memory" (pp. 210-211). Housman's tightly controlled poems, centered on "a series of dead lads," are alliteratively characterized by Alfano as "memorializations manque" that allow the poet both to stifle and to intimate male-male desire (p. 272). Without a formal afterword or conclusion, The Lyric in Victorian Memory presents its most far-reaching insights into the "Victorian memory crisis" at the end of the introductory chapter, where Alfano remarks on the "breakdown of faith in poetry's ability to safeguard lost time" and points toward future research that might be done on the medieval poetry and socialist propaganda of William Morris (p. 42). Both will, one hopes, be the subject of work still to come.
Lyric brevity not only acts as an aid to memory, however imperfect, but also ensures poetry's place among the Victorians' "portable property," including that taken with them on voyages of emigration. Jason Rudy's Imagined Homelands: British Poetry in the Colonies (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2017) reexamines many of the predominantly lyric poems brought and produced by Britons seeking a new life overseas. Chronologically focused on the period between the First and Second Reform Acts (1832-1867) and geographically concentrated on the emigrant colonies of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa, Rudy recovers the lively poetic culture that accompanied settlers on their transoceanic journeys. Through a combination of close reading and historical poetics, the book "takes as its foundational object the individual poem and its permutations," through which it reconstructs a concept of "homeland" that is "sometimes parodie, sometimes imitative, but most often knowingly asserting connections between home and abroad, or between an original home and a new homeland to come" (pp. 7, 6). Nostalgia in the sense discussed by Alfano is thus tempered in Rudy's chosen lyrics by a forward-looking, aspirational construction of "the place of arrival that might become, through hard work and perhaps only after the passing of significant time, a place of genuine belonging" (p. 5). Each of the six chapters of Imagined Homelands adopts its own point of entry into this ideologically inflected process of colonial becoming. Chapter 1 offers a fascinating history of the shipboard newspapers edited and produced by the colonists themselves; the poetry featured in these papers, Rudy asserts, combined nostalgia with "a revisionary mode" and often deployed parody to simultaneously maintain "an umbilical attachment" to Britain, assert a new colonial identity, and express anxiety about the "loss of literary culture" that might necessarily result from emigration (pp. 24-26). Chapter 2 recounts the efforts made in early colonial cities to combat this potential cultural deprivation; "plagiarism," Rudy writes, can operate "as a sort of virtue" in an emigrant context, even as the rather casual attitude adopted toward intellectual ownership occasionally resulted in ironic non sequiturs, as when the American poet William Cullen Bryant became "the first anthologized writer of English poetry in the South African colony" (pp. 15,48). Chapter 3 uses the example of Scottish dialect poetry to provide "a corrective to narratives of a roughly unified 'British' culture that was transported the world over" (p. 16); Scottish dialect poetry's own global spread is synecdochically represented by its presence in South Africa's Cape Colony in the 1820s, New Zealand's Otago province in the 1850s and 1860s, and Canada's Toronto region, also in the 1850s and 1860s. Chapter 4 reveals how second-generation colonists poetically redefined the notion of "native" in such a way that white emigrants born abroad could elide the much-lengthier claims of indigenous populations; within this chapter, Rudy recovers the much more ambivalent construction of nativeness that occurred in South Africa, where, for "reasons about which we can only speculate, English-speaking poets ... tended not to think of themselves as 'native' to that land" (p. 128). Chapter 5 examines the role of "colonial laureates," poets who "took upon themselves the role of colonial spokesperson," whether invited to do so or not (p. 5); such "arbiters of poetic taste and culture" included R. H. Home in Melbourne, Susanna Moodie in Toronto, Fidelia Hill in Adelaide, and Charles Sangster in Upper Canada (p. 17). Finally, in chapter 6, Rudy moves beyond the period of Reform to consider the contributions made by emigrant poetry to the racialized and nationalistic construction of a "Greater Britain" predicated on "loyalty to the queen and shared Anglo-Saxon blood" at the end of the century (p. 17); after offering a brief account of Anglo-Saxonism as "a global Victorian phenomenon," Rudy more precisely maps its manifestations and tensions in poetry from the newly independent nations of Canada and Australia. A brief conclusion leaves readers to consider how the 1870 reprinting of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" in the Wallaroo Times and Mining Journal "allows us to imagine on a global scale the communities of feeling that," through poetry, "sustained nineteenth-century emigrant cultures" by fostering "a deeply consoling global collectivity" (p. 192).
Consolation of a different sort was available to Victorian authors of religious poetry, defined by Amanda Paxton, in Willful Submission: Sado-Erotics and Heavenly Marriage in Victorian Religious Poetry (Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 2017), as "poetry that concerns religious systems of belief, be it overtly or covertly, with or without [an] attendant religious commitment" (pp. 9-10). Paxton's book positions itself within the "efflorescence in recent decades of research into religious writing and gender in the nineteenth century," and specifically with respect to Peter Gay's The Bourgeois Experience, John Maynard's Victorian Discourses of Sexuality and Religion, Frederick Roden's Same-Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture, and Elizabeth Gray's Christian and Lyric Tradition in Victorian Women's Poetry, and investigates the reemergence of the "brideof-Christ schema" in Victorian culture, especially poetry (p. 10). Paxton deploys a range of interchangeable terms--including "bridal metaphor," "bridalism," "nuptial Christianity," "nuptialism," "erotic devotionalism," "spousal schema," and "affective tradition"--to represent this fascination with "the metaphor of God as Lover" who demands "suffering, submission, and subsumption" from a feminized partner (pp. 3-4). The resurgence of this tropological combination of "sado-erotics" and "masochristianity" in the Victorian period is accounted for historically, with causes ranging from the general medieval revival to the specific republication of "medieval bridal mystics such as Julian of Norwich," themselves exemplars of the "pre-Reformation ritual and tradition" advocated by the Oxford Movement; from the secularizing approach to reading scripture fostered by the "higher criticism" to the widespread "nineteenth-century interest in the Incarnation"; as well as the instrumental utility of "biblical metaphor to explain and naturalize contemporary British cultural practices," among them gender binarism and spousal hierarchy in a time of radical social change (pp. 5-6). Paxton's first chapter, "Bridal Desires," surveys the roughly nine-hundred-year history of her central metaphor, beginning with the Brautmystik tradition of the ninth century and working forward through Julian of Norwich and a selection of her thirteenth- and fourteenth-century English contemporaries, post-Reformation Church of England poets such as John Donne and Richard Crashaw, and, finally, the secularization of bridalism in "Enlightenment-era theorizations of the sublime" (p. 33). The remaining three chapters of Willful Submission concentrate on "three pairings of Victorian poets and poetic communities whose respective uses of the motif reflect divergent yet influential mobilizations and astoundingly progressive remobilizations of the paradigm" of erotic devotionalism (p. 12). Chapter 2 juxtaposes Broad Church appropriations of the spousal schema, represented by Charles Kingsley's anticlerical verse drama The Saint's Tragedy (1848) and other works on St. Elizabeth, with the Evangelically informed but comparatively nuanced figuration of convent life in Eliza Keary's "Christine and Mary" (1874). In chapter 3, Paxton distinguishes between the "sadistic aesthetic" of "conventional Tractarian bridalism" and the "masochistic aesthetic" found in Christina Rossetti's "counter-Tractarian writing of nuptial deferral," including "The Prince's Progress" (1868), "Monna Innominata" (1881), and the 1893 collection Verses (pp. 99, 129). Finally, chapter 4 contrasts "the sado-erotics of Victorian bridal mysticism" developed in Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House (1854-1862) and The Unknown Eros (1877) with the "uniquely 'queer' vision of masochristianity discernible in Gerard Manley Hopkins's "The Queen's Crowning" (1864), "The Wreck of the Deutchland" (1875-1876), "Andromeda" (1879), and other poems (p. 138). Paxton's conclusion samples a range of "nuptial reimaginings" evident in late-century poetry written by women, Catholic converts, self-styled Decadents, and others, before reflecting on the continued currency, if shifting valence, of the bridal trope in twenty-first-century religious discourse (p. 186).
Finally, A History of British Working Class Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017), edited by John Goodridge and Bridget Keegan, contains three essays of particular relevance for scholars of Victorian poetry. Chapter 13, '"And aft Thy Dear Doric aside I Hae Flung, to Busk oot My Sang wi' the Prood Southron Tongue': The Antiphonal Muse in Janet Hamilton's Poetics," by Kaye Kossick, reconstructs the "stunningly prolific late-life renaissance" of the Scots-born Janet Thomson Hamilton, who began her publishing career in her fifties, after thirty years of marriage, five children, and the better part of a lifetime spent witnessing the industrial exploitation of Lanarkshire (p. 209). Her four books of poetry and essays, along with additional prose sketches of "Scottish Peasant Life and Character," all written between 1850 and 1870, succeed, Kossick argues, "in exposing the savage material conditions of life after the coming of the machine, by employing vernacular language of such 'heft' that her words embody the materiality they condemn" (p. 223). Chartism's first so-called Labour Laureate, Thomas Cooper, is the subject of chapter 14, Mike Sanders's '"The Guilty Game of Human Subjugation': Religion as Ideology in Thomas Cooper's The Purgatory of Suicides." Cooper's nearly nine-thousand-line The Purgatory of Suicides (1845), written while he was imprisoned in Stafford Gaol, appropriates "key components of the cultural (which is to say, hegemonic) sources of ruling class legitimacy," most notably classicism and Christianity, in the service of "working class emancipation" (pp. 228, 246). Concentrating in particular on the verse epic's complex critique of institutionalized religion, Sanders reveals that although Cooper "tries to provide an anthropological explanation for religious belief," the figure of Christ "operates within the poem as a kind of Derridean 'supplement' continually threatening to overwhelm the established logic of the text" (p. 239). In fact, Cooper's reverential figurations of Christ appear consonant at times with the motif of bridal nuptialism explored by Paxton. A frequent contributor to the Leicestershire Mercury, as well as the Northern Star, Cooper might well have qualified to feature in chapter 16, "The Newspaper Press and the Victorian Working Class Poet," by Kirstie Blair (connected by previous scholarship to the Hamilton Advertiser and Airdrie Advertiser, Janet Hamilton is mentioned on p. 268). Acknowledging that "it is difficult to make a case for the significance of most newspaper verse on aesthetic grounds," Blair argues that such poetry "provides valuable insights into why and how editors supported particular kinds of working class verse culture" (p. 265). This point builds on Blair's own earlier work on the People's Journal and People's Friend--for which see last year's General Materials review--while also dramatically expanding the number of newspapers discussed; in addition to the two papers associated with Hamilton and the two Dundee publications, Blair also references the Star, the Morning Post, the Glasgow Weekly Mail, Glasgow's Penny Post, the Weekly News, the Inverness Courier, the Aberdeen Herald, and the Banffshire Journal. These and similar dailies and weeklies, Blair reminds us, were predominantly where members of the working class read poetry, "cutting their favorite poems out of newspaper columns and pasting them into scrapbooks or on the walls of their workplace" (p. 279). Such practices help to explain the enthusiasm with which the emigrants discussed by Rudy contributed to, participated in the production of, and consumed their own shipboard broadsheets. Together, the essays by Kossick, Sanders, and Blair hint at "the range of meanings in the floating signifier 'working class,'" which Goodridge and Keegan identify as "the central critical dynamic addressed by the volume" (p. 2).
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|Title Annotation:||Guide to the Year's Work|
|Author:||Pionke, Albert D.|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2018|
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