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Guide to the year's work.

General Studies in Poetry and Victorian Poetry

Michael Hurley and Michael O'Neill's Poetic Form: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) offers an overview of the study of poetic form, including controversies. This clearly written and engaging text includes chapters on lyric; on the sonnet and elegy as subsets of lyric; on drama in the guise of the soliloquy and dramatic monologue, and finally on ballad and narrative. Browning figures throughout this work, from brief references in a number of chapters, to more extensive readings focusing on "My Last Duchess," "Fra Lippo Lippi," and "Porphyria's Lover" in the section on the dramatic monologue (pp. 174-177). The Ring and the Book is noted for its central place in the history of the epic in Victorian poetry (p. 139).

Richard Cronin's impressive Reading Victorian Poetry (2012) is part of the Wiley-Blackwell Reading Poetry series, which has as its commendable aim the attempt to counter the "increasing reluctance to study poetry amongst undergraduate students." Cronin's study ranges widely over the history of Victorian poetry and includes perceptive and nuanced readings of individual poems in eight chapters. "The Divided Self and the Dramatic Monologue" (chap. 2) contains substantial material on Browning, including close readings of "My Last Duchess" (pp. 47-50) and a discussion of The Ring and the Book (pp. 50-52) as a poem that Cronin argues "engages an interest that stayed with Browning throughout his career, a concern with the ethics of reading" (p. 50). The chapter "Short Poems, Long Poems and the Victorian Sonnet Sequence" (chap. 4) alludes to Browning at various points. Just as some Victorian poets saw the figure of the poet as "his own epic subject," Victorian poets "began to produce collected editions of their poems from mid-career" (94). Thus, the first edition of Browning's Poetic Works appeared in 1863, a publishing practice that in effect "diverted attention from the individual poem to the poetic career, as if the proper object of the reader's admiration was not this poem or that, but a self-making process that was fully represented by a poet's work in its entirety" (pp. 94-95). Browning's translations (Balaustion's Adventure and Aristophanes' Apology) are noted in the chapter "Victorian Poetry and Translation" (chap. 5). The opening sequence of The Ring and the Book is discussed as beginning "in an act of translation" (p. 114). "'Word for word, / So ran the title-page,'" for Cronin "[begging] the question of what word for word translation might be" (p. 115). Cronin sees the problem of translating languages as The Ring and the Book's "radical metaphor": "signaling the still greater problem that every reader of the poem is made to confront of how far ... it is possible to understand another person" (p. 115). Cronin characterizes translation as "perhaps the most emphatic example of the double poem that the Victorians favoured," as it comprises "not a single text but rather a relationship between texts" (p. 115).

In "Victorian Poetry and Life" (chap. 6), Cronin depicts both Brownings as "fiercely contest[ing] the notion that world and spirit, soul and body, might be opposed" (p. 149), a concept he explores briefly in "Fra Lippo Lippi" and in Barrett Browning's poems on Browning, the Sonnets from the Portuguese. In these poems, "[Robert] Browning's love, in a characteristic phrase, 'brings souls to touch'" (p. 150). This chapter presents Browning's "Caliban Upon Setebos" (pp. 152-156), discussing the sensuality of Browning's writing as well as the movement of sympathy and understanding (or their failures) in Caliban's analysis of the natural world (p. 154). Chapter seven, "Poetry and Religion," includes a clear exegesis of Christmas-Eve (pp. 183-186), whose "doggerel" serves as "the most forceful expression of the unease [Browning] feels at the prospect of 'joining chorus,' of fitting his thoughts and feelings to a particular [religious] tune" (p. 185). Poems like "An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician," "Cleon," and "A Death in the Desert" function as poems that "engage contemporary theological debates" (p. 187) but that offer, for instance in "Karshish," "a more wide-ranging reflection on the relationship between soul and body" (p. 188). Cronin's talent for verbal economy and precise critical formulations is evident in his argument that in these works, "Browning is quietly intimating that the.., incarnation.., is shadowed in the writing of each and every successful poem because the incarnation and poetry both have the power to convert a world of contingency into a world of meaning" (p. 190).

Cronin's accessible and well-researched study follows Valentine Cunningham's highly readable, if at times idiosyncratic, Victorian Poetry Now: Poems, Poems, Poetics, also published by Wiley-Blackwell (2011). In what he terms a "critical-historical account," Cunningham is interested in offering readers ways to navigate the expansive field of Victorian poetry, providing them, in his words "with some map through this densely matted overgrowth and undergrowth.... To make out the figures in this very large carpet" (p. vi). Part of his mission, he notes quizzically in his Introduction, "is to show how poets, and so their poems, come marinaded in politics and economics, the wars of contemporary ideas, and how they're utterly conscious of their times. And poets, and so their poems [are] also highly self-conscious poetically, aesthetically ... positioning themselves and their work in relation to other writers and writings" (p. vii). Valentine's style is conversational and his work, as he notes, has grown out of his teaching of undergraduate and graduate students. As a synthesis of literary and cultural material, Victorian Poetry Now reads as an energetic and frequently amusing series of lectures on an encyclopedic range of Victorian poets and poems. Browning figures prominently throughout this work: in Victorian anecdotes about his verbosity (pp. 6-11); his responses to critics, including Ruskin (pp. 45-54); the "discordant notes" and "[punchy] roughness" of Browning's language (99-105). "[W]hat a gain for poetic force," Cunningham writes, "that Thomas Hardy never heeded the genteelling linguistic pressures of the Oxford Boys and their kind. And that, thankfully, Robert Browning didn't either" (p. 107).

Cunningham includes close readings of poems representing the full range of the poet's career. "Two in the Campagna" is considered for its concerns with "body doublings" (pp. 140-143); "aestheticized parts and detail" (p. 181) in "My Last Duchess" and "Porphyria's Lover"; the interplay of "violent attack verbs" and "sinisterly sexual gerunds" in "Sibrandus Schafnaburgensis." In chapter six "Selving," Cunningham argues for what he calls "the period's preoccupation with making and trying to define selves and selfhood" (p. 189). He considers the centrality of Browning's work to this preoccupation, following E. Warwick S linn's important work The Discourse of Self in Victorian Poetry (1991) and Browning and the Fictions of Identity (1982). His discussion encompasses Browning's reflections on self in Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession (pp. 190, 194-196) and The Ring and the Book, of which he writes: "the Book ... and now Browning's book--are Browning's stock-in-trade: narratives in which an I keeps reporting about me, me the poet, me, me, me the poem's characters" (p. 191). Among poems obsessed with the self, he lists "Life in a Love," "Too Late," "Fra Lippo Lippi" and includes a long section on "Mr. Sludge, the Medium" (pp. 202-206). Don Juan in Fifine at the Fair is discussed in detail as "perhaps the strongest case of a Browning persona representing the poet himself' (p. 194). While this statement is debatable, Cunningham's examination of Victorian poetic variations on Pater's "instability of the modern self' (p. 198), explored in part through Browning, is a reminder of how rich the field of self-presentation, identities, and performativities is within Browning's corpus for critics who wish to examine their philosophical complexities.

Through the work as a whole, Cunningham offers an array of thematic patterns within which to consider groups of poems. In the chapter "Fleshly Feelings" (chap. 7), he reflects on "the irrefutable thereness of the body," as "legible text" and "knowable sign-system," a "faith" he argues that was "widely shared by philosophy, medicine, criminology, the new psychology" (p. 266). Cunningham explores this trope in Browning through "Fra Lippo Lippi," "My Last Duchess," Christmas-Eve, and Aristophanes' Apology (pp. 268-275). Here a greater depth in research would strengthen the analysis of Browning. In the discussion of the body and incarnation, for example (p. 272), Cunningham does not touch on classic readings of Browning's incarnational poetics such as William Whitla's The Central Truth: The Incarnation in Robert Browning's Poetry (University of Toronto Press, 1963); nor does he cite, for instance, Jochen Haug's Passions Without a Tongue: Dramatisations of the Body in Robert Browning's Poetry, a work that presents as Mary Ellis Gibson has observed, original readings of the body in Browning's writing (Peter Lang 2004; see Victorian Poetry 42 [2004]: 365). Bodily eroticism in Browning is read through Pippa Passes, "Gold Hair: A Story of Pornic" (pp. 301-302; 305, 312, 315) and poems with the motif of hair. Browning's "ruins" are addressed throughout chapter eight "Morning and Melancholia," including the figure of ruins in Red Cotton Night-Cap County (p. 374). Lazarus "haunts" the Victorian period as a "difficult, even tormenting model" in terms of religious doubt (p. 383), and in this context, Cunningham considers Browning's Lazarus in "An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish" (pp. 384-386); literary resuscitation in The Ring and the Book (p. 395); and Victorian fears about death's finality as explored in "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church" (pp. 405-406). If "Victorian poetry comprises a great theatre of ghost stories" (p. 392), the echoes of Barrett Browning's loss that are present in Browning's later poems (pp. 392-394) form part of this story. Browning also figures in an examination of what Cunningham terms "Congregationalist Aesthetics" (pp. 421-423). Final chapters consider the genesis of modernist "hermeneutic hesitation and doubt" in "the condition of Victorian poetry" itself (p. 463), reflecting on the well-known impact of Browning's diction and "modernist character-making" (p. 466) on early twentieth-century artists. Particularly interesting is Cunningham's extensive reading of The Ringand the Book (pp. 474-82) in relation to Henry James' "The Novel in The Ring and the Book," the poem's highlighting of textuality, and its relevance to work on ekphrasis (p. 482).

Book Chapters

In addition to the critical editions noted, Gregory Tate's The Poet's Mind: The Psychology of Victorian Poetry 1830-1870 (Oxford, 2012) and Kirstie Blair's Form and Faith in Victorian Poetry and Religion (Oxford, 2012) are two of the year's most significant critical works. Tate's study includes two chapters on Browning: "Tennyson, Browning, and the Poetry of Reflection" (Chap. 1, pp. 23-57) and "Browning's Epic Psychology" (pp. 153-181). The Poet's Mind presents a clear exposition of key theories of mind in the nineteenth-century, ranging from the work of John Stuart Mill, David Hartley. and W. J. Fox, to G. H. Lewes and Herbert Spencer. In the 1830s, Tate argues, both Browning and Tennyson depart from a view of poetry "as the foundation of ... an affective community" and "[refigure] the Romantic focus on interiority" as "the psychological analysis of mental processes" (p. 25). Tate identifies a crucial gap in current criticism of Victorian poetry, consisting in the "conspicuous neglect" of the interplay between poetry and the rise of psychology as a discipline (p. 5). He notes the coincidence of Victorian poets' using "strategies and forms that subjected the operations of the mind to unprecedented ... scrutiny" at the same time as the discipline of psychology achieved greater purchase in Victorian culture, and he ties both developments to a nineteenth-century "reconception" of the human mind. During this period, "the poetry of psychological analysis" becomes "one of the most influential poetic modes in Victorian Britain" (p. 3). Tate contends that both Browning and Tennyson experienced "thought as ... a modification of sensibility, a physical sensation registered in the workings of the body" (p. 6), and he sees both poets as "[setting] the tone" in their work of the 1830s for much of the psychological verse that followed later in the century (p. 20). Tate's philosophically sophisticated and tightly argued study will play an important role in restoring Browning to a place within the history of ideas in the period, beyond considering the poet's role in generic innovations, the more common critical preoccupation in work on Browning.

In "Tennyson, Browning, and the Poetry of Reflection," Tate considers the "self-analytical focus" of Pauline in the context of associationist psychology, particularly as articulated by Arthur Hallam and W. J. Fox and including "the associationist idea that psychology is shaped by bodily conditions and physical sensations" (p. 39). Tate traces this genealogy in Pauline, arguing that the poet-speaker also "defines himself in terms of a Coleridgean self-consciousness" (p. 36). The representation of thought processes in the poem suggests "that psychological mutability is inherent in the act of thinking": the constant accumulation of thoughts as "discrete and finite units" "points to an associationist theory of mind," while the speaker "[clings] to the notion that his mind is endowed with agency and purpose" (pp. 38-39). Tate identifies this understanding of psychology as contributing to the development of the dramatic monologue, in part as a device that permits the poet to question speakers "who refuse to acknowledge the fragility and mutability of their minds" (p. 40). In a superb analysis of the movement of thought in Browning's Sordello (pp. 51-57), Tate sees a tension between "flawed intellection and felt intuition" as "played out in the poem's form" and "tortuous" language and in reflections on perception, thought, and language (pp. 51-52).

In "Browning's Epic Psychology (Chap. 5)," Tate discusses responses to The Ring and the Book as marking a crucial shift in "Victorian poetic culture" towards critical acceptance of poetry as an analytical as well as expressive medium, one that could "[record and analyze] the movements of individual minds" (p. 154) in a manner that was no longer viewed as "solipsistic and alienating" (p. 156). Tate argues that "the problem of articulating and understanding thought" is central to the poem itself, pointing to elements of physiological theories of psychology that "figure thought as a form of a form of bodily action" (p. 159). Tate documents some fascinating cultural sources for physiological theories of the brain traceable through various monologues in the poem, including books in Browning's possession (pp. 167-169). He investigates the relationship between the presentation of thought in the poem as a physiological process (p. 168) and similar accounts current in writing on psychology in the 1860s. Tate's careful elaboration of these discourses within the poem as a negotiation of "the gap between physical and metaphysical modes of mind" and as an attempted reconciliation of "scientific psychology with a religious conception of mind" (p. 181) constitutes an original and significant contribution to criticism on The Ring and the Book.

Kirstie Blair's Form and Faith in Victorian Poetry and Religion begins with the striking argument that "when Victorian poetry speaks of faith, it tends to do so in steady and regular rhythms; when it speaks of doubt, it is ... more likely to deploy irregular, unsteady, unbalanced rhythms" (p. 1). From this observation about the relation between formal issues and the subject matter of Victorian poetry, Blair challenges established views that emphasize religious doubt, arguing that this critical heritage has not only distorted "our understanding of the significance of religious devotion in the century's creative work" (p. 3), but has also led to the neglect of a significant body of Victorian devotional poetry (p. 4). She includes deft readings of individual works as she traces interrelations between form and faith: reading the regular rhythms in Keble's poetry, for instance, as "[staging] the reader's, and the poet's, submission to God's will through a drama of delicate metrical adjustments" and contending that "repeating the same simple strains offer[ed] a means to develop a kind of habitual, instinctive faith" (pp. 42, 45). Blair's arguments have important implications for the study of form in Victorian poetry, both in terms of fine detail in individual works and the ideological effects of rhythm and meter. Blair argues, for instance, that "deliberately to approach literary forms--especially Victorian literary forms--with the view that they are disruptive and disorderly forces is again to value doubt over faith" (p. 15) and thus to participate in a view of Victorian poetics that has been highly colored by modernist and later aesthetics.

In her elaborations on Tractarian poetry and its contexts (chap. 1), the language of architecture as "form" (chap. 2), and the rhythms of poetry and liturgy (chap. 3), Blair reinterprets the context within which canonical poets like Browning produced their work, arguing for the importance of understanding these writers within traditions of "popular religious poetics" (chap. 5). The chapter "Dissenting Forms: The Brownings" (chap. 4, pp. 122-162) treats both Brownings together, arguing they "perceived religion as the sine qua non of poetry, and saw poetry as vital for the understanding and practice of religion" (p. 122). Blair makes an interesting distinction between Browning's religious poetry of the 1830s and 1840s and that written "post-marriage" in the 1850s. Both writers "emerge as powerful advocates for religious ideals broadly held by Congregational or Independent dissent in the early to mid-nineteenth century"; in Christmas-Eve and Easter Day, however, "the question of poetic and religious form becomes central" (p. 122). Blair singles out Christmas-Eve as Browning's "only poem to describe contemporary British religious worship" (p. 123), seeing this work's "playfulness and tenuous acceptance of dissenting forms of worship as important interventions in mid-century questions about forms of participation in Christianity and about the form of religious poems" (p. 124). Blair reviews Browning's dissenting background, together with evidence for his religious attitudes drawn primarily from Barrett Browning's letters, noting that the Brownings' "rejection of the necessity for particular forms and sacraments" put the couple "in line with mainstream dissenting thought" (p. 131). Attitudes towards the material detail of religious practice in "The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church' (p. 138), "Holy-Cross Day," or the "Epilogue" to Dramatis Personae as "one of Browning's clearest religious statements" (p. 140), suggest that "[f]orms alone can only encourage a sensuous and material experience which tends towards external profession, rather than creating the vital internal affect that will lead towards transcendence" (p. 139). While the chapter emphasizes Barrett slightly more than Browning, it contains an extended analysis of Christmas-Eve (pp. 142-152). Blair's argument turns on the contrast between the poem's content, which is about "a choice to participate in a particular form of worship," and its form, which "returns [the speaker] to the grotesque, comic, lower-class milieu of the dissenting congregation" (p. 143). Blair's discussion of the rhythms of worship in the poem (pp. 147-148) is superb, as is her highlighting of the discourse of "form" in the poem (pp. 14849) and the interrelations of meter and patterns in rhyme with "the speaker's fluctuating state of mind" (p. 150). "Any section of Christmas-Eve," she argues, "could afford similar examples of Browning's care in matching verse form to action" (p. 151).

The essays in Venice and the Cultural Imagination: 'This Strange Dream upon the Water' (Pickering & Chatto, 2012) set out to explore the aesthetic resonances of Venice in the imagination of creative writers. What do artistic responses to Venice say about "the function of the imagination in Western culture" and what do writers and artists find in the play of "light and water" that characterizes this city (p. 2)? The collection includes Michael O'Neill's elegant essay, "Venice, Dickens, Robert Browning and the Victorian Imagination" (pp. 79-94), which examines the "virtual prose poems" of Dickens' "Pictures from Italy" in their "aqueous convergence of inner and outer" (p. 80) that turns prose "into a poetry of the city" (p. 79). O'Neill takes this aesthetic dreaminess, also present in Little Dorrit, and cleverly flips it into a (brief) reading of the Venice sequence in SordeUo, passing from the watery melting of views in Pippa Passes, to erotic meldings in "In A Gondola," and an analysis of "A Toccata of Galuppi" as an "entwining of moods and tones" (p. 90) that asserts "art's wisdom" as well "the impact on religious hope of physics and biology" (p. 92). O'Neill reads Browning with a poet's sensibility, a characteristic that is sometimes lacking in Browning criticism.

Recognition of Browning's remarkable creative insights and their impact is evident in chapters on other writers in the collection. Pamela Knight's "Edith Wharton's 'Venetian Backgrounds'" (pp. 141-155) notes how Browning's Venice echoes in Wharton's imagination. In Wharton's words "the glittering Venice of the 'Toccata of Galuppi' lies outspread like a butterfly with the bloom on its wings'" (p. 113). In these musings on Venice, Knights observes, "Browning's music inserts itself, in an isomorph of the poem's own interpolations, encouraging the sentence to spin itself out in paratactic fancies" (p. 113), and she explores the "uncanny haunting" of this essay by "Browning's ghost" (p. 115). "Browning's Venice" also emerges in Jason Harding's "The Myth of Venice and the Decline of Eliot and Pound" (pp. 141-155) as an intertext to Eliot's "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" (pp. 143-146) and in the work of Pound, for whom "Browning helped ... to find his voice in Venice" (p. 150).

Michael Allis' British Music and Literary Context: Artistic Connections in the Long Nineteenth Century (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2012) contains a chapter entitled "Bantock and Browning: Reformulated Dramatic Monologue in Fifine at the Fair" (pp. 133-188), examining in detail the orchestral drama "Fifine at the Fair" (1901) by British composer Granville Bantock (1868-1946). It is interesting that Bantock not only set Fifine to music but also produced numerous compositions based on poems by Browning. Christopher Keirstead's Victorian Poetry, Europe, and the Challenge of Cosmopolitanism (Ohio State Press, 2011) contains a revised version of the fine essay "Browning at the Border: Red Cotton Night-Cap Country" (pp. 90-113) published in Victorian Poetry in 2005 (see "Year's Work "VP 44 [2006]: 336-337). Keirstead claims that Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, "more so than any other Browning monologue" "underscores the intricate ways in which the dramatic monologue form reproduces the dynamics of travel itself' (p. 91). Keirstead traces Browning's "ambivalence towards France" which he claims functions as "a different kind of contact zone" for the poet in contrast to Italy; examining the poem within the tradition of British "littoral verse" (p. 99) and considering the poem's unfolding of urban and rural tensions through the character Miranda and the manner in which Browning's friend Joseph Milsand "models the new Anglo-French cosmopolitanism Browning endorses" (p. 106). He considers how gender shapes access to particular spaces in the poem (p. 107) as one of the poem's ironies and reflects on "travel's essential contradictions" "the wish to inhabit a foreign culture and yet not to abandon one's own" (p. 113).


A special issue of Victorian Poetry (50 [2012]) marking the bicentenary of Browning's birth offers an overview of current directions and possibilities in Browning studies. "Future Directions for Robert Browning Studies: A Virtual Roundtable," edited by Mary Ellis Gibson and Britta Martens, assembles a distinguished group of scholars for commentary. Questions considered included the fate of single author studies, given the dominant shift in the field towards cultural studies and the study of material culture; issues in teaching Browning to twenty-first century students; and research opportunities in Browning studies.

Warwick Slinn stresses the importance of studying literary texts "as a nexus for a shifting array of discursive forces" (p. 438). In this regard, Browning's work offers a particularly rich field for investigation, both for its qualities of indeterminacy and for the poet's development of the dramatic monologue, "a brilliant cultural act" (p. 438). John Woolford also singles out Browning's "enormous force and proto-modernist strangeness" as a reason for continued interest in the poetry, contending, however, that the "Browning flavor" only really emerges in the longer poems (pp. 438-439). A number of underexplored research areas are suggested by Isobel Armstrong, including Browning's relationship to the grotesque and the cultural history of the emotions; his "excruciating ]awareness] of violence in many contexts"; his "interest in a many-times mediated world"; and the global spread of his works (pp. 434-435). Herbert Tucker points to Browning's engagement with media across the spectrum of the "plastic, visual, and performing arts" as a resource for future work in cultural studies and as a potential "proving ground for theories about cultural objects" (p. 440).

Intertextual echoes and the influence of Browning on other writers are themes that emerge in various articles this year. In "Hardy's Browning: Refashioning the Lyric" (VP 50 [2012]: 583-603), Linda Shires argues for the "measurable impact" of Browning's poetry on Hardy's verbal art. She identifies three elements in Browning that are "adopted and transformed" in Hardy's poetics: namely, case logic, role play, and "a discourse of verbal interruption" (p. 597) that places particular demands on the reader. In perceptive readings of works by both writers, she pairs "Love in a Life," for instance, with "Thoughts of Phena, At News of her Death," demonstrating how Browning's "performances of the discontinuities of thought" shift in Hardy towards "an expose of thinking/imagining processes" (p. 592).

U. C. Knoepflmacher documents an equally interesting creative engagement with Browning in "Kipling as Browning: From Parody to Translation" (VP 50 [2012]: 605-623). According to Knoepflmacher, Browning's mobilizing of multiple voices in his work served as a model for Kipling's "'othering' art of indirection, displacement, and self-concealment" (p. 606). Knoepflmacher considers how this conceit permits Kipling both to adopt the authoritative voice of the colonizer, yet at the same time "subversively introduced the counter-voices of the colonized and the dispossessed" (p. 606). He traces various stages in Kipling's assimilation of Browning's work, from the invocation of "Fra Lippo Lippi" as "ancestor of mine" in Kipling's autobiography (p. 606), to his ironic reversals of topoi from Browning's work (p. 608). This investigation of Browning as transposed or re-framed in Anglo-Indian contexts will be of interest to scholars working on the reception of British poetry in colonial settings.

In an important article on "The Genesis of Balaustion's Adventure" (VP 50 [2012]: 563-581), John Woolford reviews personal and literary influences on the genesis of the poem, including what he identifies as Browning's "under-documented relationship with William Morris" (p. 572). He sees Browning's poem as making a significant contribution to nineteenth-century debates about Euripides (pp. 573, 564) and notes Browning's "restoration" of Euripides' version of the Alcestis myth. One of the many interesting dimensions of Woolford's essay involves the elaboration of Balaustion's theory of poetic influence, which Woolford argues "amounts to a major innovation in Browning's aesthetics (p. 564). He sees this as "specifically expressing a reaction against ... The Ring and the Book" and its "aggressive epistemological positivism" by "[reaffirming] the transformative power of imagination," thereby constituting "a return to Romanticism" (p. 578).

Browning's engagement with Victorian religious discourses is the subject of Adrienne Munich and Nicole Garret's "Apocalyptic 'Christmas-Eve'/Extravagant Criticism" (Victorian Poetry 50 [2012]: 485-501). In a beautifully nuanced interpretation of detail in the poem, the authors consider apocalyptic and other biblical inflections in Browning's imagery. The reading of light and atmosphere in the poem for their religious and epistemological resonances (p. 491) is particularly powerful, as are reflections on the poet's treatment of faces (pp. 491-492) that Munich and Garret argue link Christmas. Eve to "the medieval tradition of meditation on the face of the divinity" (p. 491). This reading of the poem for its "spiritual aesthetics," together with the discussion of the dimension of sound and music in the work (pp. 495-497), make this a stunning critical essay.

Erin Nerstad's "Decomposing but to Recompose: Browning, Biblical Hermeneutics, and the Dramatic Monologue" (VP 50 [2012]: 543-561) makes a significant contribution to the understanding of Browning and the higher criticism. Nerstad argues that that "the roots of Browning's poetics will be found in an ultimately religious hermeneutics," drawn from German and English interpretive traditions (pp. 544-545) and residing in what she identifies as "a type of sympathetic seeing" (p. 544). Nerstad offers a detailed reading of Benjamin Jowett's prescriptions in "On the Interpretation of Scripture," as well as the impact of Schleiermacher's hermeneutics (p. 547), which include a "subjective inhabiting of the author's point of view" (p. 548). In this important article, Nerstad contends that the "sympathetic repositioning that is at the heart of the dramatic monologue" functions as "a response to and a poetic reshaping" of this intellectual tradition (p. 549).

In "Robert Browning's Homesickness" (VP 50 [2012]: 469-484), Alison Chapman presents a striking new reading of "Home-Thoughts, from Abroad" as an experiment in the dramatic lyric, "particularly the concept of voice in relation to proximity and distance" (p. 469). While the poem was viewed as "a quintessential expression of English patriotism" in the nineteenth-century (p. 470), Chapman suggests that this interpretation implies the reification of lyric "as the accessible, stable voice of a singular speaker" (p. 472). Through her examination of the dramatic lyric as a "complex hybrid genre," Chapman demonstrates the poem's generic "doubleness" and its implicit critique both of "a certain kind of lyricism" (p. 472) and concepts of patriotism. Even the poem's title, its phrases separated by a comma, suggests "the longing for a perfect homeland can only be here, from abroad" (pp. 475-476).

In "Love Among the Political Ruins: 1848 and the Political Unconscious of Men and Women" (VP 50 [2012]: 503-520), Stefan Hawlin elaborates on the "clear liberal agenda" evident in poems in Men and Women that refer specifically to politics, and argues for a series of other poems that "nonetheless have political resonance or significance" (p. 509). He presents a detailed and persuasive overview of the Brownings' political views, drawn primarily from the correspondence, but also considering Dissenting or Nonconformist Christianity as "shaping Browning's politics" in a manner that is "rarely given the prominence it deserves" (p. 506). Hawlin identifies an "intermeshing of political conservatism and Catholicism" evident in contemporary perceptions of European politics. He contrasts this to Browning's "Protestant sensibility" with its anti-authoritarian slant (p. 507), a "matrix of belief' he traces in various poems in the collection (p. 507).

Erik Gray also explores the textual dynamics of the poetry collection in "Men and Women and the Arts of Love" (VP 50 [2012]: 521-541). Gray synthesizes the twin preoccupations of the collection with art and love by considering Men and Women in the tradition of the Renaissance paragone, the ranking of different art forms, in this case with the view to determining "which art is best capable of expressing human passion" (p. 521). He therefore argues for the intellectual importance of this collection as "one of the nineteenth century's most important investigations into the relations between aesthetic and erotic feeling" (p. 521). Gray considers the interrelations of art and love in the collection in the context of Romantic aesthetics and the notion that "imperfection lies at the heart of artistic beauty," together with the classical tradition that love may also "[depend] upon a flaw or inadequacy" (p. 526).

Linda Peterson analyzes the stakes in Browning's choice of anonymous publication for Pauline in "Robert Browning's Debut: Ambition Expressed, Ambition Denied" (VP 50 [2012]: 451-468). Peterson is interested in the paratextual apparatus of the poem, which she contends both "provide[s] frames through which to read Browning's early career" and suggests a young poet who is less "overwhelmed" by his predecessor Shelley than "ambitious to inaugurate a modern renaissance in poetic art" (p. 452). Peterson reviews the nature of works published by Saunders and Otley at the time Browning approached the firm (pp. 462-65), noting that Browning "had little choice but to publish at his own expense" (p. 463) and that publication in this manner "signaled his amateur status to reviewers" (p. 464). Just as the poem's paratexts register Browning's ambition, so too does his subsequent shifting from publisher to publisher in the early publication history of his poems.

In "'Thinketh': Browning and Other Minds" (VP 50 [2012]: 127-146), Aaron Worth offers a striking new reading of two features in Browning's "Caliban Upon Setebos": the speaker's attempt to decipher "the mind of the deity he fears" and his repeated shifting from first- and third-person address in speaking about himself. Worth proposes considering both tendencies as cognitive phenomena that illuminate the poem's key theme of the "'invention' of consciousness as a property of both selves and others" (p. 127). One of the intriguing questions Worth asks is whether there might be something peculiar to the dramatic monologue itself that precipitated "such a fine-grained concern with the evolution of the modeling of consciousness" (p. 129), noting that the genre is in effect "full of mindreaders" (p. 130). Worth's epistemological investigation of "Caliban Upon Setebos" and other Browning poems examines patterns of analogy and attribution in the speakers' language. Worth's review of conceptual integration or blending theory in cognitive linguistics (p. 134), as well as current work on Theory of Mind (p. 140), has some remarkable implications, as he suggests, for recasting the genre of the dramatic monologue (pp. 135-136) and for understanding its status as in effect a kind of "mind-reading technology" (p. 140) that rose to prominence at a particular historical moment.

In other Browning notes, the poet's impact is evident in articles that document the influence of his writing. Holly Karapetkova observes in "Chatterton, Shelley, Keats and I": Reading Anne Spencer in the White Literary Tradition" (Callaloo 35 [2012]: 228-244) that African-American writer Anne Spencer "proclaimed Robert Browning her favorite poet without conceiving of her affinity for him as a contradiction" (p. 228). Karapetkova's essay considers the implications of this poet's working within a white male tradition. She comments that Spencer's poems draw on modernist forms, including the dramatic monologue, and that they "clearly enter into discussion with well-known works by men like Robert Browning and W. B. Yeats" (p. 229), something she explores in her analysis of "My Last Duchess" and Spencer's "Before the Feast at Shushan" (pp. 230-233). Peter Arnds' "Innocence Abducted: Youth, War, and the Wolf in Literary Adaptations of the Pied Piper Legend from Robert Browning to Michel Tournier" Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures 4 [2012]: 61-84) alludes to motifs in Browning's poem in the context of traditional and contemporary adaptations of the Pied Piper legend.

As always, my thanks to Cynthia Burgess at the Armstrong Browning Library for her assistance in documenting Browning publications.

Thomas Hardy


A few weeks ago in Dublin, on a misty August dawn, a great poet died. He was acclaimed by Robert Lowell as "the most important Irish poet since Yeats." But for Nobel Prize winner, Seamus Heaney, it had been, from early boyhood, Thomas Hardy who first filled his heart and mind. Heaney's aunt had owned every single copy of Hardy's novels and from the moment of reading

the opening chapters of Return of the Native, I was at home with him--something about the vestigial ballad atmosphere, the intimacy, the oldness behind and inside the words, the peering and puzzlement and solitude. He was there like a familiar spirit from school days. I remember hearing the poem "Weathers" read on the BBC radio when I was eleven or twelve and never forgetting it. "The Oxen" I learned by heart around that time also. I loved the oddity and previousness of the English in it. "The lonely barton by yonder coomb"--that can still make me feel sad and taken care of all at once, le cor au fond du bois with a local accent. (The Paris Review, "The Art of Poetry," p. 75)

Hardy and Heaney are paired together, on the GCSE (2012) English Literature course for high school students in Britain and the resulting span not only gives measure to Heaney's "familiar spirit" but also reflects an unusual mirroring of minds. Both poets share an indelible Celtic heritage, a deep sense of communion with the earth--with the natural world--a profound respect for dialect and folklore, and a readiness to take "a full look at the worst," to borrow Hardy's famous phrase.

The GCSE curriculum asks for a comparison of Heaney's "Blackberry Picking" with Hardy's "Wagtail and Baby"--poems that share, thematically, a rural setting, a child's encounter with nature and the discoveries that can be made by quietly attending, with close watchfulness, the minute activities of the natural world as it yields up its mysteries and marvels. Young GCSE scholars must also discern how structure, rhythm, point of view, and tone distinguish each poem, one from the other. Additionally, Hardy's "Overlooking the River Stour" is suggested as a mirror to the darker aspects in Heaney's "Blackberry Picking," where a sudden underlying violence takes the shape of a "A rat-grey fungus" which turns "the sweet flesh sour," and where, in Hardy, the swallows, flying in figures of eight, take on the look of menacing weapons:

   The swallows flew in the curves of an eight
      Above the river-gleam
      In the wet June's last beam:
   Like little crossbows animate.

Aside from these three poems the complete selection for GSCE comprises Heaney's "Thatcher," "At A Potato Digging," "Last Look," "Trout" and "An Advancement of Learning." In Hardy's case the chosen poems for comparison are "The Old Workman," "A Sheep Fair," "An August Midnight," and "At Castle Boterel"--a poem which poignantly evokes the loss of selfhood, loss of the past youthful self which is now no more than "a phantom figure," rapidly receding, "shrinking, shrinking ... for my sand is sinking"--in stark contrast to the surrounding rugged landscape, the primaeval rocks and their seeming permanence.

"At Castle Boterel," also featured recently on The Thomas Hardy Association's Poem of the Month. Phillip Mallett opened the discussion with the observation that in one of the best-known discussions of Hardy's verse,

   Donald Davie's essay on 'Hardy's Virgilian Purples' (Agenda 10,
   1972), Davie asks whether the poem claims 'only that he will
   remember Emma, and the quality of this moment he shared with her,
   until the day he dies. Which is touching, but hardly worth saying
   at such length.' What justifies the poem, Davie insists, is that
   its claim is not psychological, about 'one mind,' but metaphysical:
   that the poem's 'time of such quality' is 'truly indestructible,'
   and its 'quality' will survive the poet's death.

Of the dialogues that followed Mallett's introduction the main points of interest fell upon Hardy's treatment of time. There seemed to be a consensus that revolving time is set against '"Time's unflinching rigour' as human experience of time in terms of memory is set against a geological and universal timescale" (Sarah Hook). Although the presence of the lovers passing by the stones of Boscastle are felt to be memorialized in the very rock itself, "it is more the memory of the speaker that animates the scene--resurrecting the past moment to overlap upon the present--therefore what will be left when the speaker declines but an empty image without the associations that make it so significant?" (Sarah Hook).

The Hardy Association's Poem of the Month generates a variety of stimulating discussions and ideas, all archived at The Hardy Association's website. This is an invaluable resource, free and easy to access with the added bonus of featuring thoughtful readings presented by students, scholars, and lay-readers in compact, appetizing morsels. The poems under scrutiny range widely across Hardy's entire oeuvre--for example, there are discussions of "The Photograph," "A Duettist to Her Pianoforte," "Beeny Cliff," with its beautifully elongated lines evocative of the "chasmal beauty" of the Beeny Cliffs soaring high to "nether sky," "A Dream or No," "His Immortality" and "Her Immortality," "A Commonplace Day," "At the Word 'Farewell,'" the controversial "The Convergence of the Twain" with its simulated concrete structure, "Best Times," "The Voice of Things," and "To An Unborn Pauper Child." An illustrated account of the POTM conversation on "To an Unborn Pauper Child" is published in The Hardy Review, Vol. XIV-ii.

The arrival of yet another short, annotated collection of Hardy's poems seems, at first sight, difficult to justify given the prodigality of recent introductory studies of his verse. From Dannie and Joan Abse's compilation, The Music Lover's Literary Companion (2009) which contains poetry and prose by Hardy, to John Felstiner's Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems (2009) which includes a section on Hardy, to John Holmes's Darwin's Bards: British and American Poetry in the Age of Evolution (2009) which explores the ways in which renowned poets have approached the topic of evolution (Tennyson, Browning, Hardy, Frost, St. Vincent Millay, Hughes, Gunn, Clampitt, and Edwin Morgan), to Jacek Wisniewski's Edward Thomas: A Mirror of England (2009) which compares "Edward Thomas and Thomas Hardy: The English Line," to Tim Armstrong's Thomas Hardy: Selected Poems (2009), which offers readers over 180 annotated poems and celebrates Hardy's fascination with the "material exchange of decomposition," to Paul Hyland's Who's In the Next Room? Poems by Thomas Hardy with New Writing from Paul Hyland, Kate Scott, Catherine Simmons and Pam Zinneman-Hope (2010), to Stephen Burt's and David Mikics' The Art of the Sonnet (2010) which features a useful analysis of Hardy's "A Church Romance," and, finally, to Michael O'Neill and Madeleine Callaghan's Twentieth Century British and Irish Poetry: Hardy to Mahon (2011). This listing represents but a small sample of the copious introductory studies of selected Hardy poems.

Clearly readers will exercise discretion. But how to choose between so many promising titles? The vote would have to go, I think, to Tim Armstrong's 180 annotated poems leaving the rest on the library shelf for readers possessing a larger appetite (than my own) for introductory studies of Hardy's verse. Having said that, and despite my misgivings at encountering, recently, yet another compilation, I have to confess to a superceding choice: Gillian Steinberg's Thomas Hardy: The Poems (2013). This is the best short introduction to Hardy's poems I have yet reviewed. Steinberg's close readings of Hardy's key poems are fresh and original and her "pocket" analyses encapsulate, with insight and depth, a wider range of material than many critics could, as mellifluously and as inclusively, capture in chapters twice as large.

I notice, by the way, that Steinberg is a keen follower of the Hardy Association's Forum discussions of Hardy's poetry: the next step would be to participate in the Association's POTM? I hope, too, that in a second edition of Thomas Hardy: the Poems, the misspelling of poor Betty Cortus' name will be corrected from the "Corbus" of Steinberg's otherwise immaculate book.

Ironically, Steinberg is scrupulously correct in her spelling of Far From the Madding Crowd (with a capitalized F in "From"). "Ironically," because for some reason, a whole generation of senior scholars tends to resist Hardy's own spelling of the title of his fourth published novel. As I pointed out in Cancelled Words (1992), also in Student Companion to Thomas Hardy (2007), and reiterated in The Ashgate Research Companion to Thomas Hardy (2010), Hardy's original usage capitalized the second "E" Inevitably editor Leslie Stephen and his ilk thought better of it and in common with several other editorial interferences made the change to a lower case "f" and it stuck. As with many alterations Stephen made (Fanny "Robbin" is another which was changed to "Robin"), Hardy could scarcely ignore common usage once his work had entered the public domain--thus he, too, concurred. However he did not lose all battles with his editors: there were certain words Hardy coined, such as "emotional," which Stephen excised from his holograph manuscript as an unacceptable neologism, but which did, in the end, survive the blue pencil.

Steinberg's study is exceptional in other important ways--other than in her thoroughgoing research. She also pays close attention to Hardy's multiple voices, even to the extent of differentiating between two aspects of the same voice, the "'before' and 'after' halves of the same character":

   In "The Ruin'd [sic] Maid," one of Hardy best-known and most
   anthologized poems, Hardy creates two compelling characters who
   are, in some ways, "before" and "after" halves of the same
   character, an approach that highlights his storytelling techniques
   and, especially, his use of setting. This narrative functions both
   literally and metaphorically, with setting serving as the primary
   difference between the two women.... Each stanza begins with
   'Melia's country acquaintance commenting, for four lines, on some
   aspect of 'Melia's former country life. The third line contrasts
   the early part of each stanza with her current, city existence. And
   in the fourth line of each stanza, which serves as the song's
   repeating chorus, 'Melia speaks, reminding her friend of the reason
   for her changed circumstances.... The third, narrative voice in the
   poem appears only once in each stanza, with the final words "said
   she." ... Thus readers are aligned with that relatively quiet
   observer since readers, like the narrator, observe the dialogue
   from an external vantage point (pp. 20-21).

This critically important emphasis upon Hardy's multiple voices, especially upon distinguishing what I have called elsewhere "the alternative narrator," or "the bystander narrator," remains oddly overlooked in millennium studies. This is all the more surprising given the fact that Hardy himself referred to his poems, notably those in Satires of Circumstance (1914) as "dramatic and personative"--that is to say, the poems ventriloquize the voices of assumed characters, impersonated identities, personifications, and masqueraders. In his preface to Time's Laughingstocks (1909), Hardy reiterates this important dictum: any sense of a biographical connection "particularly in respect of those lyrics penned in the first person, will be immaterial when it is borne in mind that they are to be regarded, in the main, as dramatic monologues by different characters" (my italics).

Inevitably, experience comes into play with any artist. That is not the point. After all, experience, in common with point of view, personation, and even memory, is never less than mutable and pluralistic and even re-imaginable. Problems occur when readers attempt to impose their notions of the poet's experience on interpretation and understanding as if, like an arithmetical sum, it would add up to a calculable bottom line. On the other hand it is equally inevitable that close readings of Hardy's differentiated voices will lead, as in Steinberg, not only to less conclusive readings, fewer hazards of autobiographical attributions--"the manner in which his life has frequently been read into his poetry" (p. 3)--but also to an increase in appreciation of his range and scope, the degree to which he is willing to experiment, and the countless ways his verse penetrates further than first impressions suggest.

Steinberg applies this manner of close reading to several different themes, a particularly important motif being Hardy's depiction of death and afterlife, and his portrayal of ghost characters. To take, for example, the case of "Your Last Drive" and "I Have Lived with Shades," readers (says Steinberg) may be tempted to read Hardy's biography into the poem but it is far more important to feel included in the poem. When the speaker of "I Have Lived with Shades"

   is given the chance to see himself, along with "other things that
   were," he does not recognize himself, and the poet (but probably
   not the speaker, who is a bit too dense) implies that readers
   should learn from such an experience. Would readers, too, look so
   commonplace to themselves? The poem uses its obtuse but
   supernaturally aware speaker to suggest that readers, given the
   opportunity, might observe their own lack of exceptionality and, it
   they are wise enough to notice it, make some meaningful change (pp.

In pairing various "ghost" poems--for instance, "The Voice" and "The Haunter," "Beeny Cliff' and "The Phantom Horsewoman"--Steinberg moves through some complex, insightful analyses to the eventuality that death is constantly a third figure in any relationship (p. 66); and comparing the Poems of 1912-13 with earlier "ghost" poems such as "She to Him" poems, "Thoughts of Phena: At News Of Her Death," "A Christmas Ghost Story," "The To-Be-Forgotten," among others, Steinberg concludes:

   Clearly ... these ghostly figures and the unique ideas about death
   were part of Hardy's writing well before and also after the loss of
   his wife that is often thought to have precipitated the Poems of
   1912-13. While that event may have brought out some of Hardy's most
   poignant ghosts, they existed in his writing in powerful ways long
   before those years (p. 69).

Steinberg follows up each chapter with three useful sections entitled, Concluding Discussion, Methods of Analysis, and Suggested Work. Following on from the chapter on ghosts she presents a philosophical discussion on God, Man, and the Natural World (pp. 72-104), featuring "Hap," "The Darkling Thrush," "Nature's Questioning," "On a Fine Morning" (an unusual choice), "To an Unborn Pauper Child," and "The Convergence of the Twain." Next comes, War and Its Casualties (pp. 105-136), focusing on the less-often heard voices of soldiers, wives and parents, civilians and animals in such poems as, "I Looked Up from my Writing," "The Going of the Battery," and "A Wife in London," "In Time of 'The Breaking of Nations,'" "The Man He Killed," and "Channel Firing." Then, Self and Time follows (pp. 137-166), beginning with "Afterwards," "During Wind and Rain," The Self-Unseeing," and "At Castle Boterel," "The House of Hospitalities," "The Going" ("its aesthetics in some ways overwhelm its themes" [p. 156]), and concluding with "I Look into My Glass."

The last section in Steinberg, The Context and the Critics, presents short segments characteristically comprehensive but skillfully succinct. First, A Biographical Outline (pp. 169-170); this is very balanced, but presents nothing new. Second, Novelist to Others; Poet to Himself (pp. 170-171)--"we must be careful not to privilege Hardy's stated preferences above our readings of the works themselves." Third, A Man of Many Genres (pp. 172-174)--" while he may have been a Victorian novelist, he was a poet of multiple eras." Fourth, Reading a Literary Life (pp. 174-176)--" The potential kernels of truth or historical accuracy notwithstanding ... Hardy expresses his desire for readers to approach his works with the sense that they are truly fictional." Fifth, Poems of 1912-13: How and Why We Read Poems (pp. 176-180):

   Hardy's impatience with his critics who imagine that he is
   consistently the "I" of his poems can be understood by examining
   some relatively recent criticism of the Poems of 1912-13. Hardy's
   works are most often read as purely autobiographical. In this
   series of poems, written shortly after Emma's death, Hardy creates
   a number of situations similar to his own and characters who
   resemble himself and Emma.... I will suggest, though, that in any
   situation of textual interpretation, the poems might illuminate the
   life, or the life might illuminate the poems. Hardy's preference,
   according to his own writings, is for the latter, but many critics
   become preoccupied with the former. By examining some of the
   criticism of these poems, we can see the ways in which a search for
   truth about Hardy's life, rather than about Hardy's work, can
   mistakenly dominate critical readings (p. 176).

Steinberg cites Robert Gittings who, if truth be told, was largely responsible for creating negative myths about Hardy. Gittings held that Hardy's "Emma" poems demonstrate his "effort to rewrite reality; essentially, because the details of the poems do not fully accord with what we know of Hardy's biography." The poems must, in Gittings' view, be a personal mythologizing. Rather than reading the poems as consciously created works of art he approaches them as textual versions of "grief therapy" (p. 176). While Gittings' approach to art and his evident ignorance of the philosophy of aesthetics appears jejune, to say the least, he has his followers. "Along similar lines, Ross Murfin calls the Poems of 1912-13 'Hardy's poetic response to the death of his wife' and goes on to explain that 'Hardy has taken reality and begun, perhaps unconsciously, to alter it.... Hardy was probably unaware of the acting of imagination upon reality'" (p. 177).

Stepping around Murfin's seeming "unawareness" of his hubris ("probably unaware of the acting" of arrogance upon prejudgement), Steinberg speaks, politely, of his "narrow reading" and that, "In the case of 'Beeny Cliff,' what Murfin calls 'an alteration of reality' may instead be more simply, a poem":

   Murfin, like many critics of Hardy's poems, avoids envisioning a
   situation in which Hardy might take some details of his biography
   and create artistic works that intentionally veer from historical
   or biographical events.... If the literature is sufficiently
   interesting to make people want to read it, they need not find the
   author in every detail. To do so is to suggest that we read
   literature only, or perhaps primarily, to learn more about the
   individual who created it rather than what the literature itself
   says (p. 177).

Unfortunately, other scholars take their cue from Gittings and Murfin. One such, Jahan Ramazani, speaks of Hardy's sewing "up the ragged sleeve of their marriage with the thread of his earliest feelings about her," while Linda Austin, with blithe irrelevance on the subject of art, takes the "thread" and twists it into a diagnosis of clinical depression on Hardy's part (p. 178). Hardy himself expresses, on several occasions from early youth onwards, that he was prey to depression but, to my knowledge, never regarded it as causative, or inspirational, or as the agency of catharsis in the creative process. More to the point, the personative aspect of a poem's deliverance requires not only the self's projection into a whole host of personae but also the forging of identities from a fusing, or an amalgam, of various "others." A clear example of fusion or amalgamation occurs in "A Dream or No," in the Poems of 1912-13 where, initially, "the maiden abiding" (if we are to be autobiographical about it) does not evoke Emma whose hair was com-coloured, not "brown-tressed." However, by the time we reach stanza five a setting is defined, specifically "Saint-Juliot I see" although in the earlier stages of the poem, in the second stanza, the desired beloved abides in "that place in the West." This could be anywhere on the map from Dorset to Cornwall. Then again, there was no quick courtship with Emma as with the "brown-tressed" maiden in stanza four--"quickly she drew me / To take her unto me." Emma waited, in fact, for over four years before the "taking." Clearly, there is far more than mere autobiographical material populating this poem; it also offers a far more complex poetic experience than any autobiographical reading could satisfy.

In the case of Poems of 1912-13 Steinberg points out that "the poems never name Emma.... As a reader of the poems myself, I do not find it difficult to read [them] outside the paradigm of therapeutic psychology ... [but simply] as artistic creations" (p. 179). I wonder, she ponders, "why Hardy should be interesting at all, outside the fact of his artistic creations":

   Hardy was a thoughtful enough poet to write with self-awareness and
   artistry even as he mourned a loss.... [H]is poems, even those that
   feel most intimate, are poems nonetheless. That is, they are works
   of art that address specifically artistic concerns and not merely
   private dairy entries written in verse form (p. 179).

Thomas Hardy: The Poems draws to a close with Hardy's Place in Literary History (pp. 180-181). "Hardy's poetry," Steinberg concludes, can "be compared with poems of the Romantic, Victorian, and Modem eras" (p. 180). In the "Victorian" context, Dennis Taylor (oft-quoted and lauded by Steinberg, justifiably) observes that Hardy's Dynasts may demonstrate the "post-Romantic disillusion of ... Browning's The Ring and the Book" (p. 184). Under "Romantic" (pp. 184-185), affinities are shown to be with Wordsworth and Coleridge, and under "Modem" (pp. 186-187) Hardy is aligned with Beckett's language and Yeats's masks. Critical Views brings Steinberg's excellent book to a close with, of course, a Further Reading section. Typological errors apart, this invaluable study provides close readings, clear and concise analyses and wide-ranging selections from Hardy's work.

Also published this year following, in scope, Norman Page's Oxford Companion (2000), is Thomas Hardy in Context, ed. Phillip Mallet. As with the Oxford companion, Hardy in Context features forty-three, easily digestible bite-size entries. Schematically this study is the perfect adjunct to the Ashgate Research Companion to Thomas Hardy (2010) but without the research component. Almost identical sub-divisions are used: "Historical and Cultural Context" (Ashgate) becomes "The Historical and Cultural Context," "Critical Approaches" (Ashgate) becomes "Critical Fortunes," and so on. Equally, many topics and/or critiques in Context are duplicates, albeit in summary form, or precis--notably, Mark Asquith on Hardy's Philosophy (p. 285), John Hughes on Hardy's Music (p. 425), Sophie Gilmartin on Hardy's short stories (p. 132), Dennis Taylor on poetics (p. 231), and Andrew Radford on scientific humanism (Ashgate) and anthropology in Context (p. 210). Where the same topic is addressed by an alternative contributor, Melanie Williams replaces William Davis on "Hardy and the Law" (p. 306); Andrew Nash replaces Eugene Davis in "From Serial to Volume" (p. 42); Pamela Dalziel writes on "Illustration" (p. 54) in place of Ian Rogerson's "Hardy's Illustrators"; Sarah Maier and Tim Dolin write on "Critical Responses" (pp. 73, 84) in place of Eugene Davis' "The First 100 Years of Criticism" and Charles Pettit's "Bibliographical Studies"; K. M. Newton replaces Dale Kramer on "Tragedy and the Novel" (p. 122); Herbert Tucker stands in place of Harold Orel on The Dynasts (p. 153); and so on in that vein. There are a few variations on the Ashgate model--for instance, the lack of a fully comprehensive Bibliography, as in the Ashgate, and the insertion of a helpful timeline in Context.

Some readers may find the use of differing editions inconvenient--for example, the Gibson edition of The Complete Poems of Thomas Hardy (1976) or, alternatively, the Hynes edition, The Complete Poetical Works of Thomas Hardy (1982-95). The editor, Phillip Mallett observes that "textual differences between the two editions ... are relatively small ... the changes made [by Hardy] ... rarely extend beyond the rewriting of a line or a word" (p. xxi). Unfortunately, this does not accord with Martin Ray's findings in "A Collation of the Gibson and Hynes Editions of Hardy's Poems" (The Hardy Review 4 [2001]: 127-140). Ray lists, in this article, "the numerous differences" between the two editions, concluding that the Gibson was markedly more reliable than the Hynes.

The major distinction of Thomas Hardy in Context is the brevity of the pieces. In some cases these read, usefully, as abstracts. Inevitably, the precis approach cramps the style of most of the contributors but since very few pieces focus on the poems and treat, instead, mainly with sociological issues, or with a broad social background (Empire, London, Englishness, Education and Social Class, Culture, Archeology, Heredity, with even Norman Vance's "Faith and Doubt" not touching on the poems), oversimplification is not a severe drawback. On the contrary, where Hardy's poems are addressed, the compact space is used well. John Osborne's "Larkin's Hardy" (p. 459), for example, provides a neat profile in a very short space. But the most remarkable achievement (on the topic of poetry) is Francesco Marroni's "Poet, Poetry, Poem" (p. 143) which details the cultural background of Futurism in delightfully economical prose, colourful expressivity, and a mellifluous style that is neither wooden nor impenetrable.

Finally, a few more titles deserve mention. Roger Ebbatson's Literature and Landscape 1830-1914 (2013) includes information on Hardy in company with Tennyson, Ruskin, Edward Thomas, and Richard Jefferies. John Hughes's "Meter and Context: Hardy's "Neutral Tones" (VP [2013]: 81-97) awaits my reading and will, I know, be worth the wait. Also deserving of mention is Alexander Welsh's "Review of Scott, Dickens, Eliot, Hardy: Great Shakespeareans" (vol 5, ed. Adrian Poole, Victorian Studies 55 no. 2 [Winter 2013]: 321-324).

Having begun with the great Heaney and his pairing with the great Hardy I cannot resist concluding with a last salute to both: among the works currently featured on London Underground trains are Hardy's "Lines to a Movement in Mozart's E-flat Symphony," which Hardy wrote after hearing the minuet from the composer's Symphony No 39, and Seamus Heaney's "Colmcille the Scribe."



The primary focus of this essay will be on Hopkins-related publications during 2012. However, because of their singular importance for the future of Hopkins scholarship, I must make an exception for the March 2013 publication of volumes I and II of the new Oxford edition of the Collected Works. These volumes, edited by Catherine Phillips and R. K. R. Thornton, join volume IV, Oxford Essays and Notes, /863-1868, edited by Lesley Higgins and reviewed in these pages earlier (VP 46 [2008]: 346-352). We now have three of the projected eight volumes in this edition.

These two volumes constitute Hopkins' known Correspondence, divided into the years 1852-1881 (I) and 1882-1889 (II). The claim made above about the "singular importance" of these volumes for the future of Hopkins scholarship rests upon the advantages of this edition compared to any previous editions of the correspondence. The editors name the three major ones: "its order, its inclusiveness, and the extent of its annotation" (p. xlii). A few words about each will explain the significance for scholarship of this publication.

Regarding order, whereas previous editions of Hopkins's letters were grouped by recipient--the letters to Robert Bridges, to Canon Dixon, to family members, etc.--the editors have now put all the letters in a simple chronological order, from the poet's first known letter at age seven or eight to his last, dictated a month before his death (both, interestingly, were to his mother). Furthermore they have included in their chronology all of the extant letters written to Hopkins. As to advantages, now scholars will find it much easier to trace the evolution of Hopkins's interests and ideas. For one quick example, the ever-changing drama of Hopkins' conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1866 becomes clearer when one reads the letters from and to Hopkins from August through December of that year. An understanding from them of how quickly he and his family made peace can prevent the overemphasis sometimes given to what Hopkins called the "terrible" answers he received from his parents when they first heard the news. To cite another example: at the very time Hopkins was apparently writing the so-called "terrible" sonnets, in the winter of 1885, a salutary caution against biographical over-interpretation comes from reading the concurrent letters to and from Bridges, Patmore, Newman, Dixon, Baillie, his mother, and others, where the subjects include poetry, music, politics, and the classics. Clearly, given his level of activity and his varied interests, not all of his time was spent in bed as an insomniac lamenting "no worst, there is none."

As to inclusiveness, I have already alluded to the 129 letters written to Hopkins. In addition the editors have included over two dozen letters of condolence received by Hopkins' family and others at the time of his death, letters which help us understand how his contemporaries perceived him--the recurrence of words like "saintly," "spiritual," and "beautiful" astonishes the reader. But perhaps the most important feature is the addition to the canon of 43 previously uncollected Hopkins letters, over 10% of the whole. As many--or any--further additions to the correspondence are unlikely, these new letters help complete our understanding of the poet's life and undertakings. To provide an example of what these letters can reveal, consider his jovial, slang-ridden letter of August 17, 1882, first discovered by Joseph Feeney S.J. It was written to three Jesuit friends, and begins "My hearties,--I am going to answer 'the three of yez' under one trouble--no, no, not trouble, not trouble: pleasure is the word--under one pleasure. This pleasure shall be brief, because, according to the one of yez, I am to call on yez on my way to Glasgow so very shortly" and then concludes "By the tenour of this I gather I must be in good spirits--a thing never to be granted if I can help it, it saps sympathy and importance" (pp. 533-534). So much for the image of a morose ascetic. Especially amusing is the notion that if he were to show such an unrelievedly grave demeanor it would constitute a mask, donned to gain sympathy and increase one's sense of self-importance.

That same letter illustrates the thoroughness of the editors. First, there is the annotation: in this case a rather lengthy letter generates an even lengthier set of footnotes, thirty-one of them, providing everything from biblical citations to political and biographical contexts to the identifications of no less than twenty-one people mentioned in the letter, eighteen of them Jesuits. Moreover, here and elsewhere in their two volumes Profs. Phillips and Thornton have provided a headnote with full bibliographical material for each letter and have included in their transcriptions all deletions, insertions, under-linings, and alterations "because they help to reveal Hopkins's hesitations, ponderings, second thoughts, and difficulties" (p. ci). As a quick illustration of the value of these additions to the transcriptions, consider the letter to Robert Bridges of March 7, 1884 (p. 662). In announcing his transfer to Dublin Hopkins betrays his anxiety about the change and about his ability to fulfill the duties of his new position as Professor of Greek: he bemoans having to grade six examinations and then, realizing that might seem small grounds for complaint, strikes his metaphor about how the paving of St. Stephen's Green in gold would be insufficient recompense for his labors, postponing that metaphor for later so that he can add the fact that he is also responsible for evaluating 750 matriculants.

These volumes are superb examples of textual editing and will contribute immediately to the reinvigoration of Hopkins scholarship, because Hopkins' letters are a treasure-trove of insights and commentary and constitute the lifeblood of that scholarship. Generations of Hopkins readers will resort to this new edition of the Correspondence and will be grateful to Profs. Phillips and Thornton for it.

Turning now to the publications of 2012, Duc Dau's monograph Touching God: Hopkins and Love (London: Anthem Press) provides a welcome antidote to earlier speculation. She sees Hopkins as "a poet of romantic love," a conclusion that may at first surprise until she defines romantic love not as sexual love necessarily but rather as bodily tenderness--Hopkins writes "love poems to God" which express a kind of "spiritual eroticism" (p. 1). Hopkins' love is not agape/caritas, which of course has a long history in Christian thought, but rather love as eros/amor, which has more Christian precedents than are usually recognized. While acknowledging the value of the work of other scholars on Hopkins' cultural, intellectual, literary, scientific, and religious milieu, she insists on the centrality of love. She understands the homoerotic bent in Hopkins but "the book differs from most queer readings of Hopkins by emphasizing the priority he accords to his relationship with Christ" (p. 4), a priority evident in his manifold uses of the word love and its associated concepts.

The monograph has five chapters, each focusing on a different aspect of this spiritual eroticism. The first uses the language of Merleau-Ponty to show how the poet's interactions with nature and his reading of the Deutschland disaster reveal images of touching, of union, of the physical manifestations of divine love--God is one who melts, softens, lets flow. The second chapter turns to the poet's employment of images of virgin marriages and the "Song of Songs," images which figure prominently both in the poetry and in the life, where joining the Society of Jesus was tantamount to a marriage in which one's virginity was given to Christ but paradoxically, because of celibacy, never lost. (An expanded portion of this chapter appeared a few years ago in these pages, see "Perfect Chastity: Celibacy and Virgin Marriage in Tractarian Poetry," VP 44 [2006]: 77-92.) Chapter three gives us images of pregnancy, conception, and birth. Once again we find paradox: by unfolding the religious implications of the language of childbirth the poet hopes to express how "Christ is at once our son, brother, and lover" (p. 67). The very physicality of Hopkins' poetry, his famous claim that it must be heard rather than read, manifests this belief in bodily presence and transformation. The author goes on to argue, contra Gilbert and Gubar, that the Virgin Mary provided Hopkins with a model for the positive depiction of female figures. (A portion of the chapter targeting Gilbert and Gubar also appeared last year: "Reassessing Gilbert and Gubar: Women, Creativity, Hopkins," Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies 17 [2012]: 27-41.) Finally, in chapters four and five Duc Dau considers, respectively, the language of caressing and kissing and the language of homecoming. God and human beings exchange breath, exchange utterances, even "kiss," because in a kiss one can exchange souls--it is the paramount sign, she argues, of "one's openness to the other" (p. 96). Home in turn means sanctuary, the haven of intimacy, a foreshadowing of man's true home, the Holy of Holies with God at its center. Duc Dau has provided an original, comprehensive, persuasive and therefore welcome addition to Hopkins scholarship.

Four monographs published last year have chapters devoted to Hopkins. Tom Jones' Poetic Language: Theory and Practice from the Renaissance to the Present (Edinburgh University Press) has as its purpose to "address the works of significant poets in the context of contemporary or near-contemporary writing on the theory of poetic language" (p. viii). Chapter five, "Equivalence: Gerard Manley Hopkins" (pp. 56-69), focuses particularly on "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves" and, drawing on the work of J. Hillis Miller and Roman Jakobson, argues that the poet's use of poetic equivalences, i.e. his employment of alliteration, assonance, consonance, parallelism, and internal rhyme, create "intense interrelationships of objects" (p. 57) and thus contribute to meaning. Poetic language is also central to Scott Knickerbocker's Ecopoetics: The Language of Nature, the Nature of Language (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press). He analyzes Hopkins' "The Windhover" and poems by Emily Dickinson because he sees them as "proto-modernist," major forebears of his four key modern poets (Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Richard Wilbur, and Sylvia Plath). All six poets practice a kind of "sensuous poesis" which performs rather than represents, and they illustrate the "double nature of poetic form, which both restrains language from imposing itself on the natural world and reveals meaningful entanglements with that world." The ecopoetics of his title he defines in a poststructuralist way as "the foregrounding of poetic artifice as a manifestation of our interrelation with the rest of nature" (p. 159).

Chapter two of Meredith Martin's The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860-1900 (Princeton University Press), "The Stigma of Meter" (pp. 48-78), posits a close link between Hopkins' struggles with meter and his other struggles as poet, as philologist, and as priest. According to Martin "the main intervention of this book is to alter our assumptions about English meter as a stable concept" (p. 2), especially in the late nineteenth century. Locating Hopkins in the midst of Victorian debates about meter, she protests against any view of the poet as proto-modernist; he must be seen instead as part of the great proliferation of metrical experiments during his era. Moreover, he saw poetry as directly connected to the spiritual health of the nation, because "the moral life of a culture could be allegorized in the written word" (p. 54). Even the stresses and other graphical markings which he insisted upon reveal the personal, poetic, and political struggles which marked his life. Martin, who two years ago edited a special issue of this journal devoted to prosody, has provided an important contribution to current debates about the form of Hopkins' poetry.

Stephen McInerney's The Enclosure of an Open Mystery: Sacrament and Incarnation in the Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, David Jones and Les Murray (Bern: Lang) focuses on the representation of sacramental belief in the works of these three poets. Chapter two, "Instressed ... past telling of tongue" (pp. 39-97), draws heavily on the work of William Lynch and Catherine Pickstock to assess three related themes: "Hopkins's negotiations with the phenomenon of God's enclosure in nature" in nature poems from "The Windhover" to "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves"; the semi-liturgical role of the body as "enclosure of the soul and the site of sacramental 'touch,'" as seen especially in "The Wreck of the Deutschland"; and finally "the one and the many" (p. 37) manifested in "Hurrahing in Harvest" and the terrible sonnets, where all is action rather than stasis. McInemey's work contributes to the discussion on sacramentality in Hopkins begun earlier by such scholars as Maria Lichtman, Eleanor McNees, Philip Ballinger, Margaret Ellsberg, Jeffrey Loomis, and Bernadette Waterman Ward.

A new Critical Survey of Poetry: Nature Poets, edited by Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman (Pasadena, CA: Salem Press) contains a chapter on "Gerard Manley Hopkins" by Todd K. Bender (pp. 101-116). As a critical guide the chapter includes sections on "achievements," "biography," and (the longest) on "analysis," which includes useful sub-sections, some topical and some poem-specific, concluding with discussions of "Hopkins's vocabulary" and his "legacy." The chapter provides a very useful overview of the poet, especially for students, and the development of it by a distinguished scholar assures its reliability.

Turning now to important journal articles, Timothy Morton's "An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry" in New Literary History 43 (2012): 205-224 uses as its guiding principle "object-oriented ontology," which the author defines as the philosophical claim that all objects are "ontologically prior to their relations" (p. 205). Since even poems are objects, the critic must acknowledge the dimension of aesthetics. In an article more philosophical than literary Martin says that object-oriented ontology is both revolutionary and hopeful. He uses "As kingfishers catch fire" as his exemplum: the reflexive and non-reflexive personal pronouns of 11. 7-8, for example, are "evidence of the rift between a thing and its appearance" and illustrate his central contention that "[a]ppearances are liars but in lying they tell the truth" (pp. 212- 213).

Martin Dubois, in "Styles of Translation: Hopkins' Bibles," which appeared in this journal last year (50, no. 3: 279-296), begins with Hopkins' failures as a preacher but argues they stem from "something more profound, namely an assurance about the expansiveness of the Gospel," in other words "a trust that there is nowhere the divine Word cannot speak" (pp. 279-280). Describing the many versions of the bible which Hopkins knew and his effort to be correct in his use of each of them, Dubois traces the relationship of biblical translation to the language of a poem. Line 93 of "The Wreck of the Deutschland," for example, draws on the King James version of Psalm 91 rather than the (Catholic) Douay-Rheims translation, whereas the references to the Book of Job in "That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire" employ the wording of Douay-Rheims and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. In this excellent article Dubois demonstrates that, while Hopkins had little interest in the so-called Higher Criticism, he did have a deep sense of the bible's literary structure and properties.

In "The Windhover and Evening Hawk Shudder in Sync: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Penn Warren" (RWP: Annual of Robert Penn Warren Studies 9 [2012]: 83-109) D. A. Carpenter begins with the fact that Warren used the opening four lines of "Carrion Comfort" as the epigraph to his last novel, A Place to Come To (1979). That epigraph, Carpenter argues, is aptly chosen, because Hopkins' influence pervades Warren's poetry and forms the core of this novel. Carpenter shows four major similarities between the poets: their poetic style; their sensibility, that is, their "sacramental vision" (p. 86); their use of nature as a revelation of the human condition; and their focus on meditation and reverence as ways of gaining knowledge of "the core image of the self' (p. 90). The author juxtaposes key Warren poems, especially from Incarnations, to such Hopkins poems as "God's Grandeur," "The Windhover," and "As kingfishers catch fire," and also shows how the representation of Hopkins increases in each of the four editions of the influential Understanding Poetry which Warren edited.

"Music and Poetry: Hopkins, Sprung Rhythm, and the Problem of Isochrony" by Greg Sevik (Hopkins Quarterly 39, no. 1-2: 3-25) makes an important contribution to both topics, music and poetry. Sevik argues that Hopkins criticism often has made too loose a connection between them: "Music has no meaning, in the sense of 'signification'" (p. 5), but poetry and music do share physical sound and "the rhythmic organization of time" (p. 6). Concerning sprung rhythm, Sevik asks if it is like the rhythm of everyday speech or like the rhythm of music. Hopkins said both, but logically that cannot be. Sevik tries to resolve the dilemma through isochrony, the "rough equality of duration between stressed syllables in a spoken utterance, regardless of the number of intervening unstressed syllables" (p. 7). By employing this concept Sevik can eliminate speech and instead "explore--at least provisionally--the possibility that Hopkins' verse operates on the basis of a regular, quasi-metronymic, and therefore fundamentally musical kind of rhythm" (p. 8). The author tests this hypothesis by using musical notes, times, and signatures, so that each line of verse becomes one measure and each foot a quarter note. But when applied to Hopkins the result, says Sevik, is a recitation that is too dull, too metronymic, and even when he puts into play the looser rhythm of Gregorian chant he cannot find a satisfactory result. So in truth sprung rhythm in Hopkins's practice is contradictory, illogical, neither speech nor music: "Sprung rhythm has no pure, true, univocal identity prior to or separate from the contradictions built into its concept and into its particular manifestations" (p. 19). Any quest to pin it down further or to categorize it will fail.

Two articles from that same journal have a feminist dimension. Bernadette Waterman Ward's "Hopkins's Heroic Women" (39, no. 1-2: 26-36) takes as its starting place the observation that, with the exception of Christ, men in Hopkins' poems rarely do much that is active or heroic; his women, by contrast, "rebuke masculine pride in their gender embodiment of the soul's relationship to God" (p. 26). These women--the tall nun, Thecla, Winefred, Dorothea, Margaret Clitheroe, and of course Mary--allow the poet to rebut a cultural prejudice of his time, namely that Roman Catholicism should be identified with effeminacy, religiosity, sentimentality, and an ideology of subordination. By distinguishing between office (for example the priesthood), which women could not have, and personal worth, which they could and did, Hopkins preserved a reverence for women while remaining staunchly sexist. Jude V. Nixon in "'St Thecla,' Monastic Transvestitism, and Hopkins' Proto-Feminist Utterance" from the same issue (pp. 43-67) focuses on the early poem, one which "adds to the chorus of Hopkins's proto-feminist utterances about women who destabilize and disrupt his texts even as they do the politics of a deeply entrenched patriarchal economy" (p. 43). Nixon places less emphasis than Ward on the heroic stature of the woman Hopkins depicts in his poem. The poem itself grows out of the poet's knowledge of and attraction to--for deeply personal reasons--the cult of Thecla, a saint of the early church valued for her monastic inclinations, her ascetic life, and her transvestitism. While the poem dramatizes only part of the Thecla legend, Nixon argues against calling it a fragment; the portion of the legend which Hopkins uses--the portion, for example, in which Thecla defends patriarchal practice--allows him to verify his own choices of celibacy and asceticism.

Another lesser-known poem figures in Mariaconcetta Costantini's "'To His Watch': Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Rhythm of Mortal Life" (Hopkins Quarterly 39, no. 3-4: 88-106). The author sees this rather late poem as a meditation on time and death. Hopkins felt the tension between what he knew epistemologically (loss, waste, death) and the eschatology taught by his religious faith, where death makes salvation possible. That tension manifests itself throughout Hopkins' writings, from his nature poems to his sermons. With the poem in question Costantini shows how Hopkins takes on the themes of predecessors like Herrick but adds his own characteristic ambiguities--the poem is elliptical and incomplete, it "'speaks' through its silences" (p. 103).

Finally, Hopkins scholars will want to be aware of some more specialized and usually shorter contributions. Justin C. Tackett in "Gerard Manley Hopkins (and Others) in OUP's Periodical" (Notes and Queries 59.257.3 (2012): 416-417) takes note of the promotional booklet sent out by the Press four or five times a year from 1896 to 1979 and how, despite its many discussions of Hopkins, it has always been omitted from Hopkins bibliographies. Tackett also raises the possibility that wartime disruptions to its publication schedule may account for the small sale of the first edition of Hopkins' poems. The first issue (nos. 1-2) of Hopkins Quarterly for 2012 offers two remembrances, one by Adrian Grafe and one by Cary Plotkin, of the late and distinguished Hopkins scholar Renfi Gallet. In the second issue Gerard Roberts makes a biographical contribution in "Living with Fr. Eyre: Hopkins at Stonyhurst College 1882-1884" (pp. 77-87); he focuses on a Jesuit superior who thought the poet eccentric if not mad. That same issue contains the first installment of "A Nautical Glossary of 'The Wreck of the Deutschland,' Part the first" by Cheryl Stiles (pp. 107-117), which shows in line-by-line annotation the poet's mastery of a terminology commonly known in his family--his father Manley was a marine insurance adjuster. Presumably we will be able to report on a second and longer installment (Part the second) in next year's review.

The Pre-Raphaelites


The year brought more books, articles, edited letters and essay collections on the Pre-Raphaelites than can fit into a synopsis of conventional length. In what follows I will consider two volumes which offer synthetic studies of Pre-Raphaelitism as a whole, a variety of essays and book chapters focused on Christina Rossetti, Dante Rossetti and William Morris, and a comprehensive edition of the letters of Jane Morris.

The Pre-Raphaelites and Rossettis

The Germ: Origins and Progenies of Pre-Raphaelite Interactive Aesthetics (Peter Lang) by Paola Spinozzi and Elisa Bizzotto approaches Pre-Raphaelitism as a whole through the narrower lens of its originary periodical, a perspective which enables its authors to reconsider the ways in which the youthful Pre-Raphaelites' Victorian romanticism shocked their contemporaries and influenced their successors. Spinozzi and Bizzotto give careful attention to the views of less-often-cited figures such as William Michael Rossetti, Frederick Stephens, Walter Deverell, John Orchard, John Tupper, and Thomas Woolner, and in particular to their conviction that practicing artists in several media should be articulate critical intellectuals, who explained and interpreted the principles of their work in ways which influenced later periodicals such as The Century Guild, The Hobby Horse, and The Yellow Book.

In the book's first chapter, entitled "Origins and Propagations," the authors lay out The Germ's history, founders, brief four-issue run, initially favorable reception, and emphasis on manifestos as well as essays on art. Ignoring for the most part William Holman Hunt's claim that he and John Everett Millais were the originators of a Ruskin-influenced critique of Old Masters and advocacy of more direct and authentic views of the visual arts, they focus on the uneasy coexistence of the Rossettis' attempts to ally progressive calls for "truth to nature" with romantic medievalism and mildly "gothic" psychological states.

In chapter two, "A Biographical Perspective on the Germ," the authors offer brief assessments of the contributions and perspectives of each contributor, and bring into focus such figures as Robert Campbell and William Bell Scott. The section on "Ellen Alleyn," for example, argues that Christina Rossetti permitted her elder brother to provide her with a pen-name and select from among her poems those he thought fit for inclusion, but took a keen if sometimes critical interest in the project and offered advice and commentary from a distance.

In chapter three, "Aesthetic Prose in The Germ: Moulding a Literary Mode," Spinozzi and Bizzotto argue that the periodical modeled forms of self-referential aesthetic prose in which "statements acquire full significance only through a specific formal structure" (p. 100). Rossetti's "Hand and Soul," for example, modeled the psychological romance and "imaginary portrait," and essays by John Tupper, John Orchard, John Frederick Stephens, and Coventry Patmore considered the roles of critics, principles of close observation, and the interrelations of verbal, visual, and other arts.

In chapter four, "Germinal Poetical Imageries: From Pre-Raphaelitism to the Fin de Siecle and Modernism," the authors offer critical commentary on each of the periodical's poetic selections by John Orchard, Thomas Woolner, Walter Deverell, James Collinson, Robert Campbell, Coventry Patmore, and the three Rossettis. Arguing that these writers anticipated later Pre-Raphaelite poetic sensibilities, they endeavor to find common strands in their use of symbolism and portrayals of natural details, romantic relationships, and transcendence, and clarify ways in which common literary models and tacit common principles anticipated subsequent paradigms (Rossetti's "Sonnets for Pictures" later "picture poems," for example).

In chapter five, "The Germ as the Prototype of the Artist's Magazine," the authors conjecture that fine art/literature magazines such as The Savoy (1896), The Idler (1892-98), and the English Review (1908-37) were influenced by the example of the Germ and adopted some of its "constitutive aspects," among them "the Romantic legacy, the presence of charismatic personalities, interart osmosis, aspiration to the Gesamtkunstwerk, [and] ambivalent relationship with the public and the market" (p. 199). They also give consideration to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine and assert that in a comparison, "The Germ wins" in importance (p. 196), a debatable assertion in the light of the OCM's much wider coverage of education, religion, feminism, and labor relations.

The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites, edited by Elizabeth Prette-john, provides a welcome compendium and overview of the movement's major figures and intellectual origins, although the collection devotes more attention to artistic than literary aspects of the movement. The volume includes chapters on The Germ and the "literary Pre-Raphaelites," Dante Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and William Michael Rossetti, for example, but its otherwise helpful entry for Elizabeth Siddall makes no mention of her poetry, and a number of talented Pre-Raphaelite-influenced poets and artists make no appearance at all.

In her introduction, Prettejohn examines complex ways in which the term "Pre-Raphaelitism" has impeded as well as aided the understanding of this artistic/literary movement, and argues that "Pre-Raphaelitism was both a literary and an artistic movement; or perhaps it would be better to say that it was neither, in that it refused to recognize the difference as meaningful" (p. 7). Observing that Pre-Raphaelitism has had a better press among literary critics than art historians, she concludes in her "Envoi" that Pre-Raphaelite art's subsequent international popularity merits further exploration, but makes no mention of a relatively recent such effort, Worldwide Pre-Raphaelitism, edited by Tom Tobin (SUNY Press, 2004).

In "The Pre-Raphaelites and Literature," Isobel Armstrong focuses on the "Immortals" the original PreRaphaelites sought to emulate, and observes that their choices reflected "muted but perceptible feminism," "a republican and democratic strain of thought," and a welcome effort to unite English and continental literary traditions. After examining the contrasting Pre-Raphaelite responses to influential predecessors such as Dante and Keats, for example, as well as the now-forgotten romance writer Charles Wells, Armstrong considers the importance they ascribed to portrayals of erotic love as "a sensory state in which eye and touch are not severed" (p. 22), and their conviction that a symbol should not be allegorical but "inherent in the fact" (p. 26) of lived human experience. But she also observes that it was inevitable that individual interpretations of such "facts" and experiences would eventually clash, and when that happened "the fractured nature of Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic theory and of the texts--often the same texts--that [had] held the group together ... tore it apart" (p. 18). A second Pre-Raphaelite half-generation represented by Swinburne and Morris heightened the criteria mentioned earlier into something "more agonistic and more confident--the politics became more radical, the reading of sexuality both more flagrant and more conflicted, the experiment with genre more deconstructive" (p. 28).

In "The Germ," Andrew M. Stauffer notes that the joint contributions of the Rossettis to The Germ followed a tradition of earlier Rossetti family magazines such as the Hodge Podge and the Illustrated Scrapbook. He examines "Hand and Soul" in some detail as an embodiment of Dante Rossetti's view that "truth to nature" was a "code for the expression of one's imagination" (p. 79), a dictum which complemented E G. Stephens' admonition that an artist "must not forget the soul for the hand" (p. 80). Stauffer also focuses on the collaborative nature of the Brothers' meetings; their shared respect for Poe and contemporary poets such as Browning; and their regard for the art historian Jean Baptiste Louis George Seroux d'Agincourt for his interest in the culture of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. He concludes that their views "shifted the terms and practice of Victorian art" (p. 84).

In "The Poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti," Jerome McGann argues that Rossetti's poetry was significantly influenced by his early work as a translator of Dante and the stil novisti circle, from whom he derived models of concision, diction, rhymes, artifice, and use of autobiographical personae. McGann also observes that Rossetti rejected literal translations in favor of fidelity in a broader sense and advocated a "transparency of style," by which he means the evocation of prior syllabic metrical patterns beneath their accentual English counterparts. Noting Rossetti's skill in the use of "minute particulars" and "double poems" in the pairing of poems and paintings, McGann argues that this "gap which stands between the composite parts of the Rossettian double work is one of its essential features" (p. 97), and concludes that The House of Life's final sequence acknowledged a "moral order where change and uncertainty rule" (p. 101).

In "Christina Rossetti," Lorraine Janzen Kooistra interprets significant aspects of Christina's poetry as reflections of a shared family aesthetic principle, in the sense that "if Pre-Raphaelite art schools its viewers in 'close looking,' the Pre-Raphaelite poetry of Christina Rossetti seeks to instruct its readers in close reading" (p. 164). Describing Christina Rossetti's participation in the shared family creation of illustrated books and informal illustrations, Kooistra argues that she designed her works to "encourage ... readers to read emblematically and anagogically" (p. 169) and to decode "detail and allusion within a form that is itself symbolic" (p. 170). She also remarks that Rossetti's active participation in the choice of the designs, covers, and illustrations for The Prince's Progress and Sing-Song influenced the work of designers such as Charles Ricketts, Laurence Houseman, and Camille Pissarro who were "were inspired by the example of Christina Rossetti's verbal-visual aesthetic" (p. 180).

In "The Writings of William Morris," Jeffrey Skoblow searches for unity in the multiplicity of Morris' poetic, artistic, and political work. Finding in Morris' poetry a conviction of the need for renovation in art and society, he argues that it waged "a moral crusade.., with the weapons of aesthetic politics"; closed a "great divide" (p. 197) through the historical imagination of his poetry, essays, and prose romances; dramatized the distance between artistic ideals and the "eyeless vulgarity" of modem civilization (p. 201); and demanded "an immersion that anthologies, by their nature, and our own modem and post-modem reading habits militate against--which is another dimension of Morris' insistence that the modem and the beautiful live in two different worlds" (p. 204).

In "William Michael Rossetti," Angela Thirwell, author of The Other Rossettis: William and Lucy Rossetti (2003), argues that Rossetti's early poem "Mrs. Holmes Grey" was an innovative attempt to apply Pre-Raphaelite principles to the depiction of everyday life; that his arrangement for the exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art in the United States advanced American appreciation for its principles; and that his art criticism was valued by its contemporaries for its broad appreciation of different modes and schools of art. Observing that William hoped originally to become a doctor--a datum that suggests that the history of the Rossetti family might have been quite different had Dante helped William pursue his ambitions rather than the other way around--Thirwell also concludes that William's "virtuosity in dealing with ... art and literature parallel[ed] his brother's more celebrated dual skills in poetry and painting" (p. 253).

In "A Pre-Raphaelite Abroad: Dante Rossetti's 'A Trip to Paris and Belgium,'" (Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 21 [Spring 2012]), D.M.R. Bentley provides a thorough analysis of the sonnets and blank verse Rossetti wrote during his fall 1849 journey as an illustration of Pre-Raphaelite principles in verse. Noting his scrutiny of rapid travel, observations of natural phenomena, and explorations of the contemporary urban milieu, Bentley observes that Rossetti was unattracted by conventional tourist sites such as the battlefield of Waterloo and the Old Masters in the Louvre ("Because, dear God! The flesh thou madest smooth / These carked and fretted"). By contrast he responded warmly to the work of Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling; celebrated in "The Carillon" and "Pax Vobis" the epiphanic experience of standing in a belfry surrounded by its chimes; and "show[ed] himself to have been almost continually ... concerned with the body and its relationship not only with the mind or soul, but also with the objects and people who impinge upon and surround it" (p. 54).

In Religious Imaginaries: The Liturgical and Poetic Practices of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Adelaide Procter (Ohio University Press), Karen Dieleman offers a neutral step-by-step guide to the Anglican service for non-adherents and analyzes the effects of denominational differences on nineteenth-century women's religious poetry. Taking as examples a Congregationalist, Anglo-Catholic, and Roman Catholic poet, she argues that their themes, arguments, and imagery were often influenced by these confessional traditions and suggests that some of Rossetti's aesthetic and religious choices reflected the changes in church rituals and decorations she encountered at her place of worship.

In "'The Beloved Anglican Church of My Baptism': Christina Rossetti's Religious Imaginary," Dieleman argues that Tractarian practice "[took] mystery and uncertainty as a gift, not a problem" (p. 101), an attitude familiar to readers of Rossetti's poetry, and posits that Anglican traditions "[did] not privilege the verbal [as in preaching] but instead [saw] object, ritual, and symbol as equally or more able to manifest the focal meaning of the Christ-event."

She also singles out three aspects of Anglo-Catholic practice she finds reflected in Rossetti's work and sensibility: "Tractarianism," "ecclesiology," and "ritualism." "Tractarianism" focused her attention on sacraments rather than sermons, in deference to "the power of the divine presence in material objects" (such as communion wine) (p. 114). "Ecclesiology" could be seen in her attention to "spatial arrangements and the material effects of the book or page" (p. 125) along with elaborate chancels, prominent baptismal fonts, and raised east-facing altars. "Ritualism" nominally supported her beloved doctrine of a communion of saints, but it also imposed distinctions of dress, venerated objects, and placement of the priest, choir, and congregants, as well as exclusion of girls and women in the choir, since "the duty of leading belong[ed] to the men" (p. 133). Such rigidities, Dieleman suggests, "stimulated her to envision the Christian community in her final collection of poetry not in ritualist terms but with a more historic Anglican understanding of communion" (p. 134).

In "Manifestation, Aesthetics, and Community in Christina Rossetti's Verses," her second chapter, Dieleman considers the volume in which Rossetti reprinted earlier poems with new titles and revisions, and an eight-part arrangement of sonnets and roundels designed to encourage "manifestations" or direct encounters with Christ and his communion of saints. The SPCK brought forth this volume at a price designed to encourage wide circulation, and Dieleman observes that the hymns in Rossetti's Verses--which reached seven editions--found their way into the Anglican hymnal as well as into those of other denominations in North America as well as Great Britain.

Time has blurred distinctions between the remarkably many branches of nineteenth-century British Christianity, and although many careful studies of Christina Rossetti's religious writings have paid homage to her intentions and sensibilities, fewer writers have taken the trouble to analyze their personal and institutional antecedents. Dieleman's lucid arguments help clarify why Rossetti framed her idiosyncratic spiritual experiences as she did.

In "'Heartsease/Found': Rossetti, Analogy, and the Individual Believing Subject" (Literature and Theology, Oxford Journals, November 27 online), Richard Frith rejects assertions that Rossetti's faith was naive or childlike and argues that she fortified her responses to doubt and uncertainty with "inner standing points"--a term sometimes applied to the poetic stances of her brother Dante Gabriel--which "allowed her to relocate 'objective' divine analogies within the mind of the poem's speaker" (I, para. 8). Contrasting Rossetti's appeals to analogies with those of Hopkins and Tennyson, Frith traces analogical undercurrents in "The First Spring Day" and "The Old-World Thicket" ("arguably her greatest engagement with nature and analogy" (II, para. 9), and concludes that her search for a "perspectivist" epiphany paralleled Friedrich Schleiermacher's conjecture that "the [human] mind is in some sense divine in its capacity to reveal the nature of God through created things."

In "Vampires and Goblins: Coleridge's Influence on Christina Rossetti" (Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 21 [Spring 2012]), Nancee Reeves argues that the "vampire imagery" of Goblin Market departed from its patriarchal antecedents in The Vampyre (1819) by Rossetti's uncle John Polidori. She suggests that Coleridge's "Christabel" provided a more direct model in its irregular rhythms, kinship of victim and predator, and the latter's complex self-loathing. In his conclusion, Reeves conjectures that Rossetti's volunteer work at Highgate Penitentiary offered a template for her allegory of redemption through sisterhood. She argues that Goblin Market was the sole "nineteenth-century example of successful female agency in a vampire story" (p. 70), and "very different from other literature of the penitentiary movement in that the pure woman is not set before the fallen woman as an example; instead, as in 'Goblin Market,' the two are seen as equals" (p. 67).

In "'Come Buy, Come Buy': Christina Rossetti's 'Goblin Market' and the Cries of London" (Journal of Victorian Culture 17.1), Megan A. Norcia compares the raucous chants in Goblin Market with vendors' cries the Rossettis would have heard day in and day out in Charlotte and Albany Streets in London. She describes contemporary "alphabet books" of London folklore and the hundred and eighty compendia of such cries printed for the amusement and admonition of adults as well as children. Observing more generally the use of Victorian children's literature as handbooks of such instruction, Norcia also remarks in her conclusion that the very familiarity of the "goblins"' cries illustrated the extent to which "the children's literature of the 1860s was in a state of flux regarding instruction and entertainment" (p. 45).
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Title Annotation:p. 371-409
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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