Printer Friendly

Swinburne.

2014 saw the publication of the first monograph devoted to Algernon Charles Swinburne to appear in many years; Yisrael Levin's Swinburne's Apollo: Myth, Faith, and Victorian Spirituality (Ashgate). Prior to it, the most recent was Catherine Maxwell's Swinburne (Northcote House, 2006), but this followed the template of the Northcote House writers-and-their-work series and aimed to provide a concise, introductory overview of his career. For a full-length monograph on Swinburne, we have to cast back to 1990 and Margot K. Louis's Swinburne and his Gods: The Roots and Growth of an Agnostic Poetry (McGill-Queen's University Press). In some ways, Levin's book asks to be read as a companion to Louis's: he follows her argument that Swinburne's career can be understood as a progression from an early nihilistic vision to a series of experiments in an affirmative, neo-pagan spirituality. Put another way, both Louis and Levin suggest that Swinburne's atheism prompts him to break with the Romantic tradition in his early career, only for him to reconstitute Romantic spirituality on his own terms in his later poetry. Yet Levin takes this logic a step further than Louis. Where her book was concerned to demonstrate the brio and intellectual substance of Swinburne's early iconoclasm as well as to show how it flowered into a more productive vision in his later work, Levin frames this teleological narrative much more starkly. Like the recent volume of essays Levin edited, A. C. Swinburne and the Singing Word: New Perspectives on the Mature Work (Ashgate, 2010), Swinburne's Apollo seeks to correct the perception that Swinburne's creative genius consumed itself in and through the publication of his succes de scandale, Poems and Ballads, in 1866. In Swinburne's Apollo, Levin inverts this familiar narrative: the early poetry, which for him includes the overtly political poetry of the 1870s (Songs Before Sunrise [1871] and Songs of Two Nations [1875]), is inferior to the late work, and interests him primarily insofar as it anticipates the neo-pagan Romanticism of the Putney years, when Swinburne lived sedately and in semi-seclusion with his friend Theodore Watts-Dunton. Levin's desire to champion Swinburne's Putney poetry over the earlier work creates an obvious structural problem for this slim book. For the first 81 pages--just over half its length--Levin engages with the pre-1878 work rather dutifully, only considering it for its proleptic value. Nonetheless, Levin's patient close readings of what he calls the "mature work" and his rich analysis of the centrality of the myth of Apollo to Swinburne's poetic imagination makes his book a valuable contribution to Swinburne scholarship. Levin's lucid and engaging introductory chapter, which situates Swinburne's investment in the figure of Apollo in relation to nineteenth-century anthropology, mythography, and religious debates, will also be of interest to scholars working on the intersections between poetry, Christianity, and paganism at the fin de siecle.

A significant number of recent essays suggest that Swinburne's critical fortunes are benefitting from the turn to "neo-formalism" that has been a crucial stand of Victorian studies over the past decade. Although the essays noted here are not especially concerned with addressing political and aesthetic questions simultaneously--the principal commitment of the neo-formalists--there is nonetheless a surge of critical interest in Swinburne's technical virtuosity, one that is clearly drawing some of its confidence from a wider impetus to recuperate formalism and varieties of aesthetic appreciation. Jason David Hall and Alex Murray's edited collection, Decadent Poetics: Literature and Form at the British Fin de Siecle (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) exemplifies how this renewed attention to form is prompting scholars to rediscover neglected or long-disparaged tracts of Swinburne's oeuvre. Nick Freeman's superb essay '"The Harem of Words': Attenuation and Excess in Decadent Poetry" explores the paradoxical effects of Swinburne's tendency to draw upon a carefully restricted stock of favorite words, and traces the influence of this verbal self-discipline upon the poetry of Arthur Symons and Ernest Dowson. Ana Parejo Vadillo's "Another Renaissance: The Decadent Poetic Drama of A. C. Swinburne and Michael Field" makes a compelling case for the value of Swinburne's little-read Stuart plays and for the hidden centrality of "closet drama" to decadent and modernist literature more generally. Swinburne scholars will also want to read Meredith Martin's essay, "Did Decadent Metre Exist at the Fin de Siecle?" in the same volume, which considers the significance of Swinburne's long poetic line in the making of a distinctively decadent poetics. Joanna Swafford's "Swinburne and the Mobius Strip: Circumvented Circularity in A Century of Roundels" (VP 51 no. 3 [2013]: 297-309) reappraises Swinburne's experiments with the roundel form and gives a subtle account of how these poems undermine the sense of closure apparently achieved by their own circular logic. Simon Jarvis's contribution to the Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry (Oxford Univ. Press, 2013), "Swinburne: die Insuperable Sea," offers intricate, extended close readings of Swinburne's handling of rhyme and rhythm in "Anactoria" (1866) and Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), and manages faithfully to convey the difficulties and pleasures of reading Swinburne. Although Andrew Kay's "Swinburne, Impressionistic Formalism, and the Afterlife of Victorian Poetic Theory" (VP 51 no. 3 [2013]: 271-295) is concerned with Swinburne's work as a critic, especially with his William Blake: A Critical Essay (1867), it nonetheless displays the same effort to develop a more precise and appreciative vocabulary for analyzing Swinburne's aesthetic effects that is evident in the best recent work on his poetry. Kay also gives a valuable account of Swinburne's somewhat occluded but important role in the framing axioms of early twentieth century literary criticism, notably in the work of Northrop Frye and I. A. Richards.

A significant number of essays this year have sought to provide more refined and searching accounts of aspects of Swinburne's life and work that have tended to circulate in terms of caricature or critical cliche. In two lively and erudite essays, Charlotte Ribeyrol contextualizes Swinburne's sexually transgressive poetics: "It's Bawdier in Greek: A. C. Swinburne's Subversions of the Hellenic Code" (Cahiers victoriens et edouardiens 78 [Autumn 2013]) focuses on Swinburne's artful exploitation of the ambivalent status of Hellenism in nineteenth century culture, its capacity to signify both scholasticism and obscenity; "Poetic Podophilia: Gautier, Baudelaire, Swinburne and Classical Foot Fetishism" (Journal of Victorian Culture 20.2 [2015]: 212-229) elucidates the classical and French origins of the eroticized foot imagery in Swinburne's poetry and suggests how his work may be read as part of a literary genealogy of Sigmund Freud's concept of the fetish. A fine chapter on Swinburne, Baudelaire, and Gautier in Matthew Potolsky's Decadent Republic of Letters: Taste, Politics, and Community from Baudelaire to Beardsley (Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 2013) argues that Swinburne's predilection for extravagant praise of fellow writers should be understood in terms of a cosmopolitan politics of community intrinsic to nineteenth-century literary decadence. Francis O'Gorman's essay, "Swinburne and Tennyson's Peerage" (English Studies 96.3 [2015]: 277-292), gives a fresh and compelling account of Swinburne's understanding of the relationship between poetry and politics by teasing out the complexities of his outrage at Tennyson's elevation to the peerage in 1883. In "The Element of Living Storm: Swinburne and the Brontes" (Victorian Literature and Culture 41.3 [2013]: 463-485), Lakshmi Krishnan explores Swinburne's sense of affinity with Charlotte and Emily Bronte, contextualizes Swinburne's place in the reception history of their works, and persuasively shows that Swinburne's unf inished novel Lesbia Brandon (1859-1868) bears the influence of Wuthering Heights (1847). Claire Pascolini-Campbell's "Problematic Genealogies: Algernon Charles Swinburne, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the Discovery of Francois Villon" (VP 52.4 [2014]: 661-678) corrects literary history by establishing that Swinburne was the first English translator and proponent of the fifteenth-century French poet Francois Villon, a laurel that is conventionally accorded to Rossetti. Pascolini-Campbell also shows how Rossetti's vision of Villon subsequently influenced Swinburne's, encouraging him to accentuate the more nostalgic and tender dimensions of the poet's work rather than the salaciousness that had originally attracted him. Finally, Malgorzata Luczynska-Holdys's '"For Where Thou Fliest I Shall Not Follow': Memory and Poetic Song in Swinburne's 'Itylus'" (Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 23 [Fall]: 74-84) suggests that Swinburne's "Itylus" anticipates some of the insights of contemporary trauma theory.
COPYRIGHT 2015 West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Guide to the Year's Work; Algernon Charles Swinburne
Author:Lyons, Sara
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2015
Words:1342
Previous Article:The Pre-Raphaelites.
Next Article:Tennyson.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |