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Women poets.

2010 has been notable for the attention given to Amy Levy, the bold, technically accomplished and politically radical late-nineteenth-century poet, essayist, short-story writer, and novelist. Naomi Hetherington and Nadia Valman's edited collection Amy Levy: Critical Essays, is an excellent contribution to the resurgence of interest in Levy (see, for example, Linda Hunt Beckman's Amy Levy: Her Life and Letters [Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 2000], and Susan David Bernstein's 2006 Broadview editions of Levy's novels Reuben Sachs and The Romance of a Shop). The essays as a whole challenge and complicate Levy's relationship to Judaism and the tendency to read her work and life through her tragic suicide. Contributors circle around several important topics: Levy as an Anglo-Jewish novelist; Levy as a New Woman poet; Levy as an urban writer; and Levy's social, cultural, and professional networks. The collection aims to recover the literary contexts to her writing and addresses all the genres in which she wrote (including novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and correspondence). Many chapters draw on the rich and fascinating material in the privately owned Beth-Zion Abrahams collection of Amy Levy material. Of particular concern for contributors to the collection are her relation to feminist politics and scientific discourse, and the critical reconfiguration of Levy's complex sense of her own identity. Overall, the collection raises the profile of Levy's writing as a major force in the intellectual milieu of late-century Britain.

The editors provide a compelling introduction, arguing for a multifaceted approach to Amy Levy that embraces her complex and sometimes contradictory intellectual, political, and literary influences. In addition, the selected bibliography gives a useful list of works by Levy, including a selection of those published in periodicals, and a selection of important reception material. Three essays in particular will interest Victorian Poetry readers. Firstly, T. D. Olverson's "'Such Are Not Woman's Thoughts': Amy Levy's 'Xantippe' and 'Medea'" (pp. 110-131), which focuses on two of her most discussed poems as key points in the development of Levy's thought. Olverson argues that the dramatic monologue "Xantippe" and the closet drama "Medea" engage with Hellenism for political effect. Levy's Hellenism is presented in terms of recent critical debate that positions late-Victorian women as moving into the classics (rather than being excluded by it) as a way to challenge their contemporary culture. The essay presents the importance of Plato's Symposium to "Xantippe" as well as to Victorian debates about the Woman Question: "Levy's poem challenges not only the masculine values of antiquity but also the contemporary male writers and philosophers who threatened to reinstate and thereby culturally legitimize the same elitist and prejudicial attitudes in Victorian England" (p. 118). Olverson sees in Xantippe a provocative challenge to Plato's and Socrates' view of women and the intellectual sphere, even as it underlines Levy's own exclusion from male discourse, a discourse which women must learn in order to change. Xantippe, a "figure of angry protest"--leads to Levy's next development in her Hellenism, the closet drama "Medea." This classical figure, "disavowed and disenfranchised," allows Levy "to articulate her anxieties concerning her Anglo-Jewish identity and her feminist beliefs" (p. 122). While the broad strokes of this reading are in harmony with other critiques of Levy, Olverson is significant for the specific contexts of the Victorian interest in Medea (pp. 124-125) and especially the relation between Medea and Jewish immigration into England. The essay, in addition, demonstrates how Levy appropriates the racial terminology of the Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer to engage in debate about Jewishness and national identity: "Medea's social isolation and eventual exile suggest the difficulty of maintaining a diasporic identity in the face of a (seemingly) hegemonic culture" (p. 128). Ultimately, this argument finds that Levy remythologizes Medea into a pessimistic ending as the only way to demythologize: "Levy's Hellenistic poems can therefore be read not only as cautionary tales concerning the disavowed and disenfranchised but also as forward-looking contributions in revisionist mythmaking" (p. 130). Olverson is finely attuned to the complexities and contradictions in Levy's Hellenism, while also trying to read it in a positive humanist light, just as Levy treats Medea in a humanist spirit, without the deus ex machina of Euripides.

Alex Goody's essay, "Passing in the City: The Liminal Spaces of Amy Levy's Late Work" (pp. 157-179), is theoretically engaged, employing a feminist Deleuzian approach and also exploring the psychoanalytical implications of "passing." The analysis concentrates on identity and its contradictions, giving some nuanced readings of A London Plane Tree, and diverging from recent critical work on Levy and the city by seeing more ambivalence to urban modernity. Like Olverson's contribution, this essay is welcome for its unraveling of problems and contradictions in Levy, and for opening out Levy's range of concerns by relating her work to the modernists. There is also some interesting discussion of Levy's relation with Baudelaire, rather than James Thomson, to whom she is more often compared. The third essay to address poetry, "Verse or Vitality? Biological Economies and the New Woman Poet" (pp. 198-220) by Lyssa Randolph, compares discourses about gender and biology in Amy Levy and Constance Naden. In particular, the critique focuses on the late-Victorian understanding of female poetic genius, especially in relation to representations of Levy's and Naden's deaths in 1889, and how misogynistic accounts of the poets are challenged in the feminist press. This is fascinating material for its account of how critics grappled with Levy's pessimism and suicide and her departure from the female expressive tradition of women's poetry. The associations between biology, poetic creativity, and women's relation to power are compelling. The collection ends with an Afterword by Mari-Jane Rochelson, who makes some important points about Levy's relation to a traditional canon that, until recently, was mostly based on white Christian British men. In particular, while Rochelson acknowledges the accessibility of Levy's writing through recent critical editions and biographies, and its centrality to Victorian studies, she also remarks that Levy's "centrality resides in her marginal position" (p. 223).

Hetherington and Valman's edited collection of essays consolidates Levy as a rich, nuanced, and complex writer who was actively part of important intellectual networks and debates, thus challenging the conventional retrospective reading of her work through the lens of her tragic suicide while also being attuned to Levy's overt sense of displacement. My only hesitation about the collection overall is its implicit assertion of generic boundaries (not uncommon, of course, in Victorian studies), in the arguably artificial if not anachronistic separation of discussion of Levy's poetry from her prose. As women's poetry begun to be positioned centrally to Victorian studies from the 1980s, treating poetry as implicitly removed from prose was perhaps a defensible critical strategy to recover and privilege the genre. It may be time, however, for Victorianists to reconsider such a strategy, especially in light of Isobel Armstrong's recent comments for Victorian Poetry Network ("The Long Nineteenth Century: Where Have All the Women Poets Gone?" (http:// web.uvic.ca/~vicpoet/2011/01/the-long-nineteenth-century-where.have-the. women-poets-gone/) about what she sees as the failure of the feminist recovery of nineteenth-century women poets, the origin of which she blames on the political move to treat them as a separate tradition from men's poetry, which raises a wider concern: the conventional critical premise, so pervasive that it is rarely even acknowledged, that separates Victorian women's poetry from other genres, including those by women. Criticism of women's poetry is, however, beginning to embrace the wider generic and contextual fabric of Victorian literature and culture. Indeed, several critics covered in this review are already moving towards a more holistic and inclusive reading of women's poetry.

Another important contribution to Levy studies is the new biography by Christine Pullen, The Woman Who Dared. This carefully researched, lively account draws heavily on manuscript material and (contra Hetherington and Valman) charts Levy's intellectual and emotional life through emphasis upon her suicide from the outset, organizing the material around that moment. Pullen's biography is extremely valuable for its excavation of Levy's late-century context. Two of the major organizing motifs are Levy's desire to be financially and socially independent from her parents, with her simultaneous struggle with her parents' desire to conform to Victorian middle-class values, and her desire to maintain artistic integrity while also meeting the demands of the literary marketplace. Levy's European and British travel is uncovered as crucial to her development as a writer, as are the circles she cultivates through the reading room in the British Museum and the daring "Men and Women's Club." Of special interest to Pullen is Levy's unhappy friendship with Karl Pearson and his political and philosophical influence: in fact, Pullen directly blames Levy's suicide on her devastation at what she saw as Pearson's romantic betrayal, an interpretation that is controversial if intriguing. This biography is full of gems for the poetry scholar, such as its suggestive connections between Levy and Christina Rossetti (reading Levy's "Magdalen" alongside Rossetti's interest in sexual fallenness, her work for the Highgate Penitentiary, and her support for the 1883 petition to raise the age of consent and arguing that Levy challenges her precursor by treating Magdalen as a blameless victim [pp. 74-78]). Levy's important friendships with Dolly Radford, Mary F. Robinson, and Vernon Lee are also covered.

Last year was also notable for a cluster of interest around another accomplished late-century woman poet, novelist, and critic, Mary Elizabeth Coleridge. Kasey Bass Baker's essay "'Oh, lift me over the threshold, and let me in at the door!': Boundaries and Thresholds in Mary Coleridge's Poetry," published in the Summer 2010 issue of this journal, offers an important new reading of the much-discussed poem "The Witch," based on previously unpublished manuscript material in Eton College Library. The essay also addresses Robert Bridges' comments to the poem and Coleridge's revisions. Especially interesting is Coleridge's removal of quotation marks in a later version of "The Witch," erasing a firm distinction between the two voices in the poem: "she was evidently working to create this threshold moment, when we recognize a shift in voice" (p. 196). In an engagement with other critics who have explored Coleridge's fascination with boundaries, Baker offers a new analysis, arguing that Coleridge's poetry welcomes the moment when boundaries become thresholds (for example, suggesting that Coleridge invites her precursor and namesake's poem "Christabel" into her poem): "Coleridge experiments with poetry in order to portray these precarious moments when two subjectivities converge in mutual self-consciousness, an aesthetic and personal act she initiates and desires" (p. 200). In addition, Baker unfolds Coleridge's shifting poetics, arguing that "Coleridge's letters reveal that her poetry results from her experiences in a network of relationships she has created. She constantly modifies, re-creates, and negates her poetic identity through masks like 'Anodos' and through the poetic re-writings that her network produced" (p. 196). More sophisticated than a traditional biographical reading of Coleridge, this approach explores what critics have taken to be her secretive lesbian relationships as central to her poetic development and, Baker argues (endorsing Sharon Marcus), normative and not secret at all. If that is the case, however, why the secrecy, coyness and mystery around Coleridge's relationships and networks, something she and her later friends and memoirists cultivate? Baker acknowledges as much when she says: "If she did indeed understand her work as the product of a network of relationships and experiences, her central concern seems to be to tuck the poems in their contexts in the privacy of such networks, allowing future readers to hear only the echoes" (pp. 214). This contradiction might be fruitfully explored through the logic of the open secret, but in any case there remains a tension between understanding Coleridge's sense of poetic and personal identity, and in the end the poetry's shifting voices may frustrate any contextualization. Although the debate about the relation between Coleridge's life and her enigmatic poetry will continue, Baker's contribution is a fresh, original critical voice, and she offers a significant reinterpretation of a key poem based on some admirable archival material that has passed previous scholars by.

Another very welcome contribution to raising Coleridge's profile is Simon Avery's selected edition of her poems, published by Shearsman Books (which, like Kingston Univ. Press, should be congratulated for its bold commitment to promoting lesser-known Victorian women poets). This edition is very much a selection, presenting 90 of her almost 250 poems, and pointing to the shame that her complete poems, as well as reviews (especially her prominent reviews for the Times Literary Supplement), are not readily accessible in a modern critical edition. Nevertheless, Avery's edition is a good start. The text for the poems is taken from the first published volume edition and, for posthumously published poems, Henry Newbolt's Poems by Mary E. Coleridge (1908). Avery's introduction provides insightful biographical and important contextual background, which makes this edition especially attractive for teaching. Sharp in his assessment of Coleridge, Avery sees her as supremely contemporary and deeply interested in debates about art, theatre, science, psychology, and education, thus countering previous critics who have claimed that Coleridge is conservative and disengaged with political radicalism. Avery cites Sally Ledger's work on the New Woman to point out that late-century feminism took many different forms, and he cites Ledger's telling phrase that Coleridge was "nothing if not modern" (p. 13), exemplified, he argues, in Coleridge's choice to remain single, in her autodidacticism, and her cultivation of a professional writing identity within literary London. The introduction offers a reading of a range of Coleridge's poems that are usually sidelined for the more riddling and allusive Gothic poetry, uncovering their important contemporary contexts. This is a valuable selected edition, presenting a fresh approach to Coleridge's poetry, and it will hopefully attract more interest in the importance of Coleridge to the landscape of late-nineteenth-century poetry. Other women poets who have enjoyed renewed attention include George Eliot, whose poems are of course usually neglected in favor of her prose. In a powerful, innovative essay, Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi discusses Eliot's poetry in light of her literary career, especially her sense of professionalism. Hadjiafxendi focuses on the cultural politics of the poetic voice in the light of George Eliot's participation in the masculinized world of periodical print, arguing that she explores the gendering of artistic labor through the figure of the voice ("'George Eliot,' the Literary Market-Place and Sympathy," in Authorship in Context: From the Theoretical to the Material [Palgrave Macmillan, 2007]). The essay concentrates on the important poem "Erinna," about the Greek poet who died after being chained by her mother to a spinning wheel at the age of nineteen. The poem is read alongside Eliot's crucial essay about the seventeenth-century salonniere, "Woman in France: Madame de Sabld," which "contrasts the patriarchy of the modern publishing industry with the mixed-gender intellectual conversations of de Sable's literary salon in the 1640s and 1650s" (p. 99). Eliot makes problematic the feminine ideal in terms of the domestication of female labor, deploying the trope of the voice to question the distinctions between amateur, professional, and domestic work. European literary salons "were for Eliot emblematic of her quest for a kind of a communal space that could enable solidarity between men and women through the promotion of female intellectuality" (p. 100). This discussion is an impressive contribution to the emerging interest in literary sociability, exemplified by Gillian Russell and Clara Tuite's edited collection of essays, Social Networks and Literary Culture in Britain, 1770-1840 (Cambridge Univ. Press 2002), and more recently the 2011 special issue of Women's Writing (vol. 18, issue 1), edited by Gillian Dow, devoted to Women Readers in Europe: Readers, Writers, Salonni&es, 1750-1900. Hadjiafxendi contributes to the debate by acknowledging the contrast between the aurality of salon culture and patriarchal contemporary print culture, and the politically problematic nature of salon culture that, while historically giving women's voices an expression, is in opposition to the apparent and much-touted democracy of print culture. The essay argues that print culture silences women's voices in the name of "the public" (p. 100), and that this is reflected in Eliot's own anonymous contribution to the Westminster Review. "Erinna" is read in light of these issues as Eliot's attempt to redefine female authorship through the recovery of Erinna's poetic voice, focusing on the trope of weaving and the spider (intriguingly connected to Anne Thackary Richie's 1874 essay for the Cornhill, "Arachne in Sloane Street," and to Eliot's own spider tropes in her fiction). Attuned to Eliot's interest in contemporary theories of prosody, in particular the relation between rhythm, readership, and affect, the essay concludes by accepting Eliot's poetics might be a productive failure: "The difficulty of the poem .... to recover and maintain Erinna's lyric voice, marks the limits of Eliot's sympathetic imagination since solitude supersedes the communal and reinforces the ideology of separate spheres it aims to challenge" (p. 106). Another essay by Kathleen McCormack, "George Eliot: Poetry, Fiction, and European Spas," Journal of European Studies 40, no. 1 (March 2010): 9-22, treats George Eliot's "Agatha" in relation to another manifestation of European sociability, although in a more biographical reading.

Augusta Webster was also the focus of two essays. Patricia Rigg's "'Entering into the genius of him': Augusta Webster and the Discourse of Translation Theory," Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 6, no. 1 (Spring 2010), contributes to the ongoing interest of Victorian poetry scholars in the gendered politics of translation. Robert P. Fletcher, in "The Perverse Secrets of Masculinity in Augusta Webster's Dramatic Poetry" (Victorian Secrecy, ed. Albert D. Pionke and Denise Millstein [Ashgate, 2010]), examines the gendered politics of Webster's "In an Almshouse," "The Snow Waste," "With the Dead," and "The Manuscript of Saint Alexius." The essay disagrees with Angela Leighton's assertion that Webster's focus is not concerned with the morbidly obsessed (as with Browning) but rather with the ordinary. Fletcher argues that Webster is interested in "the voice of monomaniacal masculinity" but that she is caught between her commitment to Keatsian neutrality and her political beliefs (p. 149). Like Browning, Webster writes anti-confessional poetry, but Fletcher contends that she offers an alternative to the normative masculine violence and oppression through the figure of the secret.

Moving to a poet from earlier in the period, an essay published in this journal by Anne Nichols explores Felicia Hemans' sonnets 'Female Characters from Scripture," from her last and little-studied volume Scenes and Hymns of Life ("Glorification of the Lowly in Felicia Hemans' Sonnets "Female Characters of Scripture," VP 48, no. 4 [2010]: 599-575). Nichols is a careful, astute reader of Hemans, sensitive to the important Wordsworthian contexts (Hemans dedicated the volume to Wordsworth) and to the related importance of poetic form (the sonnet sequence gives Hemans "a balance of form and freedom," related closely to Wordsworth's Ecclesiastical Sonnets [p. 561]), and she offers close readings of a generous range of poems. For Nichols, Hemans' sonnets reveal her discomfort "with large-scale social change," and she "uses these sonnets to reveal the price of separate-sphere ideology without completely rejecting its values" through offering biblical women as role models (p. 559). Ultimately, Hemans occupies a "middle ground" in debates about nineteenth-century religion, neither seeing religion as radical or compensatory, but rather "a source of mediated agency" (p. 559), a profoundly telling phrase. Hemans' women get their earthly rewards, rather than waiting for the afterlife like so many other Christian poets in the nineteenth century. But, for Nichols, there is an uneasy tension in Hemans' work between upholding the domestic sphere and also desiring to raise the position of women. Perhaps this could be explored further through an interrogation of the very uneasiness within the domestic sphere ideology itself.

Religion and Victorian women's poetry is also examined in Rebecca Styler's chapter on Anne Bronte's poetry in her monograph Literary Theology by Women Writers of the Nineteenth Century. The book considers a range of other writers too, such as Emma Worboise, Harriet Martineau, and Josephine Butler. Styler charts the curve of Bronte's short poetic career in relation to the "inner battle between religious ideals and emotional reality, from which she forges a tentative religious solution in which reason and morality come to the fore" (p. 43). Addressing a generous range of her poems, the chapter argues that Bronte's theology is an optimistic one, influenced by rational humanism, but Bronte also expresses "her ideal of religious experience [that] centres in an intensely felt epiphany which is shaped by Methodist and Romantic discourses" (p. 44). Testing her ideal against her experience, with the "frank realism" also evident from her novels, leads Bronte to disrupt the nineteenth-century expressive tradition of women's poetry, seeming to offer conformity to its lyrical affective conventions, but also giving "a conflicted subjectivity, characterized by deep frustration and religious anxiety" (p. 45). The chapter begins by mapping Bronte's humanism through her critique of Calvinism in "To Cowper" and "A Word to the Calvinists" (entitled in the 1846 Poems "A Word to the Elect"). In her early religious poetry and under the influence of Romanticism and Evangelicalism, Styler argues, Bronte reaches tentatively towards a fully felt epiphany, despite her rational belief in God. The discussion also covers the poetry's sense of what Styler suggestively calls a

"bereaved sensibility" (p. 54), for example in poems like "A Hymn," in the face of a loss of assurance about divine presence, even as the anxiety is countered with rationalism. Styler links this to Bronte's belief that human relationships can potentially connote the experience of the divine, and she explores the treatment of sympathy and fellowship, and its loss, in such poems as "Monday Night May 11th 1846," "Dreams," and "Fluctuations," which work through a bleak "isolated sensibility" (p. 58). The later poetry, from circa 1845 to Bronte's death in 1849, is for Styler distinguished "by a new sense of reconciliation with the earthly condition" (p. 60), for example in "Views of Life" and "The Three Guides." Echoing Edward Chitham's view that hers is "a poetry of search, not statement" (cited p. 67), Styler treats Bronte's poetry in all its fascinating, contradictory, and tentative embrace of a pragmatic faith, while also imagining a felt, physical presence of the divine. This analysis is excellent for its sensitive and searching analysis of Anne Bronte's poetry in the context of an ambitious and wide ranging study of women writers and religion, and for taking seriously the intellectual heritage of her poetical theology. Hellenism, discussed above in relation to Levy, also emerged as significant for other writers this year. Richard Dellamora's "Greek Desire and Modern Sexualities" (Imagination and Logos: Essays on C. P. Cavafy, ed. Panagiotis Roilos [Harvard Univ. Press, 2010]) is a theoretically ambitious essay that grapples with the issue of homosexual/heterosexual binaries, as well as the configuration of Greek desire as "a much wider range of affective, relational, and cultural possibilities" (p. 121). Dellamora compares the poetry of Constantine Cavafy with Michael Field in this way, to examine their shared "historicist cosmopolitanism" that "provide[s] ways for thinking subjectivity outside the limits of the subject" (p. 140). The analysis concentrates on Field's Long Ago (1889), Underneath the Bough (1893), and Dedicated (1914), including a nuanced reading of "It was deep April, and the morn" as a cosmopolitan poem, a revision of the Elizabethan lyric. This poem addresses a forbidden love, "Against the world" (1.5), and the critique of the poem attempts to tease out its difficult logic in terms of the ethics of love within the discourse of Greek desire. Identity in the plural is "permeable and indeterminate" (p. 140), and Field, along with Cavafy, "bring[s] into existence new modes of sociability" that are not straightforwardly "homosexual" (p. 140).

A book-length study of the importance of Hellenism to women writers also appeared this year. T. D. Olverson's Women Writers and the Dark Side of Late-Victorian Hellenism contains readings of poems by Augusta Webster, Amy Levy (also published in Hetherington and Valman's edited collection of essays and reviewed above), Emily Pfeiffer, and Michael Field, and concluding with a chapter on Medea in Mona Caird and Vernon Lee's prose. Loosely chronological, the chapters suggest a development in women writers' relation to Hellenism, from its political freighting in poems by Webster, Levy, and Pfeiffer, to the aestheticism of Field which Olverson argues coincides with a waning of feminism. Hellenism was appealing to women writers for its "rich source of inspiration and creative inspiration" (p. 174), and in particular the Hellenic female characters were a vehicle for women's frustrations, anxieties, and desires. Olverson reads the Hellenism in women's writing politically, seeing that antiquity provides an expression for women's hope for a future with more equality and opportunity. While there may be a missed opportunity in not directly addressing why so much poetry by women engages with Hellenistic myth-surely genre comparisons are important to draw out in a book that ends by turning without explanation to prose as part of its history of Victorian Hellenism-the study is valuable for bringing such a rich range of late-century women's poetry prominently to the foreground. The chapters uncover women writers' bold and active engagement with the classics, through women's readership, education and scholarship, translation, and editing, while also exploring what Olverson calls the "dark side" of Victorian Hellenism, a Dionysian "seditious Hellenism" (p. 19), its prejudicial, anti-democratic impulses. The study is excellent for tackling why women writers were drawn to Hellenistic myths, and the limitations and rewards of re-mythologizing Hellenic women. Standing out for its nuanced engagement with politics is the extensive and detailed reading of Webster's "Medea in Athens" in terms of the Divorce Court and debates about marriage, arguing that the poem puts emphasis on Jason's sexual infidelities that challenge the domestic order, rather than Medea's actions (pp. 44-45). Another strength of the book is the insightful reading of Emily Pfeiffer's political Hellenism in her sonnet sequence "Studies from the Antique," first published in 1879 and expanded in 1880, and featuring representations of Klytemnestra and Kassandra that were a response to other women writers' revisions of the Petrarchan sonnet form. Overall, Women Writers and the Dark Side of Late-Victorian Hellenism is a superb study, carefully researched and argued, that gives an excellent account of how very politically and aesthetically productive women writers' revisions were to the transgressive and violent side of Hellenism.
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Title Annotation:Guide to the Year's Work
Author:Chapman, Alison
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2011
Words:4353
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Next Article:Browning, renaissance painting, and the problem of Raphael.
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