The only collection of all known letters of Christopher Smart provides the best psychological explanation to date of that complex and elusive eighteenth-century poet.
The significant characteristics that distinguish Smart’s prose letters from his poetry, Betty Rizzo and Robert Mahony note, are that his letters were requests for assistance while his verses were bequests, gifts in which he set great store. Indeed, it was Smart’s lifelong conviction that he was a poet of major importance.
As Smart biographer Karina Williamson notes, "The splendidly informative and vivaciously written accounts of the circumstances surrounding each letter, or group of letters, add up to what is in effect a miniature biography."
Over the last few decades, Victorian scholars have produced many nuanced studies connecting the politics of crime to the generic developments of the novel—and vice versa. Ellen L. O’Brien’s Crime in Verse grants the same attention and status to poetic representations of crime. Considering the literary achievements and cultural engagements of poetry while historicizing murder’s entanglement in legal fictions, punitive practices, medical theories, class conflicts, and gender codes, O’Brien argues that shifting approaches to poetry and conflicted understandings of murder allowed poets to align problems of legal and literary interpretation in provocative, disruptive, and innovative ways.
Developing focused analyses of generic and discursive meanings, individual chapters examine the classed politics of crime and punishment in the broadside ballad, the epistemological tensions of homicidal lunacy and criminal responsibility in the dramatic monologue, and the legal and ideological frictions of domestic violence in the verse novel and verse drama. Their juxtaposition of the rhymes of anonymous street balladeers, the underexamined verse of “minor” poets, and the familiar poems of canonical figures suggests the interactive and intertextual relationships informing poetic agendas and political arguments. As it simultaneously reconsiders the institutional and ideological status of murder and the aesthetic and political interests of poetry, Crime in Verse offers new ways of thinking about Victorian poetry’s contents and contexts.
The Dramatic Imagination of Robert Browning offers an accessible and authoritative guide to the essentials of Robert Browning’s life and poetry. Drawing from his personal letters and from the diaries and memoirs of his contemporaries, this literary biography provides a wealth of information about the main events of his life, including the social, political, religious, and aesthetic issues that concerned him; it offers critical commentary defining the central characteristics of his poetry; and it tracks the changes in his reputation through contemporary reviews and the growth of the Browning societies.
An English poet who was deeply responsive to European culture and affairs, Robert Browning has sometimes been dismissed by modern readers for his obscurity or roughness of language. Now two distinguished scholars of Browning’s work trace the arc of his development as an artist and thinker from his earliest poems to the last in his long and remarkably productive career.
The authors illustrate how Browning moved from describing “incidents in the development of a soul,” to developing his reader’s soul as collaborator in the artistic process, to the development of his own soul in the making of poetry. Through a fresh reading of not only his poetry but also the letters of both Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, they have garnered details that situate the two in historical context, provide a vivid sense of Robert’s personality, and also correct biases against Elizabeth’s influence. Their critical commentary focuses on the poet’s dramatic imagination and argues that his extensive body of work after The Ring and the Book—often dismissed as evidencing a decline in his poetic powers—represented new directions in his poetry marked by inventive dialogue, verbal puzzles, and virtuoso rhyming.
Written to appeal to both general readers and scholars, the book will enable anyone to read Browning’s poems with a firm sense of the subjects and practices that are central to his texts, along with a knowledge of their context in the poet’s life and thought. The Dramatic Imagination of Robert Browning invites readers of a singular body of poetry to achieve a new understanding of Browning’s work and a greater appreciation of his life.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-61) was the first major woman poet in the English literary tradition. Her significance has been obscured in this century by her erasure from most literary histories and her exclusion from academic anthologies. Dorothy Mermin's critical and biographical study argues for Barrett Browning's originative role in both the Victorian poetic tradition and the development of women's literature.
Barrett Browning's place at the wellhead of a new female tradition remains the single most important fact about her in terms of literary history, and it was central to her self-consciousness as a poet. Mermin's study shows that Barrett Browning's anomalous situation was constantly present to her imagination and that questions of gender shaped almost everything she wrote. Mermin argues that Barrett Browning's poetry covertly inspects and dismantles the barriers set in her path by gender and that in her major works—Sonnets from the Portuguese, Aurora Leigh, her best political poems, "A Musical Instrument"—difficulty is turned into triumph, incorporating the author's femininity, her situation as a woman poet, and her increasingly substantial fame.
Mermin skillfully interweaves biography and close readings of the poems to show precisely how Barrett Browning's life as a woman writer is a part of the essential meaning of her art. Both her personal and her literary achievements are exceptionally well documented, especially for her formative years. Mermin makes extensive use of the poet's early essays, a diary covering most of her twenty-sixth year, and the enormous number of letters that have survived. Ranging from her earliest ambitions through her long periods of discouragement and illness to her happy married life with Robert Browning, this comprehensive study of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is essential reading for students of the Victorian period, English literature, and women's studies.
Winner of the first annual Robert Colby Scholarly Book Prize
Rosamund Marriott Watson was a gifted poet, an erudite literary and art critic, and a daring beauty whose life illuminates fin-de-siècle London and the way in which literary reputations are made—and lost. A participant in aestheticism and decadence, she wrote six volumes of poems noted for their subtle cadence, diction, and uncanny effects. Linda K. Hughes unfolds a complex life in Graham R.: Rosamund Marriott Watson, Woman of Letters, tracing the poet’s development from accomplished ballads and sonnets, to avant-garde urban impressionism and New Woman poetry, to her anticipation of literary modernism.
Despite an early first divorce, she won fame writing under a pseudonym, Graham R. Tomson. The influential Andrew Lang announced the arrival of a new poet he assumed to be a man. She was soon hosting a salon attended by Lang, Oscar Wilde, and other 1890s notables. Publishing to widespread praise as Graham R., she exemplified the complex cultural politics of her era. A woman with a man’s name and a scandalous past, she was also a graceful beauty who captivated Thomas Hardy and left an impression on his work. At the height of her success she fell in love with writer H. B. Marriott Watson and dared a second divorce.
Graham R. combines the stories of a gifted poet, of London literary networks in the 1890s, and of a bold woman whose achievements and scandals turned on her unusual history of marriage and divorce. Her literary history and her uncommon experience reveal the limits and opportunities faced by an unconventional, ambitious, and talented woman at the turn of the century.
Isaac Rosenberg was among the greatest poets of the First World War. The British-born son of impoversihed Russian Jews, Rosenberg fought as a private in the trenches of the Great Was and died on the Western Front in 1918 as the age of 27. In Isaac Rosenberg, Wilson examines the influence of Rosenberg's class and heritage on his writings, as well as the development of his poetic technique. She traces his maturation from his childhood in Bristol and the Jewish East End of London to art school, his travels to South Africa, and finally his harrowing service as a private in the British Army.
Rosenberg was also a gifted painter and this beautifully illustrated volume oncludes some hitherto inseen self-portraits, along with photogrpahs of Rosenberg and his family. Wilson's biogrpahy brings together all known Rosenberg material with a mass of important new discoveries. Isaac Rosenberg is a long-overdue consideration of a remarkable war poet.
Andrew Motion University of Chicago Press, 1999 Library of Congress PR4836.M67 1999 | Dewey Decimal 821.7
Andrew Motion's dramatic narration of Keats's life is the first in a generation to take a fresh look at this great English Romantic poet. Unlike previous biographers, Motion pays close attention to the social and political worlds Keats inhabited. Making incisive use of the poet's inimitable letters, Motion presents a masterful account.
"Motion has given us a new Keats, one who is skinned alive, a genius who wrote in a single month all the poems we cherish, a victim who was tormented by the best doctors of the age. . . . This portrait, stripped of its layers of varnish and restored to glowing colours, should last us for another generation."—Edmund White, The Observer Review
"Keats's letters fairly leap off the page. . . . [Motion] listens for the 'freely associating inquiry and incomparable verve and dash,' the 'headlong charge,' of Keats's jazzlike improvisations, which give us, like no other writing in English, the actual rush of a man thinking, a mind hurtling forward unpredictably and sweeping us along."—Morris Dickstein, New York Times Book Review
"Scrupulous and eloquent."—Gregory Feeley, Philadelphia Inquirer
The Keats Brothers
Denise Gigante Harvard University Press, 2011 Library of Congress PR4836.G47 2011 | Dewey Decimal 821.7
John and George Keats—Man of Genius and Man of Power—embodied sibling forms of Romanticism. George’s emigration to the U.S. frontier created an abysm of loneliness and alienation in John that would inspire his most plangent and sublime poetry. Gigante’s account places John’s life in a transatlantic context that has eluded his previous biographers.
Though he never published any of his English poems during his lifetime, George Herbert (1593–1633) is recognized as possibly the greatest religious poet in the language. Few English poets of his age still inspire such intense devotion today. In this richly perceptive biography, John Drury for the first time integrates Herbert’s poems fully into his life, enriching our understanding of both the poet’s mind and his work.
As Drury writes in his preface, Herbert lived “a quiet life with a crisis in the middle of it.” Drury follows Herbert from his academic success as a young man, seemingly destined for a career at court, through his abandonment of those hopes, his devotion to the restoration of a church in Huntingdonshire, and his final years as a country parson. Because Herbert’s work was only published posthumously, it has always been difficult to know when or in what context Herbert wrote his poems. But Drury skillfully places readings of the poems into his narrative at biographically credible moments, allowing us to appreciate not only Herbert’s frame of mind while writing, but also the society that produced it. A sensitive critic of Herbert’s poems as well as a theologian, Drury does full justice to the spiritual dimension of Herbert’s work. In addition, he reveals the occasions of sorrow, happiness, regret, and hope that Herbert captured in his poetry and that led T. S. Eliot to write, “What we can confidently believe is that every poem . . . is true to the poet’s experience.”
Painting a picture of a man torn between worldly ambition and spiritual life, Music at Midnight is an eloquent biography that breathes new life into some of the greatest English poems ever written.
Richard Crashaw (1612/13-1649) has been one of the most neglected, misunderstood, misread, and unappreciated of the so-called major metaphysical poets. Critics have long labeled Crashaw’s poetry “foreign,” “grotesque,: “deficient in judgment and taste,” and even “sexually perverse.” In recent years, however, Crashaw’s role in providing an understanding and appreciation of seventeenth century poetic theory and aesthetics has become increasingly more evident to literary scholars and critics. They now generally agree that his poetry occupies a permanent and significant position in the intellectual, religious, and literary history of his time.
This collection of ten original critical and historical essays on the life and art of Crashaw will serve as a further impetus to the renewed interest in Crashaw. In the introduction, John R. Roberts and Lorraine M. Roberts survey past Crashavian criticism, giving the reader an overall view of the critical response to Crashaw and his work. The introduction also signals new directions for future scholarship. Scholars, critics, and students of metaphysical, baroque, and religious poetry will find these essays engaging and insightful.
Verrier Elwin (1902-1964) was unquestionably the most colorful and influential non-official Englishman to live and work in twentieth-century India. A prolific writer, Elwin's ethnographic studies and popular works on India's tribal customs, art, myth and folklore continue to generate controversy.
Described by his contemporaries as a cross between Albert Schweitzer and Paul Gauguin, Elwin was a man of contradictions, at times taking on the role of evangelist, social worker, political activist, poet, government worker, and more. He rubbed elbows with the elite of both Britain and India, yet found himself equally at home among the impoverished and destitute. Intensely political, the Oxford-trained scholar tirelessly defended the rights of the indigenous and, despite the deep religious influences of St. Francis and Mahatma Gandhi on his early career, staunchly opposed Hindu and Christian puritans in the debate over the future of India's tribals. Although he was ordained as an Anglican priest, Elwin was married twice to tribal women and enthusiastically (and publicly) extolled the tribals' practice of free sex. Later, as prime minister Nehru's friend and advisor in independent India, his compelling defense of tribal hedonism made him at once hugely influential, extremely controversial, and the polemical focal point of heated discussions on tribal policy and economic development.
Savaging the Civilized is both biography and history, an exploration through Elwin's life of some of the great debates of the twentieth century: the future of development, cultural assimilation versus cultural difference, the political practice of postcolonial as opposed to colonial governments, and the moral practice of writers and intellectuals.
Born and raised in Britain, Thom Gunn has lived in the United States since 1954. He is well known as a poet and is increasingly gaining recognition as a literary critic. Gunn’s main concern in Shelf Life is with twentieth-century American poets, both the famous and the obscure; he also discusses other matters, including the Elizabethans, Christopher Isherwood as man and stylist, and Gunn’s own poetry, which he touches on indirectly in the first two sections of the book and directly in the last.
Gunn’s criticism communicates his own enthusiasm for poetry. He tries to show his readers how to get a first foothold into the work of some of his favorite poets, whether Wyatt or Whitman, Mina Loy or Robert Creeley.
Wordsworth is England's greatest poet of the French Revolution: he witnessed some of its events first hand, participated in its intellectual and social ambitions, and eventually developed his celebrated poetic campaign in response to its enthusiasms. But how should that response be understood? Combining careful interpretive analysis with wide-ranging historical scholarship, Chandler presents a challenging new account of the political views implicit in Wordsworth's major works–in The Prelude, above all, but also in the central lyrics and shorter narrative poems.
Central to the discussion, which restores Wordsworth to both the French and English contexts in which he matured, is a consideration of his relation to Rousseau and Burke. Chandler maintains that by the time Wordsworth set forth his "program for poetry" in 1798, he had turned away from the Rousseauist idea of nature that had informed his early republican writings. He had already become a poet of what Burke called "second nature"–human nature cultivated by custom, habit, and tradition–and an opponent of the quest for first principles that his friend Coleridge could not forsake. In his analysis of the poetry, Chandler suggests that even Wordsworth's most apparently private moments, the lyrical "spots of time," ideologically embodied the uncalculated habits of an oral narrative discipline and a native English mind.