In this field, I will make a close study of four major Victorian poets (Tennyson, Browning, Christina Rosetti, and Hopkins) and place them within the context of Victorian intellectual debates about religion, science, and the moral value of Aestheticism. I plan to structure my analysis by reading the four poets in two contrasting pairs. For the earlier pair, Tennyson and Browning, my exploration will focus on the dramatic monologues and long narrative poems; I am interested in the shared project which leads both poets to break from the tradition of Romantic subjectivity and to insist on the primarily dramatic and narrative character of their work. The later pair, Rosetti and Hopkins, allow me to study an important challenge to the dominant poetic model of Tennyson and Browning; Rosetti and Hopkins fuse the impulses of late Victorian Aestheticism and Christian orthodoxy into a renewal and revision of lyric subjectivity, expressed in short forms such as the song and the sonnet. In order to understand how these contrasting poetic projects grew out of, and intervened in, the cultural politics of the Victorian era, I am reading the poets in conjunction with two lists of Victorian nonfiction prose: first, Victorian essays in poetry criticism; second, works that theorize religion, science, history, and aesthetics (Newman, Darwin, Carlyle, etc.). In the context of Victorian intellectual debates, I am particularly interested in tracing the four poets' varying approaches to a particular set of questions: history, religion, time and gender. The radically secular time schemes of Browning and Tennyson (Browning's focus on the mentalities of past historical eras; Tennyson's adaptation of the scientific time spans of evolution and degeneration) are challenged, in the works of Rosetti and Hopkins, by the equally radical restoration of an orthodox Christian time scheme (centering on the sacramental year and on the ever present presence of Incarnation). And, for all four poets, these questions of religion, history, and time are visibly marked by gender and sexuality whether in Browning's imagining of Renaissance Catholic sexuality in The Ring and the Book, or in the first person expression of erotic love for Christ in the writings of the other three poets (a stance which helps to construct Rosetti's womanhood but which problematizes the masculinity of Tennyson and Hopkins).
SELECTED CRITICAL READINGS:
— Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics, and Politics
— Gillian Beer, "Origins and Oblivion in Victorian Narrative"
— Carol T. Christ, The Finer Optic: The Aesthetic of Particularity in Victorian Poetry
— Richard Dellamora, Masculine Desire: The Sexual Politics of Victorian Aestheticism
— Mary Finn, Writing the Incommensurable: Kierkegaard, Rosetti and Hopkins
— Anthony H. Harrison, Victorian Poets and the Politics of Culture
— Robert Langbaum, The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition
— Angela Leighton, Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart
— G.B. Tennyson, Victorian Devotional Poetry
— Herbert F. Tucker, "Of Monuments and Moments: Spacetime in Nineteenth Century Poetry"
Idylls of the King
Break, Break, Break
The Epic/ Morte D'Arthur
The Palace of Art
The Lady of Shalott
Tears, Idle Tears
The Lotus Eaters
Demeter and Persephone
The Death of Oenone
The Two Voices
Crossing the Bar
The Ring and the Book
The Englishman in Italy
My Last Duchess
Love Among the Ruins
The Bishop Orders His Tomb
Fra Lippo Lippi
Bishop Bloughram's Apology
Andrea del Sarto
A Grammarian's Funeral
Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came
Caliban Upon Setebos
Song ("When I am dead, my dearest")
The Convent Threshhold
The Three Enemies
Paradise: In a Dream
The Thread of Life
In an Artist's Studio
Winter: My Secret
A Christmas Carol
The Heart Knoweth Its Own Bitterness
A Better Resurrection
Gerard Manley Hopkins:
The Wreck of the Deutschland
Let me be to Thee as the circling Bird
The Habit of Perfection
Spring and Fall
As kingfishers catch fire
The Starlight Night
To seem the stranger lies my lot
No worst, there is none
Hurrahing in Harvest
My own heart let me have more pity on
I wake and feel the fell of dark
Patience, hard thing
The May Magnificat
Thou art indeed just, Lord
Morning, Midday, and Evening Sacrifice
That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe
II. Victorian poetry criticism:
Matthew Arnold, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time"
— "The Defects of English Romanticism" (from "Heinrich Heine")
— "Preface" to the First Edition of Poems (1853)
— "Preface" to the Second Edition of Poems (1854)
— "Tennyson and Wordsworth" (from On Translating Homer: Last Words)
— "The Study of Poetry"
Alfred Austin, The Poetry of the Period
Walter Bagehot, "Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning"
Robert Browning, "Essay on Shelley"
A.H. Hallam, "On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry"
Gerard Manley Hopkins, selected letters and journals (with commentary on Tennyson, Browning, and C. Rosetti)
Henry James, "The Novel in The Ring and the Boob"
J.S. Mill, "Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties"
Walter Pater, "Aesthetic Poetry"
— "Postscript" to Appreciations (on the terms "classical" and "romantic")
John Ruskin, from Modern Painters (on Browning; on the "pathetic fallacy")
Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist"
II. Victorian intellectual debates (history, religion, science, Aestheticism):
Thomas Carlyle, "Signs of the Times"
— "On History"
Charles Darwin, selections from The Origin of Species
George Eliot, "Introduction" to Strauss' Life of Jesus (on religion and historical truth)
Charles Lyell, selections from Principles of Geology
J.H. Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua
Walter Pater, selections from The Renaissance ("Preface"; "Leonardo da Vinci;" "Conclusion")
John Ruskin, "The Nature of Gothic" (from Stones of Venice) selections from Modern Painters (on ways of seeing)
SAMPLE READING LIST: Victorian Poetry