This course will be organized around the poetry of several major poets, beginning with Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Christina Rossetti and her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. We will approach this poetry of the mid-century, in part, via the visual arts, reading its Victorian romanticism and Arthurianism in relationship to Pre-Raphaelite painting and book illustration. We will then violate our strictly “English” canon of authors by addressing the course’s acts of close reading and analysis to the work of Emily Dickinson. We will linger over these brief, enigmatic poems and then read Gerard Manley Hopkins, another poet forced to work in a private world of intense self-consciousness and spiritual struggle, and whose poems, like Dickinson’s, were published posthumously. These poets were claimed as “modern” poets by their modern peers, since their work had had only a very small or local Victorian audience. The course’s third movement will be a reading of Thomas Hardy and Wilfrid Owen; we will then conclude with T. S. Eliot. We will take a pathway, then, from In Memoriam (1850) to Little Gidding (1942).
By beginning in the Victorian mid-century and journeying across the century mark into modern poetry, and, in Eliot, to one of the foremost critics and ideologues of modernism, and by pairing two poets, one American, and one English, who shared the fate of Victorian obscurity followed by passionate, if posthumous, modern fame, the course tries to subvert the convenient opposition of Victorian/modern. Such subversion will lead, one hopes, to a freshened view of the relationship between the “periods,” and to primary questions about the structuring of literary history and canon-formation. In our immediate acts of reading and rereading the poems, we will be guided by these concerns: the poet’s role in mediating/exposing a social order marked by repression and isolation; the relation between poetry and historical catastrophe (the terrible reality of war, for instance, is an abiding presence in many of these poems); the structuring modalities of lyric and elegy in a poetry of memory and mourning; and the embedding, the sedimentation of poetry in place, and place in poetry.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
The Collected Poems, including readings from In Memoriam (1850) Maud (1855) and The Idylls of the King (1859-1888) and last poems.
Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894)
Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886)
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889)
The Poems of Hopkins (1967, 1970)
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
The Collected Poems, including poems, especially, from the following books: Time's Laughingstocks and Other Verses (1909), Satires of Circumstance (1911-1914), Moments of Vision (1917), Late Lyrics (1922), and Winter Words (1928).
Wilfrid Owen (1893-1918)
Collected Poems (1965)
T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)
Collected Poems, 1909-1962 (1963)
from Selected Prose (1953)
Note: This reading list of principal works will be supplemented, throughout the term, by selections from essays both critical and theoretical, with an eye both to a new (freshly historicized) literary history of the two periods, as well as to significant challenges posed to received readings of the poems by new(er) theoretical models or approaches. We may also try to steal a class or two to read and consider A. S. Byatt’s adept fiction about the secrets within the world of Victorian letters, and the power over scholarship of what has been lost and may be recovered, if only in a novel possessed by the past. Her novel, Possession (1990), was made into a memorable film in 2002 (with Gywneth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam, and Aaron Eckhart).
Class attendance, 2-3 shorter writing/reading exercises (1-2 pages), two longer essays (4-5 pages), final comprehensive examination.
*English 253b satisfies the “Introductory Emphasis” requirement for the Haverford English major.