- The Fine Delight that Fathers Thought: Rhetoric and Medievalism in Gerard Manley Hopkins
Paging one day through Hopkins’s notebooks in the library at Campion Hall, I was startled to find the draft of “Spelt From Sibyl’s Leaves” placed directly opposite the tortuous grade computations for one of his classes. This book presents a similar contrast—insights into “The Wreck of the Deutschland” buried in the technical language of structuralism, semiotics, and rhetoric.
In his preface, the author calls his book “a revised and updated translation of my I fogli della Sibilla. Retorica et medievalismo in Gerard Manley Hopkins” (p. ix). As the title indicates, it is divided into two parts, the former dealing with Hopkins’s poetic rhetoric viewed synchronically and the latter with his “textuality as a confluence of . . . cultural codes” (p. 89).
In the chapter introducing part one, Marucci dismisses, with few exceptions, criticism from 1918 to the present as being of little use to one investigating “the function and functionality of Hopkins’s poetic rhetoric” (p. 3). The exemplifying portion of this chapter (“Amplification”) addresses “God’s Grandeur” and “The Wreck of the Deutschland” as judicial speech (persuasive), with the reader performing the judicial function. The analysis is useful in providing insights into the poet’s rhetorical planning as he guides the reader in this persuasive process.
Moving from the “Deutschland” to the “terrible sonnets” as exemplifications of “autocommunication,” Marucci notes that here the interlocutor gradually disappears as the sender-receiver relationship fades. He believes that Hopkins became “no longer capable of finding in himself (or, more probably, of offering to a receiver who had proved cold and indifferent) the necessary stimuli” (p. 76) and names the editor of The Month, Bridges, and other correspondents as the probable receivers.
In the second (and major) part of the book, the author sets out to examine the cultural codes influencing the poet’s textuality. The chapter introducing this section, “‘Integrated’ and ‘Apocalyptic’ Writers,” first looks at “the global syntagmatic model of the Victorian Age” (p. 98) and then divides its texts according to this model into three categories. The first two either reflect or modify the syntagmatic codes (“integrated” writers) while the third opposes these codes (“apocalyptic” writers). The author’s thesis is that Hopkins is not fully any one of these, but that his Victorianism is subsumed in various ways and ultimately subordinated to his medievalism. His position is that Victorian codes essentially ceased to affect the poet after his entrance into the Society of Jesus, when they were replaced by medieval codes. This is developed in some detail in the chapter entitled “Hopkins and Duns Scotus.”
Although the book takes a narrow critical approach to Hopkins, it still might [End Page 149] well have been enriched by allowing for the ways in which the Ignatian method of meditation, with its emphasis on the “application of the senses,” so clearly drew Hopkins to find a kindred spirit in Scotus. This, together with the kind of seminary training in vogue in the Catholic Church until after Vatican II, certainly contributed to the medievalism that Marucci finds in the later Hopkins.
This is a useful and provocative book for scholars, but many of the footnotes seem unnecessarily long and some chapters conclude too abruptly. The highly specialized language of structuralism and semiotics requires an expertise that probably eludes most undergraduate students.