restricted access The Cambridge Companion to Andrew Marvell (review)
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Reviewed by
Hirst, Derek, and Steven N. Zwicker, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Andrew Marvell. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 224 pp.

Derek Hirst and Steven Zwicker rightly note in their introduction that new editions of Marvell’s writings and new understandings of the political, religious, and cultural history of the Restoration make this an opportune moment for their collection. Their additional analysis of the shifts in both historical and literary studies over the past few decades gives further evidence of the need for this excellent book, and they have compiled a suggestive collection of essays—useful both for specialists in, and newcomers to, Marvell studies.

The two opening essays consider broad social and literary contexts for Marvell’s writing. James Loxley’s “The social modes of Marvell’s poetry” suggests that Marvell’s “poetic allusion encourages us as readers…to imagine an ongoing conversation, a club or a school or an order, in which Marvell and his poetry are properly at home, and a social bond to which a poem gives form” (21). But Marvell’s repeated invocation of echoing utterances forces an acknowledgement of the difficulty of locating “a sovereign, conscious self ” (22) within such utterances. Paul Davis’s essay considers Marvell’s relation with imitation and the literary past as complicated by an acute sense of the nature of time; his own acts of allusion reveal a conscious interrogative stance towards imitative practices common to the era. For Davis, this multidimensional engagement with “multiple literary pasts” left Marvell knowingly quoting and reengaging with not only his peers and predecessors, but with himself as well.

Two other essays suggest alternate ways of placing Marvell in cultural contexts. Phil Withington sketches out Marvell’s participation in a series of kinship and political networks, rescuing the seemingly enervated term “civility” by reminding us how important the idea could be to negotiating the complex political and historical moment the writer and parliamentarian inhabited. John Spur’s essay, “The poet’s religion,” points to the difficulty of locating a consistent reading of Marvell’s religious views in his letters and poetry, but sees in Marvell’s polemical and satirical prose publications an emphasis on moderation, sobriety, and reason. Spur makes a solid case [End Page 61] that Marvell’s religious stance simultaneously, and perhaps paradoxically, “looks back to the sixteenth-century Reformation and forward to the Enlightenment”—a reading somewhat undercut though by a final, and familiar, assessment of the inscrutable Marvell “taking care to give nothing of himself away” (172).

Four of the essays take new approaches to familiar topics in Marvell’s poetry. Matthew C. Augustine reinvigorates the idea of Marvell’s interest in the liminal by suggesting that this interest might be rooted in “mobility and professional itinerancy.” Augustine follows Marvell’s pattern of border-crossing in multiple poems, most intriguingly in his rich reading of “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn.” In his essay, “Marvell and the designs of art,” Michael Schoenfeldt contends that Marvell’s interest in art and architecture helps us to understand the complexity of his poems’ shifting perspectives, for “art establishes the parameters of what we are able to see, and how we see it” and his poetry “challenges the idea that any single perspective could have an exclusive claim on the truth” (90). This is a useful way of reframing the notion of “ambiguity” that for so long dominated discourse of Marvell’s lyrics, and Schoenfeldt’s emphasis on sight and perspective also underscores Marvell’s interest in the connection between “various modes of aesthetic representation” and “various social and political values” (99). Andrew McCrae’s essay, “The green Marvell,” cautions against ascribing anachronistic understandings of ecology to Marvell’s verse—a sound warning, but perhaps not entirely necessary; few early modern scholars would be likely to make such an ahistorical case. But the essay overall provides a useful overview of Marvell’s meditations on nature, a crucial topic for a writer so fascinated with gardens and vegetation. The most intriguing of these four essays might be Diane Purkiss’s “Thinking of gender” which grapples with various gender-based topics: same-sex desire, the sexual...