- In Memoriam:John F. Stasny
Except for Dwight Culler, my teachers and advisors were not Victorianist scholars, so the mentoring contact I enjoyed with the generation who had ushered in Victorian Studies arose belatedly, and mainly from editors. The first among these, and the one most often hospitable to what I had to show, was John Stasny of this journal. His regard did not come without effort: my maiden contribution to Victorian Poetry, a micro-intensive reading of a passage from Sordello, was rejected with a short note that I've put behind me but haven't forgotten: the journal's readers would take scant interest, it advised, in an effort "stylistically precious and intellectually rarefied." They said such different things at school.
Rapprochement after this first exchange involved some give and take on both sides. VP developed more tolerance circa 1980 for what New Theory might disclose, and sound like. I relinquished my prejudice, for such it was, against contextualist critique, and came to realize, not only that hermeneutic finesse was compatible with historical inquiry, but that Victorian poems were texts that urgently solicited both.
This conjunction John, of course, had grasped long ago. Although the success of his journal has naturalized its title to our ears, it is worth recalling that when he founded it there was no secure consensus that "Victorian poetry" named a field fully worthy of organized investigation; that if you wanted to understand the Victorian age you needed to know its poetry steadily and whole; or that what kept poetry important in the modern world had much if anything to do with the mess those clumsy Victorians had made of it. "To look into the Victorian mind is to see some primary sources of the modern mind." When John plucked that phrase from Walter Houghton's polemical preface to The Victorian Frame of Mind (1963, fire-new!) and put it on the cover of Victorian Poetry, it had the force of a motto to fight under. The rules of engagement between past and present were never declared on the journal's masthead, but from the index for any given year during John's quarter-century editorship they may be readily inferred. The wide range of poets and themes surveyed and plumbed, the balance of scholarly reconstruction with critical intervention, the annual dedication of many pages to Richard Tobias' discipline-confirming report from the field on "The Year's Work in Victorian Poetry"-all upheld alike John's view that the way to a reliable purchase on the [End Page 353] twentieth century lay through a multifarious exploration of the nineteenth. And this exploration was in turn to be made good through painstaking attention to the most intricately worded and highly prized artifacts the Victorians left behind, their poems.
When I told John, decades ago now, that I intended to write a book on epic, he lit up and urged on me Hopkins' "The Wreck of the Deutschland." I didn't reckon that superb double ode an epic then, and I still don't; but when I wrote a sentence in my recent book explaining why not, it was John Stasny that I was answering, because what he said counted. Our field can and should grow away from his particular views, as it should from the views of any senior scholar who has taught his juniors well. John's enthusiasm, breadth of interest, and stamina in advocacy are perennial requisites, however. Long may they be with us.
Herbert F. Tucker
University of Virginia
John Stasny was the co-founder of Victorian Poetry and served as its editor for twenty-eight years. He was hands-on and meticulous in his craft. He frequently worked with accepted authors to improve the clarity and style of their essays and provided extensive critical comments to accompany readers' reports sent to authors whose manuscripts had been rejected. He was a thorough copy-editor.
John was especially proud of the special issues of the journal. Particularly memorable is the 1968 issue commemorating the centennial of The Ring and the Book. At the time the issue appeared, John arranged for a readers' theater performance of excerpts...