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Victorian Poetry 38.2 (2000) 331-339

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Review Essay

Recent Anthologies

David E. Latané, Jr.

That's my Houghton-Stange sitting upon the shelf, looking as if it were alive. I called that text a wonder once. . . . Now, after years of complaints, publishers have stooped to produce new anthologies for Victorian courses, including two that update Walter Houghton and Robert Stange's Victorian Poetry and Poetics (2nd ed., 1968).1

The first of these is The Broadview Anthology of Victorian Poetry and Poetic Theory. Thomas Collins and Vivienne Rundle have chosen a straightforward approach: the poets (and their poems) are presented in chronological order by birth date and date of publication. The editors allow the poems to present themselves, uncluttered by new historicist frets; there is little contextualizing, not even an indication of the individual volumes in which the poems were first published. Introductions are very brief, annotation light, and the copytext seems to be the author's final printed version. At the end are a series of essays and excerpts from writings by Victorians on poetry and poetic theory. The major difference from the earlier anthology is in the number of poets. Whereas Houghton and Stange selected a canonical twenty poets to present in 810 double-columned pages, Collins and Rundle choose seventy poets to take up 1174 pages. So there they are, our fifty men and women in excess of what we're used to. The challenge to teachers now will be to fit them into fourteen weeks.

The Broadview has three great strengths. It includes an unprecedented number of complete longer poems, which remind us that a Victorian poetry class confined to the lyric is like a Victorian fiction class confined to the short novel. In Memoriam, Maud, Armgart, Empedocles on Etna, The Angel in the House, Amours de Voyage, Modern Love, The City of Dreadful Night, Atalanta in Calydon, two of the Idylls, two books of The Spanish Gypsy, three of Aurora Leigh, four of The Ring. The second is in the generally canny choices of poems by the fifty others, in which intertextual relations make it useful to assign writers represented by only a poem or two. Thirdly, the Broadview may be elected in the "concise edition," at considerably reduced price, with a mere thirty poets (a higher percentage of them women) and a smaller number of critical essays. This version will be ideal for more general Victorian literature courses, and for introductory courses in Victorian poetry. [End Page 331]

In the full version, two of the big three of Victorian poets (Tennyson, Browning, Arnold) have generous selections--though different from Houghton-Stange's likewise copious choices. Tennyson is represented with his early work, all of In Memoriam, Maud, and two of the Idylls (The Coming of Arthur, and Lancelot and Elaine). Houghton and Stange disdained popular poetry, and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" didn't make it into their anthology. It is rightly present here. But there is a crucial omission. Because of their rule about not excerpting longer works, none of the songs from The Princess are included. No "Tears, idle tears," or "Splendour falls." Surely, when several of the most beautiful (self-sufficient) lyrics in the English language confront a self-imposed rule, the decision should be to break the rule. Browning is compressed with more vigor than usual into the dramatic monologues of his middle period, culminating in The Ring and the Book. This masterpiece is doubled from the portions in Houghton-Stange, with Books I, V, VII, and XI in their entirety. Pippa Passes is history, however, as well shorter lyrics such as "Meeting at Night," monologues like "The Englishman in Italy," and "James Lee's Wife," and almost all the poetry after The Ring. As a great fan of Pippa, I regret the omission of its sui generis oddness for more Ring . Arnold is truncated, however, with twenty-five fewer poems than in Houghton-Stange, none of the letters, and only a dose of the prose. Arnold's star waxes and wanes, of course, and it does seem that for now Rustum will have...


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