Victorian Poetry 38.2 (2000) 326-330
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The Angel in the House, Books I & II.
Vol. 1: The First Editions Collated with his Original Holograph Manuscript
Vol. 2: A Facsimile of the First Editions of the First Two Books of the Poem:
"The Betrothal" 1854; "The Espousals" 1856
Coventry Patmore, The Angel in the House, Books I & II. Vol. 1: The First Editions Collated with his Original Holograph Manuscript. Compiled by Patricia Aske; edited by Ian Anstruther. Vol. 2: A Facsimile of the First Editions of the First Two Books of the Poem: "The Betrothal" 1854; "The Espousals" 1856. London: Haggerston Press with Boston College, 1998. Pp. xxxii + 273; iv + 196. $145.
As a graduate student preparing for comprehensive examinations in the mid 1960s, I read The Angel in the House in Frederick Page's Oxford Standard Authors Edition of Patmore's poems. Numerous underlinings and marginal notes in my copy attest to the fact that I read every page of the poem. There are virtually no critical or evaluative comments, but they are unnecessary as memory aids since I well remember thoroughly disliking the poem for what I, a recently married young man, considered its idealized and sentimentalized treatment of sexual love and marriage. I resolved to steer clear of the poem in the future and did so even when, some years later, I became keenly interested in Victorian love poetry. After all, I rationalized, the competition was stiff among mid-century long poems that explored love relationships and one needn't work on them all. Besides, the remarkable cluster of bereavement odes in The Unknown Eros was surely Patmore's principal qualitative contribution to the Victorian poetry of sexual love.
During the 1990s, however, I noted that Linda K. Hughes in an article and John Maynard in his Victorian Discourses on Sexuality and Religion had put forward the view that the first edition of The Angel (1854-56) was a more attractive and interesting text than Patmore's final revision of 1886, the version published by Page. My interest being piqued, I finally broke my resolution when asked to review this new, two-volume edition of the poem.
In her preface, Patricia Aske explains that she originally intended to prepare a variorum edition. But "close examination of the early editions . . . revealed major textual differences between the first (1854-56), second (1858), and third (1860). Some contained whole Cantos which were not in the original manuscript; others omitted lines which the manuscript contains." Eventually, she concluded that "it would be useful to start with the freshness of [Patmore's] original inspiration" and prepare "a simple collated edition" comparing the original hologaph manuscript and the first published edition. [End Page 326]
The new edition is a lavish production. Its 9 by 9.5 inch format, slipcase, combed marble-paper covers, facsimile of the entire holograph manuscript, color reproduction of Patmore, and availability in a limited quarter-leather bound set for $450 all suggest that its intended audience is as much the bibliophile as the scholar-critic. For the latter, the edition is of value for two reasons. First, it is almost always instructive to consult the manuscript(s) of a poem. In this case, the points of interest are forty-four chunks of Patmore's holograph manuscript (ranging in length from 4 to 36 lines and totalling around 420 lines) that he omitted from the first published edition. These are trimmings rather than excisions, and the omission of any or all of them makes little substantive difference to the poem. What is striking is that the great majority of the omitted passages were restored in later editions. This fact, unmentioned by the compiler, problematizes her claim that the 1854-56 edition offers the freshness of original inspiration and casts doubt on the wisdom of her decision not to prepare a variorum edition of the poem.
Patmore's shilly-shallying suggests that for him less is not more, or not more for long. Early in the manuscript, for example, there is an eight-line section headed "Joy's Waywardness":