- Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian Art World
As an art historian with a PhD in English, I was pleased to encounter an English scholar prepared to grapple with art history. But interdisciplinary studies are fraught with danger, and Phillips’s volume on Hopkins suffers serious flaws. Despite being “probably the world’s foremost Hopkins texts-cholar” according to Daniel Brown, Phillips does not engage with the critical approaches of art history or appreciate its conventions. Artists are cited without their full names, or birth and death dates; indeed, you would have to be well-versed in the art of the period to follow Philips, who fails to define adequately Pre-Raphaelitism, Aestheticism, or Realism. Rather than being Brown’s “accessible study,” both literary scholars and art historians would struggle with a densely packed text smothered by extraneous detail. Did we need to know that Gerard’s mother’s next youngest sister, Maria, married Gorge Giberne? Although Phillips demonstrates the wide artistic circles that Hopkins moved within, including his family, the mass of detail is overwhelming.
Literal descriptions of works of art are not developed as critical analysis; for example, in reviewing the influence of his father, Manley Hopkins, we are given an account of a work entitled “W. Harvey/STORY without an END, March 184?” While noting that the “work fits into Victorian interest in fairies,” Philips seems unaware that this is an illustration from Fredrich Wilhelm Carové’s The Story Without an End, translated by Sarah Austen (1834), which extols the endless beauty of Creation. Hopkins’s awareness of Carové’s story could provide valuable insight into the formation of both the poet and the artist. [End Page 446]
Although the book’s structure is clearly laid out, progressing through headings including “Art Criticism,” “Gerard, Arthur and the Illustrated Press,” and finally “Theories of Vision,” Philips fails to provide an adequate introduction mapping out her purpose or progression. The Preface offers some biographical background, but we are not told of Hopkins’s tutoring by Walter Pater in 1866, at a time when Hopkins was most intensely interested in fine art, until much later. For the nonliterary specialist, Hopkins’s unique artistic vocabulary, which shows a concern with patterning and composition, is hard to comprehend; his interest in scales of colour and tonality clearly relate to contemporary aesthetic theory, but Philips does not expand on this. Instead, under Art Criticism we have Hopkins’s journals and letters juxtaposed with quotes from professional “journalistic” art critics Francis Palgrave, J.B. Atkinson of the Saturday Review, and Tom Taylor of the Times; we only discover the purpose of this exercise in the last paragraph of the chapter, when Phillips tells us that comparing what “Hopkins saw, read and wrote with some of the most widely read criticism of the day” shows “he was far more knowledgeable and his criticism far more complex and ‘professional’ than has been thought” (188). But surely a thorough understanding of Hopkins’s criticism or art appreciation could only be gleaned by casting a wider net, by including F.G. Stephens or the vitriol of Harry Quilter and Frederick Wedmore? Given Hopkins’s interest in Dante Gabriel Rossetti, he must have read Stephens, who did so much to promote Rossetti’s brand of Pre-Raphaelitism.
In “Gerard, Arthur and the Illustrated Press,” we are given a comprehensive list of the periodicals that Hopkins read, digressions into the history of the Illustrated London News, and a résumé of Arthur Hopkins’s career as an illustrator. Phillips dismisses the Graphic as the purveyor of “gory pictures of war” and “upper-class social occasions,” failing to recognise in the importance of the periodical in the emergence of Social Realism. Ironically, Phillips goes on to position The Wreck of the Deutschland, Hopkins’s first major poem, within the context of the market for journalistic realism, concluding “the poem was . . . not just an account using the facts but also caught the emotion and attitudes expressed towards the catastrophe in the press” (218). [End Page...