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REVIEW ARTICLE VICTORIAN WOMEN POETS Catherine Reilly, comp. Winged Words: Victorian Women's Poetry and Verse. London: Enitharmon, 1994. Chester Springs, PA: Dufour Editions, 1994. xix + 174. $19.95 US (paper). Jennifer Breen, ed. Victorian Women Poets 1830-1900: An Anthology. London: J.M. Dent/Everyman, 1994. liv + 178. $11.99 CAN; $7.50 US (paper). Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds, eds. Victorian Women Poets: An Anthology. Oxford and Cambridge, MA. Blackwell, 1995. xl + 691. $74.95 US (clodi); $24.95 US (paper). Angela Leighton, ëd. Victorian Women Poets: A Critical Reader. Oxford and Cambridge, MA. BlackweU, 1995. xvi + 329. $49.95 US (cloth); $21.95 US (paper). The tide of Catherine ReiUy's anthology, Winged Words: Victorian Women's Poetry and Verse, is taken from a seven-line poem of the same tide by Mary E. Coleridge (1861-1907): As darting swaUows skim across a pool, Whose tranquil depuis reflect a tranquil sky, So, o'er the depdis of silence, dark and cool, Our winged words dart playfuUy, And seldom break The quiet surface of die lake, As diey flit by. It is a poem I have used for years in classroom discussions of meter and rhyme, aUiteration and assonance, diction, repetition, imagery and tone. Students enjoy die poem, and are often wiUing to move on to more 72Victorian Review abstruse questions, such as, "What does die poem suggest about language — its power, its limitations?" Meanwhile, I am secretly congratulating myself on knowing far more about the social and linguistic contexts of this poem than do my students: while they count stresses, I recaU that Victorian periodicals and annuals overflowed with aUusions to "Good Words," "Kind Words," "Faithful Words," "Home Words," "Sunday Words," and even "Winning Words." While they consider Coleridge's imagery, I think of die similar, but far more complex imagery of Sections XVI and XLVHI of Tennyson's In Memoriam. WhUe they expUcate die last four Unes, I am reminded that in "The Buried Life," Arnold developed a similar argument far more fully. Should we regard Coleridge's short poem, dien, as agreeable but minor when compared to poems by Victorian men? This would presumably be the opinion of Germaine Greer, who argues, in Slip-Shod Sibyls: Recognition, Rejection and the Woman Poet, tiiat much of die poetry written by women before 1900 was shaUow, simpUstic and derivative. There may weU be some truth in Greer's contention that male pubUshers, editors and critics "rewarded for their failures ... a select band of arbitrarily chosen token women, all young, beautiful and virtuous," whose poetry was soon, and deservedly, forgotten (xxiii). But Greer provides only a part of die story. As Angela Leighton demonstrates, in Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart, many women — including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, Augusta Webster, "Michael Field," Alice Meynell and Charlotte Mew — won high praise from contemporary (male) critics by producing complex and original poetry that struggles "with and against a highly moralized celebration ofwomen's sensibility" (3). In Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics, Isobel Armstrong considers a wide range of women poets, including, in addition to Barrett Browning, Rossetti, Webster and MeyneU, aU three Brontë sisters; Adelaide Anne Proctor; Dora GreenweU; George EUot; and Mathilde Blind. Armstrong is particularly interested in dramatic monologues (especiaUy those by Webster), in poems that make poUtical statements (Barrett Browning's), and in poems that seek to create new myths (Mathilde Blind's). But she also argues tiiat many poems by women which seem merely to express die unproblematic subjectivity of die author or persona, are actuaUy "double poems" diat "objectify" such subjectivity in order to analyze its construction and its limitations. Armstrong contends that we should be alert to the subversive "doubleness" even of short, lyrical poems: according to Armstrong, "die simpler die surface of die poem, die more likely it is that a second and more difficult poem wül exist beneath it" (324). Review Article73 At die time Leighton's and Armstrong's books appeared, diere were no anthologies comprehensive enough to make it possible to test their theories in the classroom. Catherine ReiUy's anthology, and also Jennifer Breen's, appeared in 1994, followed by the Leighton and Reynolds anthology...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 71-78
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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