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"'SEEING IT AGAIN': VISIONS AND REVISIONS OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY" G. Kim Blank and Margot K. Louis, Editors. Influence and Resistance in Nineteenth Century British Poetry. New York: St. Martin's P, 1993. ? + 306. Stephen Gurney. British Poetry of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Twayne, 1993. xiv + 341. Carl Woodring, Editor; James Shapiro, Associate Editor. The Columbia History ofBritish Poetry. New York: Columbia UP, 1994. xi + 732. Hardcover books are becoming a rare luxury in these penurious days, so that the mere sight of these handsomely bound volumes is enough to raise the spirits. As the cliché goes, two out of three ain't bad, and in this case two out of three are very good indeed. G. Kim Blank and Margot Louis' Influence and Resistance in Nineteenth-Century English Poetry and Carl Woodring and James Shapiro's Columbia History of British Poetry are very different in kind but equally impressive in their elegance and erudition; in contrast, Stephen Gurney's British Poetry of the Nineteenth Century falls dismally short of these high standards. The handsome burgundy dust jacket of The Columbia History of British Poetry describes the work as a "superb new history of the development of British poetry" — and indeed it is. Twenty-five chapters written by distinguished scholars trace the chronological evolution of "the poetry written in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland," beginning with "Old English Poetry" by Roberta Frank and concluding with Edna Longley's "Poetry in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, 1920-1990." In between are articles on movements, genres, and individual poets as well as David McKitterick's fascinating survey of modes of "Printing and Distribution of Poetry" over the centuries. The editors of the Columbia History note that they "imagine many kinds of Review Article167 readers of this book," including undergraduate and graduate students, specialists in "periods or poets," and die kind of reader we in die academy might describe as "amateur" and which boüi Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf, die editors remind us, identified as "die common reader." Does Ulis book warrant a place on die shelves of all diese disparate groups of readers? I suspect that it does, and that in fact die new Columbia History is tiiat rare tiling, a book capable of being not precisely perhaps all tilings to all men and women, but a range of different and equally valuable tilings to different readers. (Perhaps what I am trying to suggest is tiiat die Columbia History works like poetry itself and is capable of being read in many different and equally valid ways.) I plan to recommend David G. Riede's chapter on "The Victorian Era" to my undergraduate students as a concise and lucid overview of a complex period; I also plan to keep die book at hand as a ready reference when I find myself teaching English 200, our version of die ubiquitous historical survey course popularly known as "from Beowulf to Virginia Woolf." If I need a sound and sensible introduction to "Sixteendi Century Narrative Poetry" (Elizabeth Story Donno) or to refresh my memory about "Dryden and Pope" (Richard Feingold), this is die place. Each chapter of the Columbia History concludes with suggestions for "Further Reading"; yes, lists of this kind can date quickly, but given the pedagogical orientation of this book, my suspicion is that any helpful, knowledgeable suggestions are better than none. Paragraph-length biographies of all the poets mentioned are included as well, another valuable resource for the teacher/learner. In addition to Riede's aforementioned overview of "The Victorian Era," chapters of particular interest to Victorianists include Jerome H. Buckley on "Wordsworth and Tennyson," Cary H. Plotkin on "Victorian Religious Poetry," Carole Silver on "The Pre-Raphaelites," and Karl Beckson on "The 1890s." These are useful and without exception highly readable essays that cover an impressive array of material, much of it informed by recent rehabilitory and revisionist criticism. This is perhaps the place to note that the dust jacket accurately describes the Columbia History as "traditional without being archaic, contemporary without being trendy"; the editors stress that "considerable effort has gone into making available voices long suppressed . . . while at the same time resituating some of the most celebrated poets within...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 166-173
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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