Victorian Poetry 41.3 (2003) 412-419
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Gerard Manley Hopkins
Jeffrey B. Loomis
In a year that has also featured revisions of previous Hopkinsian scholarship, two new books and a number of diversified new journal articles offer varied critical opinions. Even though one can occasionally encounter in these writings some neglect of details or some imperfect logic, all of the new material reveals much quality labor.
Assembled by Hopkins Quarterly editors Joaquin Kuhn and Joseph Feeney, S.J., the attractive new book Hopkins Variations: Standing Round a Waterfall (St. Joseph's and Fordham University Presses, 2002) collects reader [End Page 412] responses, to Hopkins' writings and to his documented life, from many noted Hopkins scholars. The volume also includes perspectives on Hopkins from an artist who sketched him in woodcuts (Robert McGovern); from three other poets whom he influenced (Seamus Heaney, Desmond Egan, and Bruno Gaurier); from a composer who set his words to music (Ned Rorem); from actors who have performed his life-events and/or his creative texts (Richard Austin, Peter Gale, Nick Weber); and from two professional theologians (Francis McAloon, S.J., and John McDade, S.J.).
These essays are as diverse as the book's editors advertise them to be. A few contributors (Uwe Böker, Mariaconcetta Costantini, and Eynel Wardi) choose to provide us with detailed new analyses of specific Hopkins compositions. Others, including some of the most veteran Hopkins scholars (John Ferns, Howard Fulweiler, Joaquin Kuhn, Michael Moore, Rachel Salmon Deshen, and Sjaak Zonneveld) chiefly seek to locate Hopkins within the realms of literary, intellectual, and social history. For a number of these sorts of scholars, both the young and the old (Andrew Sean Davidson, David Downes, and Walter Ong, S.J.), the key focus in Hopkins' life and work appears to be definition of the conscious human "self" and its life-process of "selving."
Most of these Hopkins Variations, though, focus on Hopkins as a key contributor to the essayists' own autobiographies. It is fascinating to realize, after reading his memoir essay "A Tale of Five Continents" (pp. 137-169), how geographically vast (ranging through periods of employment in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Canadian North America) has been the "pilgrimage to a text" (p. 135) of Norman MacKenzie, the renowned editor of Hopkins' manuscripts in facsimile and of two Hopkins collected poems editions. The Hopkins Variations tome also demonstrates that Hopkins' influence could give Tom Zaniello (pp. 295-296) the impetus to change from his original academic major of biology to the study of literature, and that Hopkins could inspire Paul Mariani with a veritable "lifeline" and "love" pulsating deeply in the "spirit" (pp. 222, 225, 228), to feel, forty years later, decisively vindicated at having left the academic discipline of psychology for that of English. While chiefly crediting his own "family and faith" (p. 106), Alan Heuser still deems Hopkins to have influenced Heuser's late-in-life Roman Catholic conversion.
Meanwhile, my own Hopkins Variations contribution, "A Poet Who Resurrects Comfort" (pp. 192-195), traces my personal discovery of a solace and sustenance gained from the writing of meditative poetry that seemed to affect me much in the way the writing of his much superior meditative verse apparently affected Hopkins. And Ewa Borkowska credits Hopkins' "fundamental premises of Christian faith" with helping her "survive through the dark night of [Poland's Communist era] totalitarian [End Page 413] regime" (p. 215).
Two noted penners of Hopkins Variations also saw, in 2002, some of their key previous work republished. University Press of America issued a revised edition of David Downes' book Hopkins' Achieved Self, while Walter Ong's essay from the 1940s, "Hopkins' Sprung Rhythm and the Life of English Poetry," was reissued as part (pp. 111-174) of the handsome volume An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup, for Hampton Press.
Another long-active Hopkins scholar, the biographer Norman White, wrote, in his Hopkins Variations entry (p. 68), that he had once wished to write an entire M.A. thesis on Hopkins' lengthy late-career sonnet "Spelt...