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119 Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Canon Formation, and the North American Literary Curriculum K a r en M a na r in • It is difficult to examine Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s place in literary history today without also considering Robert Browning’s. For many readers, Barrett Browning exists primarily as the author of “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” and as the “real-life” heroine of a love story. But while Barrett Browning is transformed from major poet to poetic heroine, Browning is transformed from Mrs. Browning’s husband to major poet. His reputation rises as hers falls.Their intertwined literary fates provide an interesting case study in the process of canon formation, particularly the role that literary curricula can play. For despite that fact that Elizabeth Barrett Browning enjoyed a greater poetic reputation during their lifetime, even being mentioned by the Athenaeum as a possible Poet Laureate in 1851, she almost disappeared from the canon during the early years of the twentieth century. Marjorie Stone’s key questions continue to resonate: “How, when, and where was England’s first major woman poet erased from literary history? Who buried her and why?” (195).This paper examines some of the circumstances surrounding this shift of poetic value by exploring one humble arena of canon formation: the North American high school classroom in the early twentieth century. I focus on the high school program leading to university and teaching or normal school matriculation in the early twentieth century because many more students were exposed to literature in high school than in universitylevel classes. Although the high school curriculum was heavily influenced by the demands of college preparation, it also had the broader goal of social skills development (Hays 104).The 1917 report of a national committee on the place of English in secondary schools in the United States identified the main aims of the English courses as communication (speech and writing) and reading “thoughtfully, with appreciation and taste for good books” (Hays 90). One aim, then, was canon recognition and acceptance. In the case of those students who went on to teach college or normal school, this high school exposure to literature provided a model that they could transmit to their own students.As such, the high school classroom provided a rich ground for canon formation, and scholastic editions both shape and are shaped by literary history.The editors of these scholastic editions try to aid the high school teacher and influence future teachers in the pedagogical apparatus and prefaces provided. In this victorian review • Volume 33 Number 1 120 article, I will briefly sketch the Brownings’ reception history before turning to examples of early twentieth-century school editions, editions governed in part by the demands of standardized examinations; I then consider the role of individual scholarly activity in canon formation by looking at the work ofW. J. Alexander and Hiram Corson, Browning scholars, and textbook editors. The changing reputation of Elizabeth Barrett Browning has been well documented byTricia Lootens, Marjorie Stone, and SimonAvery, among others. In Lost Saints: Silence,Gender,and Victorian Literary Canonization,Tricia Lootens places the silencing of Elizabeth Barrett Browning within a larger context of canonization , where canonization has both literary and religious connotations. She argues that “Though Elizabeth Barrett Browning came closer to achieving full literary canonicity than any of Victorian England’s other female poets, hers was always an unstable cultural presence” (121). Lootens traces the early reception history of Barrett Browning, arguing that her“career could be read as one long succession of attempts to accommodate—and to alter—the shape of feminine literary canonicity” (121). From“sacred poet-heroine of resignation and suffering” (124) to model, and married, Englishwoman (127) and finally to political activist, Barrett Browning presents different public personae . Lootens then examines the canonical revisionings of Barrett Browning after her death, arguing that “she emerges first as a Promethean intellectual; then as a still-powerful ‘wife, mother, and poet’; then as a great lover whose glory may no longer depend upon her poetry; and finally as an Andromeda (or Peau d’Ane) in Wimpole Street, whose physical and mental frailty adds poignancy to her role as a heroine of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 119-131
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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