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43 TeachingVictorian Illustrated Poetry: Hands-on Material Culture Lor r a in e Ja nzen Ko oistr a • Can we still teach Victorian poetry in our classes? If there are two complaints about our current crop of students that resonate most often when I talk to colleagues who teachVictorian poetry, they are that the students lack close reading skills and that they lack a historical imagination. I’ve found that teachingVictorian poetry in illustrated form can encourage a closer attention to textual details and improve students’ understanding of how poetic devices like figurative language actually work. I’ve also found that returning to the book as a material object, and considering the poetic text in the context of its production and reception, can go some way toward cultivating the elusive historical imagination so necessary to understanding that indistinct and untraversed realm known as “Back Then.” And I’ve discovered that experiential learning—“hands-on” practices with poems and pictures on the printed page—can connect students in new ways to the thrill of the poetic line and the excitement of coming into contact with material traces of our cultural inheritance. In what follows, I offer a number of pedagogical principles and methodologies underlying my approach to teaching Victorian illustrated poetry and provide some practical examples for the classroom.At the end of this essay, I include selected illustrations as well as an appendix including a sample course outline, assignments, and list of resources. Pedag o gica l Sug gestions: 1. Start with what students know (or think they know). Drawing on my students’ interest in, and facility with, the visual, I encourage them to find their place as reading subjects while challenging their received notions about authorship, authority, and textual meaning. In the pages of the periodical press,Victorian readers developed a visual/ verbal literacy not unlike the facility our students have in reading pictures and words in digital environments. Unlike our students, however,Victorian readers of the periodical press simultaneously developed an appreciation for illustrated poetry that helped create a popular market for mass-produced books of poetry with wood-engraved illustrations.At the same time, as Nick Frankel reminds victorian review • Volume 34 Number 2 44 us, illustrated texts participated in an “ongoing process in which the poem becomes detached from the domain of its author” (288). SinceTennyson is the most recognized sign of“the poet” for bothVictorian readers and present-day students and critics, it is useful to examine how the appearance of his work in illustrated form affected its audiences and meanings. Probably the most well-known but least-examined volume of Victorian illustrated poetry is the one that has become known as “the Moxon Tennyson” of 1857. It is surely worth noting that the publisher receives equal billing with the poet in this designation, a fact that should immediately invite questions about authorship and publishing from our students. Moreover, both the illustrated volume itself and the record of critical reception it engendered in the nineteenth century offer a rich mine in the study of production and reception. Despite their collective failure to find favour with the poet, the illustrations should be read in conjunction with the poems they accompany as material records of a very engaged set of readers’ responses to Tennyson’s early verses. Indeed, the whole series of Pre-Raphaelite images of women in the Moxon Tennyson might be viewed as a distinct collection, including Mariana, Mariana in the South, Oriana, the Lady of Shalott, the nun of St. Agnes’s Eve, and St. Cecilia and the weeping queens from “The Palace of Art.” With this collection of images, students are able to visualize and assess Tennyson’s focus on female characters in his early poetry. This offers a good opportunity to send students back to Hallam’s review of Tennyson’s early Poems—to his comment on the “very beautiful class of poems” focusing on “female characters,” as well as his reference to Tennyson’s poetry as “a perfect gallery of pictures” (1203, 1199). Students can be invited to consider to what extent a poetic text invites, compels, or repels visualization; to what extent any visualization may extend or reduce its poetic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 43-61
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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