- General Materials
Five books are featured in the general materials section. The first three are collections with varying degrees of investment in Victorian poetry. Together, they provide a set of conceptual, tropological, and material contexts within which to interpret a wide range of canonical and lesser-known Victorian poets. The two monographs reviewed here reconnect Victorian poetry with the complex process of its translation and with one popular form of its publication.
Chapter two from Bernard Lightman and Bennett Zon’s coedited Evolution and Victorian Culture (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014), John Holmes’s “The Challenge of Evolution in Victorian Poetry,” should be of particular interest to general materials readers. After briefly establishing a genealogy for the study of evolution in Victorian poetry that reaches back to the 1930s, the chapter proceeds in three sections: “Evolution in Victorian poetry before the Origin” finds in Arthur Hugh Clough’s Ambarvalia (1849) and Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam (1850) a preemptive articulation of “the anxieties faced by [later] poets encountering evolution through Darwin and the inferences they drew about it” (p. 42); among the later poets touched upon in “Evolution, faith and nature in Victorian poetry” are Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Meredith, Lewis Morris, Christina Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Tennyson, and James Thomson; finally, “Evolution, politics and society: Social Darwinism in Victorian poetry” briefly surveys engagements with Herbert Spencer and others in selected poems by Robert Bridges, Wilfred Seawen Blunt, May Kendall, Meredith, Constance Naden, William Michael Rossetti, Swinburne, and Tennyson. By Holmes’s account, “there are few signs that evolution was a prominent idea in Victorian poetry until the 1860s,” after which evolution became “the defining feature of the cosmology that Victorian poets in particular took it as their responsibility to interpret” (p. 42, p. 59). He concludes by positing the effects of evolutionary ideas on the form of Victorian poetry—with In Memoriam, Modern Love (1862), and The City of Dreadful Night (1874) as touchstones—and offering suggestions for future research.
Whether as a site for the collection of natural historical specimens or the observation of eroded geological strata, the beach offered Victorians a readily [End Page 281] accessible space in which to observe the processes of evolution in action. The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures: Reading Littoral Space (Ashgate, 2015), edited by Ursula Kluwick and Virginia Richter, includes such scientific possibilities among its broader approach to “the beach as a creative trope and a socio-cultural site, as well as an aesthetically productive topography” (p. 2). Of most interest for readers of Victorian Poetry are the volume’s first two chapters, Christiana Payne’s “Visions of the Beach in Victorian Britain” and Katharina Rennhak’s “Dover Beach and the Politics and Poetics of Perspective.” Although primarily interested in four mid-Victorian paintings of seascapes and coastal scenes, Payne acknowledges the “close relationship between visual and verbal imaginings” in the period, citing Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar” and “Break, break, break,” Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” Swinburne’s “Hymn to Proserpine,” and Kingsley’s “The Three Fishers” as evidence for the Victorians’ consistent deployment of beach imagery in connection with poetic meditations on human mortality (p. 21). Rennhak focuses more particularly on several “poems about Dover from around 1800 until the early twenty-first century” that “establish a recurring ‘Dover beach’ trope which—by drawing on a number of recurring topoi—negotiates the question of human agency” (p. 49). Centering her discussion on Arnold’s poetic touchstone of “Victorian liberal humanism,” Rennhak eschews the other examples of beach poetry cited by Payne in favor of texts by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, William John Courthope, William Lisle Bowles, Iain Crichton Smith, and Daljit Nagra (p. 37).
Linked tropologically by the beach, even conceptually by the limits of human freedom, the poems and poets discussed by Payne and Rennak begin to suggest a virtual network of the sort informing Veronica Alfano and Andrew Stauffer’s Virtual Victorians: Networks, Connections, Technologies (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015). According to Stauffer’s Introduction, “As time and technology make plain that our Victorian period will henceforth always be a simulation or constructed model, we can investigate more assiduously those networks of...