- Matthew Arnold
Before describing important articles and book chapters devoted to Arnold, I want to call attention to the fact that many publications dealing with various aspects of English literary, cultural, and even political history contain references to Arnold [End Page 285] and his position as the preeminent Victorian critic, even if the focus is on other writers and issues. An especially interesting example is found in John Jowett’s “Disintegration, 1924” (Shakespeare 10, no. 2 : 171–187). Jowett discusses the complex issue of “disintegration” as a label for attribution scholarship in Shakespeare studies. Referring to E. K. Chambers’s British Academy lecture of 1924, in which he offers a critique of John Dover Wilson’s “continuous copy” textual hypotheses and offers his own “continuous personality” approach, Jowett concludes that neither Wilson nor Chambers provided an adequate model. Along the way, he makes references to Arnold’s views on the humanizing influence of education in English literature that both Wilson and Chambers embraced, in the context of the “inter-war decades” with apprehensions of danger from revolutionary Russians and fascist Germans. Wilson published an edition of Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy and Chambers lectured on Arnold. Both men were “committed Arnoldians” who believed that “education, and the study of English in particular, provided not only Christian-humanist spiritual nurture of the individual, but also society’s best defense against social political barbarism.” Jowett generalizes that “[t]his national-universalist version of Arnold’s teachings was the spirit of the age” (198).
A 2013 article by Kate Campbell not covered in last year’s essay deals with Arnold’s views of culture, education, and politics in important ways: “Culture, Politics and Arnold Revisited: The Government Inspector, Disinterestedness and ‘The Function of Criticism’” (Journal of Victorian Culture 18, no. 2 : 230–245). She begins by questioning the prevailing view that Arnold and his concept of disinterestedness as expressed in “The Function of Criticism” essay are detached from politics, and she argues “that Arnold’s politically charged work as a Schools’ Inspector is a key context of his essay and its critical desiderata” (231). In particular, she relates Arnold’s ideas to the conflict in the Education Department that led to the 1862 Revised Code in elementary education. Arnold’s “discrete opposition” to Robert Lowe has been largely ignored by critics who see a “lofty disdain for politics on his part” (240). In Campbell’s view, Arnold’s famous essay “stages an unobtrusive counter-offensive” to the subordination of the school inspectors. Its “very dismissal of the practical world of politics and requirement of disinterestedness signal a political intervention: an attempt to make things happen and alter social arrangements” (p. 245). Readers familiar with the history of Arnold criticism through the years will be interested in Campbell’s awareness that in narrowing the perceived gap between Arnoldian culture and politics she is in a sense extending the insights of Stefan Collini expressed in his “lengthy exchange” with Francis Mulhern during the period 2001–2004.
Moving from the connection between culture and politics to that between poetry and philosophy, one of the most substantial recent treatments of Arnold’s [End Page 286] poetry and criticism is found in a book featuring the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the critical theory of Walter Benjamin. In Poetic Force: Poetry After Kant (Stanford Univ. Press, 2014), Kevin McLaughlin argues that the “theory of force” laid out in Kant’s aesthetics, especially his theorization of the “dynamic sublime,” is central to our understanding of nineteenth-century poetry. After his opening chapter on “Ur-ability: Force and Image from Kant to Benjamin,” McLaughlin devotes chapters to “Höderlin’s Peace” and “Poetic Reason of State: Baudelaire and the Multitudes,” before concluding with his chapter on “Arnold’s Resignation.” Readers interested in Arnold will no doubt find the organization of this book provocative. “Resignation” does indeed refer to Arnold’s poem by that name. Much of Arnold’s early poetry originates in an attempt to “revisit the Wordsworthian scene,” as critics have generalized in the past. Arnold’s original poem “Resignation. To Fausta” was included in his first volume of verse, The Strayed Reveller, and...