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  • Introduction
  • Patricia Rigg (bio)

While the "recovery" of poetry by Victorian women is no longer a new activity, the scholarly debates and revisionary activities concerned with this body of work have only just begun. For many scholars of my generation, the only Victorian women poets anthologized were Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti; however, we teach a very different curriculum in our classrooms today. In fact, it is difficult for contemporary students to imagine a canon of primarily male poets, since publishers of modern anthologies have been responsive to our cries for equity. The increased number of scholarly anthologies available and the different ways in which these texts are organized to highlight the cultural context of Victorian literature enable us to include poets such as Augusta Webster on our syllabi as a matter of course, and web resources of primary and secondary materials allow us to expand on the texts in ways unimagined when I was an undergraduate.

In our scholarly pursuits as well, we have witnessed a healthy expansion of the Victorian repertoire in conferences that focus on both scholarship and pedagogy, and our understanding of the Victorian age has become more inclusive, more accurate, and more interesting as we acknowledge the diversity of the work produced and employ a range of critical lenses to read it. In the past few years, the momentum has continued with studies of women writers in a number of genres, as well as studies of the cultural contexts in which women worked, such as the middle-class Victorian household, the salon, the private library, the public library, and the periodical press. We have benefited from projects focused on identifying the anonymous contributions of women writers, such as the work of Eileen Curran and Patrick Leary on the Curran Index and that of Marysa Demoor on the Athenaeum. Journals such as Victorian Poetry have contributed to the democratization of nineteenth-century scholarship with invitations such as this one to highlight a single female author. Nevertheless, we need to be vigilant and focus not only on preserving what we have gained but also on ensuring that we use it wisely to generate new ideas about and insight into the literature of the Victorian age. It is disturbing that on both sides of the Atlantic, scholars face increasing difficulty in obtaining significant grant-agency funding for literary studies, especially for single-author studies. As the essays in this volume demonstrate, there is great value in [End Page 1] rethinking, reconsidering, and reshaping the critical discourse attached to an author and to a literary period.

As several contributors to this volume point out, Webster has served us well as a means of gaining insight into nineteenth-century women's writing in its rich cultural context, for she was indeed a sociopolitical activist whose interests in suffrage and education for women inform and are reflected in much of her literary work. My own work on Webster has had a biographical emphasis, and, like others, I came to Webster first through her dramatic poetry, Dramatic Studies and Portraits, and developed my interest in Webster through the thematic development in these volumes of the lives of men and women in conjunction with the social mores of the time. Scholars have pressed forward with a number of studies of Mother and Daughter, as well as essays focusing on Webster's other lyrics and the lyrical dramas, not only to examine the development of these themes but also to look closely at elements relating to genre and technique. In a relatively short time, we have begun in earnest revisionist readings of Webster's work, considering it from an aesthetic perspective as well as social criticism, a trend we can see unfolding in recent issues of Victorian Poetry and other journals. In the context of this broadening out of our reading of Webster, contributors to this volume represent what we might call a second wave of Webster criticism, as they consider not only works that have received less attention to date, specifically the lyrical dramas and the lyrical narrative Yu-Pe-Ya's Lute, but also Webster's more frequently anthologized dramatic poetry. Both analytical patterns offer insights into Webster's complex poetic...


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