Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(6) Victorian Poetry.

(A. Tennyson, M. Arnold, R. Browning, E. Barrett-Browning, and the Pre-Raphaelites [D. G. Rossetti, A. C. Swinburne, W. Morris, and C. Rossetti]).


T h e  V i c t o r i a n  P e r i o d  (1830 - 1901)

[See "Background for Topics 6-11..."]

L o r d  A l f r e d  T e n n y s o n  ( 1 8 0 9 – 9 2 )

L i f e :

- appointed poet laureate in succession to W. Wordsworth (1850)

- awarded a peerage (1884)

W o r k :

< admired Virgil (70BC – 19BC, = Publius Vergilius Maro, author of the epic Aeneid)

< Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881, author of Sartor Resartus [1833] and Past and Present [1843])

(a) a poet of the countryside

(b) a poet of the past, esp. the classical past: Idylls of the King (1859)

(c) author of poems on technological changes: confident in the evolutionary human progress x but: aware of the horrors of industrialism (slums, greed, etc.): “Locksley Hall” x but: “The Dawn”

(d) author of ‘newspaper verse’ = his slow, ponderous, and brooding mind had no time to brood in the composition: “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

> his lifetime: the most pop. of the poets x the Edwardian / Georgian period: repudiated x now: re-establ.

Early Period:

= melancholic and self-absorptive

- employed hypnotic echoes, repetitions, and subtle lyricism

- embodied himself in characters and their moods, delineated objects vividly = linked states of mind to the scenery

- produced no ‘descriptive poetry’ x but: was ‘creating scenery’

- preocc.: death-like states, death = a releasing experience

> “Mariana”, on a melancholy isolation through the consciousness of an abandoned woman

> “The Kraken”, “The Ballad of Oriana”, “The Lady of Shalott”, “The Lotos-Eaters”, & oth.

Poems by Two Brothers (1827):

- in collab. with his brother

> encouraged by a group of gifted Cambridge undergraduates = ‘The Apostles’, under the leadership of his friend Arthur Hallam (1811 – 33)

Mature Period:

< the traumatic death of A. Hallam, and his consequential mourning, relig. uncertainties, and extensive study of science

= no more simply debilitating melancholy x but: a desperate sense of exclusion by a private grieving, and a shift into the public realm

- the old mood of narcotic drowsiness balanced with:

(a) poems of urgent simplicity: “Break, break, break”

(b) poems of positive social direction: “Ulysses”, on the idea of progressive development; “Morte d’Arthur”, on a cyclic movement and historic renewal; & oth.

(c) poems of an implicit tribute to A. Hallam

The Princess: A Medley (1847):

= a long narrative fantasy poem

- set in a medieval past x but: with a present-day prologue

- conc.: women’s higher education

- princess Ida experiments with a women’s college with all M excluded x but: repents of her Amazonian scheme to be united with the prince

In Memoriam A.H.H. (1850):

= a long elegy, a tribute to A. Hallam as a friend and mentor

- conc.: our relation to God and to nature = both grief x belief in spiritual and physical evolution, exploration of doubts x assertion of faith, conflicting validities of the reasoning mind x feelings craving for present comfort, etc.

- incl. seasonal and calendar events suggesting the movement and measurement of time independent on the human grief

> early vol.: under hostile criticism as ‘obscure’ or ‘affected’ x but: I.M.: won him full critical recognition and the post of poet laureate (1850)

> remarkable not ‘because of the quality of its faith but because of the quality of its doubt’ (T[homas] S[tearns] Eliot)

Maud: and Other Poems (1855):

> “Maud”, orig. subtitled “The Madness”, a long experimental monologue poem, a love-poem x but: opens starkly with the words ‘I hate’; incl. both an exalted passion x a sense of a breakdown = displays the bitterness and despair its alienated protagonist feels twd society

> “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, a public utterance, vigorously combines a protest against and a celebration of the Crimean War (1854 – 56)

> “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington”, a public utterance

Later Period:

= accentuated mannerism

- dignified blank verse difficult to describe commonplace objects while retaining poetical elevation

Idylls of the King (1859):

= a large-scale epic

< uses the body of the Arthurian legend [King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table: (I) the legend of Camelot = a doomed utopia of chivalric virtue, undone by the fatal flaws of Arthur and Lancelot, (II) the legend of the quests of various knights to achieve the Holy Grail = a Christian relic, (III) the motif of courtly love: Lancelot + Guinevere, Tristan and Iseuld, etc.]

- conc.: a vision of the rise and fall of civilisation

- Arthur’s court and its decay due to sexual betrayal = a paradigm for the failure of an ideal

- women = inspiration for men’s highest efforts x but: also their destruction

Enoch Arden and Other Poems (1864):

- in a cultivatedly artificial = ‘Parnassian’ language (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

> “Enoch Arden”, a long blank verse narrative poem on the everyday life in a fishing village

M a t t h e w  A r n o l d  ( 1 8 2 2 – 8 8 )

L i f e :

- son of Dr Thomas A. (1795 – 1842) = a clergyman, headmaster of the Rugby School, educational reformer, and the godfather of Victorian earnestness: demanded moral and social responsibilities, forced boys into adult decision-making before their proper time, etc.

- youth = dandy of a frivolous mind > geniality and wit even in his serious criticism

- middle age = inspector of schools:

(a) travelled extensively, experienced the middle-class life > criticized its dullness

(b) studied the schools of Eur. > criticized E education

(c) studied classical lit. > criticized E lit.

- later age = a professor of poetry at Oxford and lecturer touring throughout Am.

- aim: a system of education for the middle classes, good education = the crucial need

- an anti-Victorian figure x but: characteristically Victorian in his assumption the puritan middle classes can be changed

W o r k :

- conc.: how to live a full and enjoyable life in a modern industrial society?

- his non-fiction seeks to counter negatives x but: his poetry embraces negatives, worries over them, and attempts to redirect them twd some hope

- phases:

(1) 1850s: poetry

(2) 1860s: lit. and social criticism

(3) 1870s: relig. and educational writings

(4) 1880s: lit. criticism

P o e t r y :

- at his best as a poet of nature, his settings work to draw the meaning together: “Thyrsis”

- A.: his poems repres. the ‘movement of mind of the last quarter of a century’ = a sick individual in a sick society

- conc.: his own experiences of the loneliness as a lover, a longing for a serenity not to be found, despair in a universe with humanity’s role seeming incongruous (<=> Thomas Hardy): “Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse”

- aim of poetry: to bring joy and make life bearable

- dissatisfied with his poems (“Empedocles on Etna”), attempted to meet his own requirements x but: failed (“Sohrab and Rustum”, “Balder Dead”, & oth.) and abandoned poetry after 1860

- aesthetic demerits: excessive reliance on italics instead of on meter, frequent prosy flatness x or over-elaborated similes when attempting ‘the grand style’

The Strayed Reveler (1849): his 1st coll.

Also wrote following poems of distinction:

“Empedocles on Etna”:

- dissatisfied with it as too expressive of a ‘depression of mind’

“The Scholar Gypsy”:

- a joyful celebration of the freedoms of an Oxford student’s escape from routine:

(a) = a gypsy rejection of the consequences of the urban civilisation

(b) = a poet’s attempt to escape into an idealised history


= an elegiac monody on the dead Arthur Hugh Clough (1819 – 61, poet)

- the soul of the dead poet required to act as an inspirer and bringer of joy to the world

- nostalgia for an idealised past: reminiscences of the Gr. and Rom. pastoral tradition

“Dover Beach”

“The Forsaken Merman”

N o n - f i c t i o n :

- conc.: to formulate ‘ideals’ to ‘heal’ a sick society

- culture = an open-minded intelligence to view life in all its aspects, incl. the social, political, and relig., and to cure the ills of a sick society

Essays in Criticism (1865, 1888):

= a 2-vol. coll. of lit. critical essays

- argues for the virtues of a plain style and for ‘high seriousness’: the poet = a serious thinker offering a guidance for his readers

> “The Study of Poetry”, studied the Eur. poetic tradition > praised the intellectual, philos., and educational enterprise of Fr. / Ger. x criticized the mentally foggy En.: E Romantic poets as provincial and lacking wide reading, Charles Dickens as a classic of philistinism, etc.

> “The Function of Criticism at the present Time”, lit. and lit. criticism = a force to produce a civilised society; the present confusions and uncertainties prevent an expressive modern poetry

Culture and Anarchy (1869) and Friendship’s Garland (1871):

= provocative socially critical tracts

- T. Carlyle and John Ruskin (1819 – 96, art and social critic) criticized the Victorian middle classes for their materialism and selfish indifference = immorality x but: A. criticized the ‘Philistines’ for their ignorance and narrow-mindedness = dullness

- civilisation constituted by the 4 ‘powers’ = conduct, intellect and knowledge, beauty, and social life and manners x but: the E society constituted by a ‘Barbarian’ aristocracy, a ‘Philistine’ bourgeoisie, and an unlettered ‘Populace’ = none of them possesses culture

- the pragmatic and anti-idealistic E present x but: the bright and classless E future, universally enlightened and with the narrow strictures of an inherited E ‘Hebraism’ (= Puritanism) balanced by sweeter arts of the ancient Gr.s

- incl. cajolery, irony, satire, quotations from the nwsps, and memorable catchwords (‘sweetness and light’)

- claims to offer freedom x but: lays down rules, enforces peace x but: suppresses the inconvenient, suggests the authoritarianism despising pop. culture, etc.

Literature and Dogma (1873):

= a relig. critical tract

- the Bible and church = a force producing a civilised society / culture x but: middle classes do not know how to read the Bible intelligently

- concl.: both the Bible / church should be preserved and properly understood

R o b e r t  B r o w n i n g  ( 1 8 1 2 – 8 9 )

L i f e :

= ‘Mrs Browning’s husband’ = during his marriage known for his wife rather than for himself

< P. B. Shelley > temporary atheism and liberalism, and permanent ardent romanticism [see his marriage]

- married Elizabeth Barrett, a 6 years older semi-invalid guarded by her tyrannical father, and eloped with her to Ita.

W o r k :


= philos. + relig. ‘teacher’: resolved the doubts troubling M. Arnold and A. Tennyson

- God created an imperfect world, a perfect heaven, and an immortal human soul

x but: aware of the existence of evil, preocc. with characters of murderers, sadistic husbands, and petty manipulators

- characters = connoisseurs (the Duke of “My Last Duchess”), artists, musicians, thinkers, and: manipulators

- characters of the past = bishops and painters of the Renaissance, physicians of the Rom. Empire, musicians of the 18th c. Ger. x but: problems of the present = problems of faith x doubt, good x evil, function of the artist in modern life, etc.


= experiments with language and syntax: grotesque rhymes and jaw-breaking diction

- the incongruities of language = a humorous and appropriate counterpart to the imperfect world

< John Donne (1572 – 1631, a Jacobean metaphysical poet) > often discordant style, unexpected juxtapositions, prosiness, and awareness of everyday realities x but: oth. Victorian poets, incl. A. Tennyson and D. G. Rossetti < J. Keats, J. Milton, E. Spenser, & oth. classical poets > elevated diction and subjects and pleasing liquidity of sound

<=> Victorian prose writers:

(a) prosiness

(b) the grotesque: “Holy-Cross Day” (<=> Dickens)

(c) psychological insights in devious ways in which our minds work, in the self-justifying contortions of the minds of sinners and criminals, and in the complexity of our motives: “The Bishop Orders His Tomb” (<=> George Eliot)

(d) ‘subtlety’ and ‘tact of omission’ (<=> Henry James)

Dramatic monologue poems:

- separates the speaker from the poet, makes difficult to discern the relationship of the poet x his speaker: “A Grammarian’s Funeral”, the central character = a hero or a fool?

- overhears characters in a self-revelatory, if scarcely truth-telling, soliloquy

- each character individual through his articulation, emphasis, pause, reiteration, and/or idiolect

- establ. a physical context through details, references, and objects

Poems with an identified persona as narrator:

- conversational directness, familiarity btw the addresser x the addressee

“Pauline” (1833):

= his 1st publ. poem

< P. B. Shelley = the most personal poet

> criticized for affliction with an ‘intense and morbid self-consciousness’

=> resolved to avoid confessional writings

D r a m a :

Strafford (1836):

= his 1st publ. play, a historical tragedy

> all his plays failed

=> resolved to write dramatic monologues to avoid explicit autobiog. through imaginary speakers, and to preserve the characters of drama

P o e t r y :

Dramatic Lyrics (1842): his 1st coll. of dramatic monologue poems

Men and Women (1855): reflects his enjoyment in Ita. = picturesque landscapes, lively street scenes, and monuments from the past (esp. Renaissance past)

Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1864)

Dramatis Personae (1864):

> “Caliban upon Setebos”, one of his finest dramatic monologues, criticises Darwinism and natural (as opposed to supernatural) relig.

The Ring and the Book (1868 – 9):

= his greatest single poem in 4 vol., the culmination of his experiment with the dramatic monologue

< based on a legal record of a murder trial in the 17th c. Rome: a brutally sadistic husband accuses his young wife of adultery with a priest trying to rescue her from her husband’s tyranny, stabs her to death, and is executed

- employs a texture of voices: contrasts multiple points of view of participants and spectators, and opens up freshly complex vistas and new questions with each witness

- puts the reader in the role of an investigating magistrate probing the confessions and impressions

> anticipates later novels such as Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900)

Also wrote following poems of distinction:

“My Last Duchess”:

= a dram. monologue

- the duke speaks of his dead wife

“Two in the Campagna”:

< opens with a questioning voice reminiscent of J. Donne’s

- speaks of distinctness x not union, and agnosticism in love x not ideal convergence

“Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”:

= an elusive and suggestive Gothic poem

- medieval in setting, ominous and disturbing in its precise evocation of horror

< the title from Edgar’s song in W. Shakespeare’s King Lear (1605)

E l i z a b e t h  B a r r e t t - B r o w n i n g  ( 1 8 0 6 – 6 1 )

L i f e :

- unusually educated for a woman of her time: studied Lat., Gr., history, philos., and lit.

- married R. Browning, eloped to Ita.: deeply involved in Ita. nationalist politics

W o r k :

(a) early period: Romantic visionary narrative poetry

(b) mature period = contemp. topics, esp. liberal causes of her day, treated with a fervent moral sensibility

- responded to the topical issues of history, tradition, and politics of the Ita. experiencing a painful evolution into a modern state x R. Browning’s retreat into historical perspectives

(c) late period = the Risorgimento [= a movement to unify Ita. as a nation-state]

> her lifetime: the most pop. woman poet x the modernists: criticised for the inappropriate didacticism and the rhetorical excess of Victorian poetry x now: re-establ.

The Seraphim and Other Poems (1838)

“The Cry of the Children” (1843):

= a poem criticising the exploitation of children in coal mines and factories

- lit. = a tool of social protest and reform (<=> Harriet Beecher Stowe [1811 – 96])

Sonnets from the Portuguese (1850):

< supposedly a transl. from the Portug. language x but: her orig. creation

= a sequence of 44 love-sonnets written during the courtship

- records the stages of her love for R. Browning and her private emotional awakening

Casa Guidi Windows (1851):

= a poetic sequence

- on contemp. issues: the Ita. political flux and its often contradictory nationalist aspirations

Aurora Leigh: A Poem in Nine Books (1857):

= a blank verse ‘novel’ = with its crowded canvas and melodramatic plot closer to fiction than to poetry

- the 1st work in E by a woman writer with the F protagonist identical with the author = a ‘female Prelude’

- on the growth of a woman poet’s mind, her conflict as an artist x woman, and her self-liberation by the poetry releasing ‘elemental freedom’

(a) a F artistic career: the artists = a young woman committed to a socially inclusive realist art, passionately interested in social questions, and longing for knowledge and freedom

(b) a M philanthropic career: the cousin interested in A. as a helpmate in his liberal causes

(c) digresses into oth. lives, repres. social issues conc. women from the feminist POV

- A. refuses a marriage proposal from her cousin to pursue a poetic career; rescues a fallen woman, they settle in Ita. and confront the chastened cousin

- concl.: visionary optimism

- B.: the present = a fit subject for epic poetry x oth. Victorian poets, incl. M. Arnold: the present = no actions heroic enough, and A. Tennyson: the Arthurian legend to repres. contemp. conc.

Also wrote: a transl. of Aeschylus’s (525 BC – 456 BC) Prometheus Bound (1833)

D a n t e  G a b r i e l  R o s s e t t i  ( 1 8 2 8 – 8 2 )

- a painter and a poet of decorative and descriptive poetry = a poet in his painting and a painter in his poetry

- founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848)

- fascinated with the F face and body, idealised women both sexually and spiritually: woman = a supreme mistress, an object of desire and worship

- painting: women with dreamy stares as if breathless from visions of heaven x but: parted lips and voluptuous curves suggest an earthly kind of ecstasy => combines spirituality + sensuality

- poetry:

(a) early poetry = in the less elaborate Pre-Raphaelite mode: “My Sister’s Sleep”

(b) mature poetry = in a stunning polysyllabic diction giving an effect of opulence and density to his lines

- R.: art should be conc. with the beautiful x not with the useful or didactic, ‘colour and meter’ should be superior to ‘all intellectual claims’

> anticipated the later Aesthetic Movement of Walter Pater (1839 – 94), Oscar Wilde, & oth.

< J. Keats and Dante

The House of Life (1870):

= a sonnet sequence on the relationship of spirit and body in love

<=> Coventry Patmore’s (1823 – 96) The Angel in the House (1854 – 63), an adoring long poem idolising his wife in her domesticity

Also wrote following poems of distinction:

“The Blessed Damozel”:

= a fleshly x but: heavenly vision of a transfigured beloved from Dante’s Beatrice

- set in a heaven warm with physical bodies

“A Half-Way Pause”, “Autumn Idleness”, and “The Woodspurge”: landscape poems of a striking intensity of vision

Also wrote: The Early Italian Poets (1861), re-publ. as Dante and His Circle, a prose study of Dante

A l g e r n o n  C h a r l e s  S w i n b u r n e  ( 1 8 3 7 – 1 9 0 9 )

- briefly involved with the Pre-Raphaelites x but: remained an outsider and a rebel

- characteristic by his radicalism, libertarianism, paganism, and distaste for Christian narrowness

- deep understanding of the forms and styles of classical culture

Poems and Ballads (1866):

= metrical echoes of and variations on Gr. poetry

> “Hymn to Proserpine”, spoken by the dying anti-Christian Rom. Emperor

> “Dolores”, reverses the Cath. notion of the suffering Virgin to ‘a poisonous queen’

Songs before Sunrise (1871): expresses his passionate political conviction for the Risorgimento

W i l l i a m  M o r r i s  ( 1 8 3 4 – 9 6 )

- revolutionised E design x but: his poetry lifeless, derivative, and long-winded

P o e t r y :

The Earthly Paradise (1868 – 70):

- retells tales from classical and northern sources, esp. the newly rediscovered Icelandic sagas

- attempts to create a pop. narrative art akin to G. Chaucer’s to unmake the false and artificial x but: his sophistication prevents his folksy aspirations

“Chants for Socialists” (1885):

= a sing-song ballad poem

- targeted at the Socialist politics

P r o s e :

A Dream of John Ball (1886 – 87) and News from Nowhere (1890):

= polemical fantasies

- uses the past to project an ideal into the future

- the latter a vision of a world freed from machines and mechanical thinking to release individual creativity

C h r i s t i n a  R o s s e t t i  ( 1 8 3 0 – 9 4 )

L i f e :

- daughter of an exiled Ita. patriot, younger sister of D. G. R.

- her father became a permanent invalid, the economic situation worsened, and her own health deteriorated => involved with the Anglo-Cath. movement within the Church of En.

- spent the rest of her life bound with strict relig. principles and with charitable work

W o r k :

(a) early poetry:

- in an escapist, dreamy, Tennysonian mode

(b) mature poetry:

- in a distinctive F voice

- genres: a pure lyric, narrative fable, ballad, and devotional verse

- her consciousness of gender criticises the conventional repres. of women in the Pre-Raphaelite art: “In An Artist’s Studio”, a sonnet

- combines sensuousness and relig. severity in ‘an aesthetics of renunciation’ = a poetry of negation, denials, and constraints

- reduces the self with a coy playfulness and sardonic wit x but: preserves for it a secret inner space: “Winter: My Secret” <=> Emily Dickinson (1830 – 86)

Devotional poems:

< George Herbert (1593 – 1633, a poet, orator, and priest in the Church of En.)

> “Up-Hill”, a question-and-answer poem

> “A Bruised Reed shall He not Break”, a dialogue poem

Secular relationships poems:

- emotional evasion and the failure of human sympathy = human alternatives to relig. consolation

- preocc. with the absence of certainty

> “Promises Like Pie-Crust”, mocking

> “Winter My Secret”, elusive

> “Remember”, ambiguous and mortal

> Song “When I am Dead my Dearest”, treats the human love in a Keatsian mode, with a take-it-or-leave-it quality

> “Autumn Violets”, reverses the idea of autumnal fulfilment, claims love in middle age as forced and inappropriate as spring flowers in autumn

Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862):

> “Goblin Market”:

= a seemingly simple moral fable for children x but: the style deceptively simple

- accumulative in imagery, restless in rhythm, both rhymed and half-rhymed

- on the relig. themes of temptation and sin, and redemption by suffering <=> S. T. Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”

- strangeness <=> Lewis Carroll x but: a spiritual message

- climax: goblins force Lizzie to eat their seductive fruit, not from the Tree of Knowledge, but from an orchard of sensual delights, she resists

Sing Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872): rhymes of direct simplicity, for children

The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866):

= poems of alliteration and assonance

> “The Prince’s Progress”, an allegory of the unhappy uncertainty of emotional commitment

A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Jelínková, Ema. Semináře: Britská literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.


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