Introduction: A Poem of the Age

Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)


‘I want to write a poem of a new class,’ wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as early as 1844, of the work that would eventually become Aurora Leigh. Its novelty would consist in its engagement with the daily life of the times — in Barrett Browning’s determination, as she puts it, to ‘go on, & touch this real everyday life of our age, & hold it with my two hands’.1 Though acknowledging a precedent of sorts in Byron’s Don Juan, Barrett Browning casts herself in the role of pioneer, breaking new ground in her attempt to poeticize this first truly modern, and distinctly novelistic, age. Part modern epic, part verse-novel, Aurora Leigh was published in 1856 to enormous and instantaneous popularity.


Nineteenth Century Modern Life Subject Choice Modern Subject Woman Question 
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  1. 1.
    Letter to Mary Russell Mitford, reprinted in Margaret Reynolds (ed.) (1996) Aurora Leigh (New York: Norton), p. 329 (30 December 1844).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See the biographical sketch of Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton in Philip Kelley, Ronald Hudson and Scott Lewis (eds) (1984–) The Brownings’ Correspondence, 18 vols (Winfield, KS: Wedgestone Press), XIX, pp. 349–63.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Owen Meredith [Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton] (1860) Dedication to Lucile (London: Chapman & Hall). Further references are to this edition and are hereafter given in the text.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    William Allingham, Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (1864, 1869) (1999) (Poole: Woodstock Books), Preface (1864), p. vii; Preface (1869), pp. iv–v.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    [Aubrey de Vere] (1858) ‘The Angel in the House’, Edinburgh Review, CII, 121–33 (pp. 121–3).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    R. H. Super (ed.) (1960–77) The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, 11 vols (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), I: On the Classical Tradition, p. 12.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    William Wordsworth (1979) The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. by Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams and Stephen Gill (New York: Norton), I.158, 166, 168, 222 (quotations from 1850 version).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Coventry Patmore [ 1906 ] The Angel in the House together with The Victories of Love, intro. by Alice Meynell (London: Routledge). Further references are to this edition and are hereafter given in the text.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Christopher Ricks (ed.) (1987) The Poems of Tennyson, 3 vols (Harlow: Longman). All further references to Tennyson’s poetry are to this edition and are hereafter given in the text.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    [Walter Bagehot] (1859) ‘Tennyson’s Idylls’, National Review, I X, 368–94 (pp. 375–6).Google Scholar
  11. 15.
    Alexander Smith (1909) ‘A Life-Drama’, in William Sinclair (ed.) The Poetical Works of Alexander Smith (Edinburgh: W. P. Nimmo, Hay, & Mitchell), Scene VI, p. 71. Further references are to this edition and are hereafter given in the text.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Isobel Armstrong (ed.) (1972) Victorian Scrutinies: Reviews of Poetry, 1830– 1870 (London: Athlone Press), p. 6.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Dorothy Mermin (1983) The Audience in the Poem: Five Victorian Poets (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press), p. 4.Google Scholar
  14. 20.
    Howard Foster Lowry (ed.) (1932) The Letters of Matthew Arnold to A. H. Clough (London: Oxford University Press), p. 99 (February 1849).Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Letter to Edward Hawkins, Frederick L. Mulhauser (ed.) (1957) The Correspondence of Arthur Hugh Clough, 2 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press), I, p. 249 (3 March [1849]).Google Scholar
  16. 22.
    Humphry House (1948) ‘Pre-Raphaelite Poetry’, BBC Third Programme (1948), in James Sambrook (ed.) (1974) Pre-Raphaelitism: A Collection of Critical Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), pp. 126–32 (pp. 128–9).Google Scholar
  17. 23.
    Herbert Francis Brett Brett-Smith and Clifford Ernest Jones (eds) (1924–34) The Works of Thomas Love Peacock, 10 vols (London: Constable & Co), VIII, p. 12.Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    Thomas Blackwell (1972) Enquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer (Menston: Scolar Press), pp. 26, 28.Google Scholar
  19. 25.
    Miles Taylor (ed.) (2001) The English Constitution (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 41.Google Scholar
  20. 26.
    A. C. Bradley (1909; reprinted 1959) ‘The Long Poem in the Age of Wordsworth’, in Oxford Lectures on Poetry (London: Macmillan), p. 191.Google Scholar
  21. 28.
    John A. Heraud (1839) ‘The Chartist Epic’, The Monthly Magazine, II, 1–38 (pp. 35, 36). Of course, Carlyle’s own response to the age, above all in the fierce and epoch-making Past and Present (1843), was deeply ambivalent and even paradoxical.Google Scholar
  22. 31.
    ‘Recent English Poetry’, North American Review, LXXVII, 1–30. Reprinted as ‘Recent English Poetry: A Review of Several Volumes of Poems by Alexander Smith, Matthew Arnold, and Others’ in Buckner B. Trawick (ed.) (1964) Selected Prose Works of Arthur Hugh Clough, (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press), p. 144.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    See J. P. Phelan (ed.) (1995) Clough: Selected Poems (London: Longman) for a fuller account of the manuscript and publishing history of the poem, as well as textual variants between the 1849 version, the version that appeared in 1858 in the new periodical The Atlantic Monthly and the corrections Clough made to the poem in 1859.Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    Virginia Woolf (1932) ‘Aurora Leigh’, The Second Common Reader (New York: Harcourt Brace), reprinted in Reynolds, pp. 439–46 (p. 444).Google Scholar
  25. 35.
    W. J. B. Owen and Jane Worthington Smyser (eds) (1974) Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1850), The Prose Works of William Wordsworth, 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press), I, pp. 139, 143.Google Scholar
  26. 36.
    These examples can all be found in George Watson (ed.) (1969) The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Volume 3:1800–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)Google Scholar
  27. Those mentioned range from the utterly obscure to names at least vaguely familiar to scholars of the period: Thomas Campbell, Theodric: A Domestic Tale (1825)Google Scholar
  28. Charles Jeremiah Wells, Joseph and his brethren: a scriptural drama (1824)Google Scholar
  29. Charles Dibdin, Young Arthur, or the child of mystery: a metrical romance (1819)Google Scholar
  30. Richard Mant, The simpliciad: a satirico-didactic poem (1808)Google Scholar
  31. William Glen, The lonely isle: a south-sea island tale (1816)Google Scholar
  32. John Galt, The battle of Largs: a Gothic poem with several miscellaneous pieces (1804)Google Scholar
  33. William Motherwell, Renfrewshire characters and scenery: a poem in three hundred and sixty-five cantos, by Isaac Brown (1824)Google Scholar
  34. Thomas Lovell Beddoes, The improvisatore, in three fyttes, with other poems (1821)Google Scholar
  35. Thomas Tod Stoddart, The death-wake or lunacy: a necromaunt in three chimeras (1831)Google Scholar
  36. Ernest Hones, The lass and the lady, or love’s ladder: a tale of thrilling interest (1855). See also Stuart Curran’s ‘Prolegomenon: A Primer on Subtitles in British Romantic Poetry’ to his Poetic Form and British Romanticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    See Richard Altick (1991) The Presence of the Present: Topics of the Day in the Victorian Novel (Columbus: Ohio State University Press), pp. 36–7.Google Scholar
  38. 39.
    Anna Seward (1784) Louisa: A Poetical Novel, in Four Epistles (London: J. Jackson & G. Robinson), First Epistle, p. 5.Google Scholar
  39. 41.
    Rod Edmond (1988) Affairs of the Hearth: Victorian Poetry and Domestic Narrative (London: Routledge), p. 35.Google Scholar
  40. 42.
    See, for example, James R. Kincaid, Tennyson’s Major Poems: The Comic and Ironic Patterns (1975)Google Scholar
  41. Daniel Albright, Tennyson: The Muses’ Tug-of-War (1986)Google Scholar
  42. Herbert F. Tucker, Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism (1988).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    John Jump (ed.) (1967) Tennyson: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul), p. 6.Google Scholar
  44. 50.
    Hallam Tennyson (1897) Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A Memoir (London: Macmillan), p. 396.Google Scholar
  45. 51.
    Emile Montégut (1857) ‘Un poème de la vie moderne en Angleterre’ (‘A poem of modern life in England’), Revue des deux mondes, II, 322–53 (p. 334): ‘Çà et là il est fait mention de certains détails de notre vie moderne: il y a bien une banqueroute, mais c’est le souvenir d’une banqueroute; il y a une fête, mais nous n’y assistons pas, et nous n’en voyons que les reflets; la guerre de Crimée nous renvoie le retentissement lointain de ses canonnades: sons et échos perdus dans l’air, voilà tout ce que le poète a mis dans son œuvre de la vie moderne’ (translation mine).Google Scholar
  46. 52.
    Tennyson and Musset’, in Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise (eds) (1925–7) The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, 20 vols (London: William Heinemann), XIV, p. 329.Google Scholar
  47. 53.
    Herbert F. Tucker (1992) ‘Trials of Fiction: Novel and Epic in the Geraint and Enid Episodes from “Idylls of the King”’, Victorian Poetry, X XX, 441–61 (p. 445).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Natasha Moore 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Public ChristianityAustralia

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