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The Long Narrative Poem

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

Abstract

There has been a sustained campaign, in recent years, against a conception of the nineteenth century as a period of short, lyric, easily digestible poetry; an unearthing of the innumerable behemoths, the retroactive excision of which from the Victorian canon has tended to skew perceptions of the poetic aspirations of the age. The layer of accumulated dust on many of these tomes is understandable. The day of Philip James Bailey’s 900-odd page Festus, Alexander Smith’s A Life-Drama and Austin’s The Human Tragedy, was short-lived, and the excavation of these more or less moribund giants serves rather as a recuperation of cultural history than an act of literary revival. This challenge to the version of literary history in which ‘Dover Beach’ and ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ are the archetypal forms of Victorian poetry has been mounted from various angles by writers such as Dino Felluga, reconstructing a narrative of the rise and decline of the verse-novel in the middle of the century; Adam Roberts, whose guide to Romantic and Victorian Long Poems probes the rationale behind the nineteenth-century obsession with length; and a host of commentators on the fraught after-life of the epic in modern times.1 The definitive study in this vein is Herbert Tucker’s magisterial survey Epic: Britain’s Heroic Muse, 1790–1910, which delivers the death blow to any lingering impression that the long poem was an anomalous and anachronistic creature on the post-Augustan literary scene. ‘In Robert Burns, George Crabbe, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the two Rossettis’, he points out, ‘we may number on the fingers of one hand those who declined the challenge’ of the long — specifically epic — poem during this period.2

Keywords

Modern Life Narrative Form Poetic Form Great Poet Epic Poetry 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Dino Felluga (2002) ‘Verse Novel’, in Richard Cronin, Alison Chapman and Antony H. Harrison (eds) A Companion to Victorian Poetry (Malden, MA: Blackwell), pp. 171–86Google Scholar
  2. Adam Roberts (1999) Romantic and Victorian Long Poems: A Guide (Aldershot: Ashgate)Google Scholar
  3. Recent writers on epic include Franco Moretti (1996) Modern Epic: The World-System from Goethe to García Márquez, trans. by Quintin Hoare (London: Verso)Google Scholar
  4. Colin Graham (1998) Ideologies of Epic: Nation, Empire and Victorian Epic Poetry (Manchester: Manchester University Press)Google Scholar
  5. Simon Dentith (2006) Epic and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. On the much less examined class of epics by female poets, see Bernard Schweizer (ed.) (2006) Approaches to the Anglo and American Female Epic, 1621–1982 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate).Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Herbert F. Tucker (2008) Epic (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 2, n2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 3.
    Catherine Addison (2009) ‘The Verse Novel as Genre: Contradiction or Hybrid?’, Style, XLIII, 539–62 (p. 539).Google Scholar
  9. 4.
    Karl Kroeber (1960) Romantic Narrative Art (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press), p. 84Google Scholar
  10. Hermann Fischer (1991) Romantic Verse Narrative: The History of a Genre, trans. by Sue Bollans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 216–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 6.
    Alfred Austin (1889) ‘On the Position and Prospects of Poetry’, in The Human Tragedy (London: Macmillan), pp. xxvii–xxviii.Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    The sentiment is almost Wordsworthian; and certainly the (at least partial) subject of Aurora Leigh echoes Wordsworth’s Prelude in tracing the ‘growth of a poet’s mind’. For a helpful account of the parallels (as well as some divergences–in particular, relating to gender) between The Prelude and Aurora Leigh, see Kathleen Blake (1986) ‘Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Wordsworth: The Romantic Poet as Woman’, Victorian Poetry, XXIV, 387–98.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    F. E. L. Priestley (1973) Language and Structure in Tennyson’s Poetry (London: Andre Deutsch), p. 107.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    [W. Y. Sellar] (1862) North British Review, XXVII, 323–43. Reprinted in Thorpe, pp. 175–94 (p. 192).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Peter Brooks (1984) Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Oxford: Clarendon Press), pp. 22, 20, 22. For a more comprehensive discussion of the temporality associated with narrative, and the nature of the lyric, see the introduction (‘Narrative, Lyric, and Time’) to Monique Morgan’s 2009 book Narrative Means, Lyric Ends: Temporality in the Nineteenth-Century British Long Poem (Columbus: Ohio State University Press).Google Scholar
  16. 17.
    Letter to Benjamin Bailey, Grant F. Scott (ed.) (2002) Selected Letters of John Keats (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), p. 42 (8 October 1817).Google Scholar
  17. 20.
    Jerome Buckley (1982) ‘The Persistence of Tennyson’, in The Victorian Experience: The Poets, ed. by Richard A. Levine (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press), pp. 1–21 (p. 16).Google Scholar
  18. 24.
    T. S. Eliot (1951) ‘In Memoriam’, Selected Essays (London: Faber liangqi Faber), pp. 330–2.Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    Isobel Armstrong (1962) Arthur Hugh Clough (London: Longman, Green liangqi Co.), p. 21.Google Scholar
  20. 32.
    Barbara Hardy, ‘Clough’s Self-consciousness’, in The Major Victorian Poets, pp. 253–74 (p. 269).Google Scholar
  21. 35.
    Katharine Chorley (1962) Arthur Hugh Clough: The Uncommitted Mind. A Study of his Life and Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon Press), p. 152.Google Scholar
  22. 56.
    [Robert Alfred Vaughan] (1857) ‘Aurora Leigh’, British Quarterly Review, X XV, 263–7 (p. 265).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Natasha Moore 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Public ChristianityAustralia

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