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The Uses of Genre

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

Abstract

C. Day Lewis, in his influential 1947 lectures on The Poetic Image, contrasted the wealth of subject matter available to the poets of his day — ‘to-day our English poets are committed to the belief that every idea and every object of sense is potentially material for poetry’ — with the narrowing of the ‘variety of poetic media’ open to them to essentially one form: ‘the semi-lyrical, semi-contemplative medium in which the bulk of modern verse is written’.1 A century earlier, mid-Victorian poets such as Clough, Patmore and Barrett Browning were labouring to clear a place in their poetry for ‘every idea and every object of sense’, at a time when such poetic inclusivity was certainly not a given and when the preference for lyric forms was already hardening into prescription. As we have already seen, poets who took up the critical gauntlet of representing ‘unpoetic’ modern life in verse bucked the trend towards an increasingly centripetal Tennysonian lyricism and uniformly insisted on the roominess and complexity of long, narrative forms. These expansive poems drew into their own orbits a range of genres that was indispensable to the forging of forms capable of reflecting a diverse and (in multiple ways) novel age.

Keywords

Modern World Modern Life Paradise Lost Classical Epic Conjugal Union 
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.
    C. Day Lewis (1947) The Poetic Image (London: Jonathan Cape), p. 95.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Claudio Guillén (1971) Literature as System: Essays toward the Theory of Literary History (Princeton: Princeton University Press), pp. 111, 120.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Mary S. Pollock (1996) ‘The Anti-Canonical Realism of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Lord Walter’s Wife”’, Studies in the Literary Imagination, X XIX, 43–54 (p. 47).Google Scholar
  4. 25.
    Walpole quoted by David Duff (2009) Romanticism and the Uses of Genre (Oxford: Oxford University Press), p. 18CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Edgar Allan Poe (1984) ‘The Poetic Principle’, in Essays and Reviews (New York: Viking Press), p. 72.Google Scholar
  6. 27.
    Fox, reprinted in Armstrong, Victorian Scrutinies, p. 73; Heraud, p. 36, quoted in Amalendu Bose (1962) Chroniclers of Life: Studies in Early Victorian Poetry (Bombay: Orient Longmans), p. 100.Google Scholar
  7. 32.
    Bayne, p. 107. The epic features of Aurora Leigh–as well as the poem’s transformation of the genre’s conventions, in particular by a process of feminization–have of course been ably detailed before. See in particular Herbert Tucker’s ‘Aurora Leigh: Epic Solutions to Novel Ends’; Marjorie Stone’s ‘Genre Subversion and Gender Inversion’; and Susan Stanford Friedman (1986) ‘Gender and Genre Anxiety: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and H. D. as Epic Poets’, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, V, 217–23, reprinted in Reynolds, pp. 466–73.Google Scholar
  8. 40.
    Clinton Machann (2010) Masculinity in Four Victorian Epics (Farnham: Ashgate), p. 13.Google Scholar
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    Shane Leslie (1932) Studies in Sublime Failure (London: Ernst Benn), p. 115; Maynard, p. 205; Tucker, Epic, p. 386.Google Scholar
  10. 49.
    Alastair Fowler (1982) Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Oxford: Clarendon Press), p. 20.Google Scholar
  11. 50.
    Masaki Mori (1997) Epic Grandeur: Toward a Comparative Poetics of the Epic (Albany: State University of New York Press), p. 60Google Scholar
  12. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski (1985) Paradise Lost and the Rhetoric of Literary Forms (Princeton: Princeton University Press), p. 7Google Scholar
  13. Jacques Derrida (1980) ‘The Law of Genre’, trans. by Avital Ronell, Critical Inquiry, VII, 55–81 (p. 59)Google Scholar
  14. Thomas O. Beebee (1994) The Ideology of Genre: A Comparative Study of Generic Instability (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press), p. 14; Tucker, Epic, p. 45.Google Scholar
  15. 55.
    The transposition of the Muse trope by Aurora has been the subject of extensive discussion, most notably in Joyce Zonana (1989) ‘The Embodied Muse: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Feminist Poetics’, Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, VIII, 240–62. Zonana tracks previous critical analyses of Romney, of Marian Erle, and of Aurora herself as possible ‘Muse’ figures by Angela Leighton, Helen Cooper, and others; however, all work in this direction suggests that the convention is deployed in Aurora Leigh, if at all, in radically feminist fashion, as a decidedly ‘embodied’ Muse.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 56.
    Sir Philip Sidney (2002) An Apology for Poetry, or The Defence of Poesy, ed. by Geoffrey Shepherd (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press), p. 97.Google Scholar
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    M. M. Bakhtin (1981) ‘Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel’, in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays, trans. by Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press), pp. 5, 39, 7, 16.Google Scholar
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    [Aubrey de Vere] (1849) review of Tennyson’s The Princess, Edinburgh Review, XC, 388–433 (p. 388).Google Scholar
  19. 82.
    Sister Mary Augustine Roth (1961) Coventry Patmore’s ‘Essay on English Metrical Law’: A Critical Edition with a Commentary (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press), p. 9; [Patmore] (1857), p. 448; Canto X, Prelude I, ‘The Joyful Wisdom’.Google Scholar
  20. 84.
    [John Nichol] (1857) Westminster Review, LXVIII, 399–415 (p. 400); Bayne, p. 131.Google Scholar
  21. 86.
    Letter to Henry Crabb Robinson, reprinted in Thorpe, p. 32 (12 January 1849); Francis Palgrave (1862) ‘Memoir’ to Poems by Arthur Hugh Clough, reprinted in Thorpe, pp. 108–20 (p. 112).Google Scholar
  22. 88.
    W. P. Ker (1928) Form and Style in Poetry (London: Macmillan), pp. 282–3.Google Scholar
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    Letter to Joseph Cottle, in Earl Leslie Griggs (ed.) (1956) Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 6 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press), I, pp. 320–1 (April 1797).Google Scholar
  24. 108.
    Georg Lukács (1978) The Theory of the Novel: A historico -political essay on the forms of great epic literature, trans. by Anna Bostock (London: Merlin Press), pp. 34, 56.Google Scholar
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    C. N. Manlove (1978) Literature and Reality 1600–1800 (London: Macmillan), p. 210.Google Scholar
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    Jonathan Aaron (1974) ‘The Idea of the Novelistic Poem: A Study of Four Victorian “Verse-Novels” by Clough, Tennyson, and Browning’, unpublished PhD thesis, Yale, p. 198.Google Scholar
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    Carol Christ (1984) Victorian and Modern Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p. 115.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Natasha Moore 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Public ChristianityAustralia

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