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The Bookshelf

Our affiliates regularly publish new work in the field of 19th-century British literature, poetry, and poetics. Watch this space for links to their books!

Science, Language, and Reform in Victorian Poetry

Barbara Barrow (9780367191856)

Barrow’s timely book is the first to examine the link between Victorian poetry, the study of language, and political reform. Focusing on a range of literary, scientific, and political texts, Barrow demonstrates that nineteenth-century debates about language played a key role in shaping emergent ideas about popular sovereignty. While Victorian scientists studied the origins of speech, the history of dialects, and the barrier between human and animal language, poets such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Tennyson, and Thomas Hardy drew on this research to explore social unrest, the expansion of the electorate, and the ever-widening boundaries of empire. Science, Language, and Reform in Victorian Poetry recovers unacknowledged links between poetry, philology, and political culture, and contributes to recent movements in literary studies that combine historicist and formalist approaches.

Constructing Nineteenth-Century Religion: Literary, Historical, and Religious Studies in Dialogue

Joshua King and Winter Jade Werner, Editors (9780814213971)

Bringing together scholars from literary, historical, and religious studies, Constructing Nineteenth-Century Religion interrogates the seemingly obvious category of “religion.” This collection argues that any application of religion engages in complex and relatively modern historical processes. In considering the various ways that nineteenth-century religion was constructed, commodified, and practiced, contributors to this volume “speak” to each other, finding interdisciplinary links and resonances across a range of texts and contexts.

The participle in its title—Constructing—acknowledges that any articulation of nineteenth-century religion is never just a work of the past: scholars also actively construct religion as their disciplinary assumptions (and indeed personal and lived investments) shape their research and findings. Constructing Nineteenth­-Century Religion newly analyzes the diverse ways in which religion was debated and deployed in a wide range of nineteenth-­century texts and contexts. While focusing primarily on nineteenth­-century Britain, the collection also contributes to the increasingly transnational and transcultural outlook of postsecular studies, drawing connections between Britain and the United States, continental Europe, and colonial India.

Tennyson Echoing Wordsworth

Jayne Thomas (9781474436878)

This book explores Tennyson’s poetic relationship with Wordsworth through a close analysis of Tennyson’s borrowing of the earlier poet’s words and phrases, an approach that positions Wordsworth in Tennyson’s poetry in a more centralised way than previously recognised.

Focusing on some of the most representative poems of Tennyson’s career, including 'The Lady of Shalott', 'Ulysses' and In Memoriam, the study examines the echoes from Wordsworth that these poems contain and the transformative part they play in his poetry, moving beyond existing accounts of Wordsworthian influence in the selected texts to uncover new and revealing connections and interactions that shed a penetrating light on Tennyson’s poetic relationship with his Romantic predecessor.

Mary Gladstone and the Victorian Salon: Music,Literature, Liberalism

Phyllis Weliver (9781316882580)

The daughter of one of Britain's longest-serving Prime Ministers, Mary Gladstone was a notable musician, hostess of one of the most influential political salons in late-Victorian London, and probably the first female prime ministerial private secretary in Britain. Pivoting around Mary's initiatives, this intellectual history draws on a trove of unpublished archival material that reveals for the first time the role of music in Victorian liberalism, explores its intersections with literature, recovers what the high Victorian salon was within a wider cultural history, and shows Mary's influence on her father's work. Paying close attention to literary and biographical details, the book also sheds new light on Tennyson's poetry, George Eliot's fiction, the founding of the Royal College of Music, the Gladstone family, and a broad plane of wider British culture, including political liberalism and women, sociability, social theology, and aesthetic democracy.

The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry: A Study of Children’s Verse in English

Katherine Wakely-Mulroney and Louise Joy (9781472438317)

This collection gives sustained attention to the literary dimensions of children’s poetry from the eighteenth century to the present. While reasserting the importance of well-known voices, such as those of Isaac Watts, William Blake, Lewis Carroll, Christina Rossetti, A. A. Milne, and Carol Ann Duffy, the contributors also reflect on the aesthetic significance of landmark works by less frequently celebrated figures such as Richard Johnson, Ann and Jane Taylor, Cecil Frances Alexander and Michael Rosen. Scholarly treatment of children’s poetry has tended to focus on its publication history rather than to explore what comprises – and why we delight in – its idiosyncratic pleasures. And yet arguments about how and why poetic language might appeal to the child are embroiled in the history of children’s poetry, whether in Isaac Watts emphasising the didactic efficacy of “like sounds,” William Blake and the Taylor sisters revelling in the beauty of semantic ambiguity, or the authors of nonsense verse jettisoning sense to thrill their readers with the sheer music of poetry. Alive to the ways in which recent debates both echo and repudiate those conducted in earlier periods, The Aesthetics of Children’s Poetry investigates the stylistic and formal means through which children’s poetry, in theory and in practice, negotiates the complicated demands we have made of it through the ages.

The Cambridge Companion to Women's Poetry

Linda K. Hughes, Editor (9781316856543)

The Victorian period has a strong tradition of poetry written by women. In this Companion, leading scholars deliver accessible and cutting-edge essays that situate Victorian women's poetry in its relation to print culture, diverse identities, and aesthetic and cultural issues. The book is inclusive in method, demonstrating, for example, the benefits of both distant and close reading approaches, and featuring major figures like Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Christina Rossetti and over one hundred poets altogether. Thematically arranged, the chapters deliver studies on a comprehensive array of subjects that address women's poetry in its manifold forms and investigate its global context. Essays shed light on children's poetry, domestic relations, sexualities, and stylistic artifice and conclude by looking at how women poets placed their published poems and how we can 'place' Victorian women poets today.

The Art of Love Poetry

Erik Gray (Oxford UP, 2018; ISBN 9780198752974)

Love begets poetry; poetry begets love. So thinkers from Plato onwards have claimed; and even today, when poetry has largely disappeared from the mainstream of popular culture, it is still commonly considered the most seductive of all forms of art. But why should this be? What are the connections between poetry and love that lead us to associate them so strongly with one another? In this study Erik Gray draws on a broad range of Western thought and poetry to reveal the qualities and structures that love and poetry share. Above all, he argues, both are founded on paradox. Love is at once necessarily public (because interpersonal) and intensely private; hence love both requires expression and resists it. Likewise the experience of love is simultaneously surprising and familiar, singular and conventional. In poetry, especially lyric poetry - which is similarly both dependent on and resistant to language, both exceptionally regular and exceptionally irregular - love finds a natural outlet.

The Art of Love Poetry illuminates many of the recurrent tropes that poets across the centuries have employed to represent and express love, exploring such topics as the poetic kiss, the lyric of conjugal love, and the role of animals in love poetry. In describing the inherent erotics of poetry, it offers new insights not only into the long tradition of love lyric but into the nature of love itself.

Victorian Poetry and the Poetics of the Literary Periodical

Caley Ehnes (Edinburgh UP, 2018; ISBN 9781108418966)

Victorian Poetry and the Poetics of the Literary Periodical offers an alternative history of Victorian poetry that asserts the fundamental importance of popular periodical poetry to our understanding of Victorian poetics. Reading the poetry of un-anthologised, unnamed and underappreciated poets alongside that of Tennyson, Barrett Browning and Rossetti, Ehnes argues that the popular poet is not a marginal poet: he, and especially she, occupies the centre of literary culture, producing the poetry consumed by the majority of Victorian readers.

Poetry, Media, and the Material Body: Autopoetics in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Ashley Miller (Cambridge UP, 2018; ISBN 9781108418966)

From the Romantic fascination with hallucinatory poetics to the turn-of-the-century mania for automatic writing, poetry in nineteenth-century Britain appears at crucial times to be oddly involuntary, out of the control of its producers and receivers alike. This elegant study addresses the question of how people understood those forms of written creativity that seem to occur independently of the writer's will. Through the study of the century's media revolutions, evolving theories of physiology, and close readings of the works of nineteenth-century poets including Wordsworth, Coleridge and Tennyson, Ashley Miller articulates how poetry was imagined to promote involuntary bodily responses in both authors and readers, and how these responses enlist the body as a medium that does not produce poetry but rather reproduces it. This is a poetics that draws attention to, rather than effaces, the mediacy of the body in the processes of composition and reception.

Replication in the Long Nineteenth-Century: Re-makings and Reproductions

Julie Codell and Linda Hughes, eds. (Edinburgh University Press; ISBN 9781474424844)

This landmark study explores replication as a nineteenth-century phenomenon. Replication, defined by Victorian artists as subsequent versions of a first version, similar but changed, occurred in art, literature, the press, merchandising, and historical reproductions in architecture and museums. Replication also shaped scientific concepts in biology and geology and scientific practices in laboratories that repeated experiments as part of the scientific method. Fourteen case studies map a range of nineteenth-century replication practices and associations across art, literature, science, media and material culture. While replication stirred imaginations as well as anxieties over the industrialisation that produced a modern mass culture, Replication in the Long Nineteenth Century suggests, nonetheless, that this phenomenon is a forerunner of our contemporary digital culture.

Christina Rossetti: Poetry, Ecology, Faith

Emma Mason (Oxford University Press; ISBN 9780198723691)

  • Provides an absorbing biographical study of renowned nineteenth-century poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

  • Argues that Rossetti's poetry reveals her theology as an argument for spiritual materialism and ecological transformation

  • Includes chapters on her work in relation to the Catholic Revival, Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, contemporary debates on plant and animal being, and the relationship between grace and apocalypse

  • Suggests that Rossetti's life and work captures the experience of faith as one of loving intimacy with the minutiae of creation

  • Traces an ecological love command in her writing from her earliest poetry to her later-life devotional and biblical commentaries

Awful Parenthesis: Suspension and the Sublime in Romantic and Victorian Poetry

Anne C. McCarthy (University of Toronto Press; ISBN 9781487502911)

Whether the rapt trances of Romanticism or the corpse-like figures that confounded Victorian science and religion, nineteenth-century depictions of bodies in suspended animation are read as manifestations of broader concerns about the unknowable in Anne C. McCarthy’s Awful Parenthesis. Examining various aesthetics of suspension in the works of poets such as Coleridge, Shelley, Tennyson, and Christina Rossetti, McCarthy shares important insights into the nineteenth-century fascination with the sublime. 

Attentive to differences between "Romantic" and "Victorian" articulations of suspension, Awful Parenthesis offers a critical alternative to assumptions about periodization. While investigating various conceptualizations of suspension, including the suspension of disbelief, suspended animation, trance, paralysis, pause, and dilatation, McCarthy provides historically-aware close readings of nineteenth-century poems in conversation with prose genres that include devotional works, philosophy, travel writing, and periodical fiction. Awful Parenthesis reveals the cultural obsession with the aesthetics of suspension as a response to an expanding, incoherent world in crisis, one where the audience is both active participant and passive onlooker.

Imagined Homelands: British Poetry in the Colonies

Imagined Homelands chronicles the emerging cultures of nineteenth-century British settler colonialism, focusing on poetry as a genre especially equipped to reflect colonial experience. Jason Rudy argues that the poetry of Victorian-era Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada—often disparaged as derivative and uncouth—should instead be seen as vitally engaged in the social and political work of settlement. The book illuminates cultural pressures that accompanied the unprecedented growth of British emigration across the nineteenth century. It also explores the role of poetry as a mediator between familiar British ideals and new colonial paradigms within emerging literary markets from Sydney and Melbourne to Cape Town and Halifax. 


Rudy focuses on the work of poets both canonical—including Tennyson, Browning, Longfellow, and Hemans—and relatively obscure, from Adam Lindsay Gordon, Susanna Moodie, and Thomas Pringle to Henry Kendall and Alexander McLachlan. He examines in particular the nostalgic relations between home and abroad, core and periphery, whereby British emigrants used both original compositions and canonical British works to imagine connections between their colonial experiences and the lives they left behind in Europe.


Drawing on archival work from four continents, Imagined Homelands insists on a wider geographic frame for nineteenth-century British literature. From lyrics printed in newspapers aboard emigrant ships heading to Australia and South Africa, to ballads circulating in New Zealand and Canadian colonial journals, poetry was a vibrant component of emigrant life. In tracing the histories of these poems and the poets who wrote them, this book provides an alternate account of nineteenth-century British poetry and, more broadly, of settler colonial culture.

The Lyric in Victorian Memory: Poetic Remembering and Forgetting from Tennyson to Housman

Veronica Alfano (Palgrave MacMillan; ISBN 9783319513072)

Veronica Alfano's The Lyric in Victorian Memory is a study of Victorian poems that recall, yearn for, fixate on, and forget the past. Bringing together formalist and historicist approaches, its close readings trace the complex interactions among memory as a theme, cultural nostalgia for lyric, and memorable formal traits (such as brevity and repetition) in the poetry of Alfred Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Arthur Symons, and A. E. Housman. Alfano demonstrates that the amnesia-inflected version of remembrance depicted and enacted in Victorian verse sheds new light on the relationships between lyric and narrative and between gender and genre, as well as on nineteenth-century attitudes toward a past that seemed increasingly distant and inaccessible. She argues that lyrical reminiscence reflects Victorians' simultaneous detachment from and longing for time gone by.

Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Poetry of Religious Experience

Martin Dubois (Cambridge University Press; ISBN 9781107180451)

This nuanced yet accessible study is the first to examine the range of religious experience imagined in Hopkins's writing. By exploring the shifting way in which Hopkins imagines religious belief in individual history, Martin Dubois contests established views of his poetry as a unified project. Combining detailed close readings with extensive historical research, Dubois argues that the spiritual awareness manifest in Hopkins's poetry is varied and fluctuating, and that this is less a failure of his intellectual system than a sign of the experiential character of much of his poetry's thought. Individual chapters focus on biblical language and prayer, as well as on the spiritual ideal seen in the figures of the soldier and the martyr, and on Hopkins's ideas of death, judgement, heaven and hell. Offering fresh interpretations of the major poems, this volume reveals a more diverse and exploratory poet than has been recognised.

Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters

James Diedrick (University of Virginia Press; ISBN 9780813939315)

SAMLA Studies Award, South Atlantic Modern Language Association (2017)

With Mathilde Blind: Late-Victorian Culture and the Woman of Letters, James Diedrick offers a groundbreaking critical biography of the German-born British poet Mathilde Blind (1841–1896), a freethinking radical feminist. Born to politically radical parents, Blind had, by the time she was thirty, become a pioneering female aesthete in a mostly male community of writers, painters, and critics, including Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Morris, Ford Madox Brown, William Michael Rossetti, and Richard Garnett. By the 1880s she had become widely recognized for a body of writing that engaged contemporary issues such as the Woman Question, the forced eviction of Scottish tenant farmers in the Highland Clearances, and Darwin’s evolutionary theory. She subsequently emerged as a prominent voice and leader among New Woman writers at the end of the century, including Mona Caird, Rosamund Marriott Watson, and Katharine Tynan. She also developed important associations with leading male decadent writers of the fin de siècle, most notably, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Symons.

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