Editor's Preface

Article excerpt

'The Victorian period now seems, suddenly, further away,' writes Francis O'Gorman, who is one of the contributors to this volume. 'The arrival of the new millennium has thrown a peculiarly clear light on the gradual shift that has taken place in our relationship with the nineteenth century over the last few years.'(1) This is well said, and it is perhaps because the end of the twentieth century gave urgency to this sense of their distance that the Victorians have recently been the subject of particularly fertile study. The academic and educational presses have served students of the period well: in addition to Francis O'Gorman's several books there have been a number of useful anthologies and a steady flow of strong related publications. (2)

This volume of The Yearbook of English Studies is designed to contribute at the highest level to the current discussion of Victorian literature, and I have been fortunate enough to be able to attract to the project a group of the strongest scholars now working in the field. Among the specialist studies written recently by contributors to this volume I would point to a distinguished concise literary biography of Tennyson by Leonee Ormond, a striking and innovative life of John Davidson (published with a major selection of Davidson's writings) by John Sloan, Daniel Karlin's work on Browning and Kipling and his anthology of Victorian poetry, an outstandingly helpful companion to George Eliot from John Rignall, Kirstie Blair's John Keble in Context, Elisabeth Jay's forthcoming Oxford Handbook to English Literature and Theology, Stephen Regan's companion to the nineteenth-century novel and his new book on the sonnet, Andrew Sanders's Charles Dickens (complementing the huge sweep of his Short Oxford History of English Literature), the many books and essays in which Larry Lerner has joined his expertise as poet to the pleasure that he takes in great literature, and the indispensable studies of hymns from J. R. Watson and of Ruskin from Dinah Birch (and here I may also mention my own biography of Ruskin, published to mark the centenary of his death in the year 2000). (3) Michael O'Neill's essay in this volume reminds us that the separation of 'Romantic' from 'Victorian' is porous, and that the energies of the Romantic movement were absorbed into the work of the Victorian figure who more than anyone else made the study of literature into a central humane discipline, Matthew Arnold. (4) The younger contributors are rapidly making their mark in the academic world, Stefano Evangelista for his work on aestheticism and related topics, Emma Mason for her work on literature and religion with particular reference to poetry, and Marcus Waithe for his work on the late Victorian period with particular reference to William Morris (his new book on Morris will appear in 2006).

Since the year 2000 there have been several good histories of Victorian literature, notably Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's innovative and stylish Victorian Afterlives, Matthew Sweet's lively and irreverent Inventing the Victorians, John D. Rosenberg's humane and elegant Elegy for an Age, and especially Philip Davis's magnificent and authoritative The Victorians 1830-1880. His study's end-point of 1880 conforms to the requirements of the Oxford English Literary History, the series for which the book was commissioned, and the author's introduction explains that he starts in 1830 for good reasons: the roots of the Victorian period are to be found firmly within the period of second-wave Romanticism (as Michael O'Neill also shows), and at the same time the forces that were to convulse and transform culture in Victoria's reign were already under way in the early 1830s. Philip Davis's book is literary history of the highest order, with compelling and original readings of its individual authors. It is clear, accessible, and beautifully written, rich in sudden insights of which I give just two examples: 'Dickens walked along London streets as though along his own thoughts' (p. …