Romantic Victorians: English Literature, 1824-1840

By Richard Cronin | Go to book overview

Introduction

This is a book about English literature in the years from 1824 to 1840. I have felt free to look before and after, whenever the need arises, but these are the years on which the book is focused. It is a shadowy stretch of time sandwiched between two far more colourful periods. In my oldfashioned primary school we were made to memorize the sequence of the English monarchs, beginning with Henry VII. It seems somehow appropriate that the hardest to remember, the historical equivalent of seven times eight in the multiplication tables, was William IV. In truth, there is little to remember about this younger brother of the Prince Regent, except that he had ten illegitimate children by the actress Mrs Jordan. He reigned from 1830 until 1837, and at his death the obituarists found it hard to find any strong feelings to express. The Spectator summed him up economically, ‘His late Majesty, though at times a jovial and, for a king, an honest man, was a weak, ignorant, commonplace sort of person.’ For many years the writers of his reign fared little better. Bulwer Lytton, then simply Edward Bulwer, was the most successful novelist, but he survives, it seems, only because his name has been affixed to a prize for bad writing. There are faint signs of a reawakening of interest. A few of his novels are now back in print, and there was a conference on his work in London in September 2000. But he is not the name he once was. The most famous poet was Felicia Hemans. She has benefited from the resurgence of interest in women poets. Two of her volumes are now back in print, Susan Wolfson has edited a generous selection of her poems, and her work figures in most accounts of nineteenth-century poetry. 1 But the new readiness to accept that her poetry ought to be discussed has been matched by a widespread puzzlement as to what kinds of thing might be said about it. A web discussion thread quite recently addressed itself to precisely

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