Patterns of Epiphany: From Wordsworth to Tolstoy, Pater, and Barrett Browning

Patterns of Epiphany: From Wordsworth to Tolstoy, Pater, and Barrett Browning

Patterns of Epiphany: From Wordsworth to Tolstoy, Pater, and Barrett Browning

Patterns of Epiphany: From Wordsworth to Tolstoy, Pater, and Barrett Browning


After explaining his new methodology, Bidney identifies and discusses epiphanies in the works of William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Matthew Arnold, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Walter Pater, Thomas Carlyle, Leo Tolstoy, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Taking his cue from the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, Bidney postulates that any writer's epiphany pattern usually shows characteristic elements (earth, air, fire, water), patterns of motion (pendular, eruptive, trembling), and/or geometric shapes. Bachelard's analytic approach involves studying patterns of perceived experience- phenomenology- but unlike most phenomenologists, Bidney does not speculate on internal processes of consciousness. Instead, he concentrates on literary epiphanies as objects on the printed page, as things with structures that can be detected and analyzed for their implications.

Bidney, then, first identifies each author's paradigm epiphany, finding that both the Romantics and the Victorians often label such a paradigm as a vision or dream, thereby indicating its exceptional intensity, mystery, and expansiveness. Once he identifies the paradigm and shows how it is structured, he traces occurrences of each writer's epiphany pattern, thus providing an inclusive epiphanic portrait that enables him to identify epiphanies in each writer's other works. Finally, he explores the implications of his analysis for other literary approaches: psychoanalytical, feminist, influence-oriented or intertextual, and New Historical.


Every chapter of this book is designed to show that phenomenological analysis of epiphany patterns matters to students of literature generally, not just to phenomenologists. Epiphanies of radiant geometry clarify the tension between apocalypticism and diffidence in Wordsworth--an issue central to an understanding and appraisal of that poet. in this chapter and the next, dealing respectively with Coleridgean and Arnoldian epiphanic structures, we may be surprised at the light shed by neo-Bachelardian epiphany analysis on the roles of these two men as poet-critics. Coleridgean epiphanies, like Arnoldian ones, suggest that the structures of perception embodied in the poetic works bear implications wholly at variance with the metaphors used in the critical writings. Coleridge (or Arnold) conveys one attitude in poetry and another, strongly contrasting attitude in criticism. This inner schism gives a quite distinct application to the theme of "Elemental Diversity and Conflict," the overall rubric of the first group of studies in this book.

Coleridge's critical pronouncements repeatedly portray the poetic imagination, and likewise each work of art that it creates, as an organic unity whose parts and functions reciprocally interact--a smoothly functioning dynamism, an enlivening and flowing harmony. This faith in the vital harmoniousness of the imagination and of its works, a principle extremely congenial to the formalist practice called New Criticism, is still maintained in James Engell's history of the "creative imagination"--a history culminating in Coleridge. As Engell explains, in Coleridgean imagination

All experience is drawn up under one "living copula." the Dynamic becomes a moving, vital, and all-informing process.... the imagination is, in the original Greek sense of the word "organic," an instrumentality unifying and touching all parts of a . . .

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