Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Hopkins

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Hopkins

Article excerpt

While there was much interesting and varied criticism on Hopkins during 2009, the only published scholarly monograph on him was Brian Willems' Hopkins and Heidegger (Continuum). One wishes the book's singularity in that regard was matched by its critical perspicacity, but this reviewer was disappointed. The author proposes that major interconnections exist between Hopkins' inscape and instress and Heidegger's appropriation, mediated in the author by anxiety, both his and the poet's. While connections between poet and philosopher offer fruitful prospects, the execution of the task here seems dated and one-sided: dated because the intertextual approach and the dense language are redolent of a couple of decades ago, one-sided because the author may know a great deal about Heidegger but appears to have a very limited understanding of Hopkins' life, poetry, and the scholarly criticism about him.

As an example of the datedness of the approach, consider this passage from an attempt by the author to assess the sonnet "Carrion Comfort": "[Writing] is one way of holding, and not abandoning, the hermeneutic circle. By this I mean that the gathering of the fourfold as a means of poetics includes the negation of the hermeneutic circle as a way of holding it, or of holding the elements of the fourfold in the openness of being. Such a holding can be seen in the gesture of writing, of writing as a presencing of the errors of being" (p. 87). That kind of opaque language, which asks literary criticism to masquerade as philosophy, went out of fashion several years ago, for good and ample reason, but it resurfaces here all too often.

Regarding one-sidedness the problems are more extensive. While the book often alludes to, and certainly borrows heavily from, a variety of (mostly continental) philosophers and critics, including the author's dissertation director, it evidences major gaps in the author's awareness of Hopkins criticism. Prior work on Hopkins and Heidegger has been published, but it is not cited. The scholarly work that is cited represents a thin and dated group--so important a concept as inscape, for example, gets explained by means of a passage from W.A.M. Peters more than sixty years old. Most serious of all are the many errors that have crept into the text: the idea, for example, that Hopkins wrote "Binsey Poplars" at Oxford during the poet's student days (it was written over a decade later when the poet served at a Jesuit parish in that city), or that the well-known Hopkins scholar Jude Nixon is a "she." While the book is not without interesting and sometimes stimulating critical commentary, it needed a good fact-checking editor and it is too little removed from its origin as a dissertation.

An article by Sarah Wood, "Some Scraps on Beauty-in-the-Ghost" (parallax 15, no. 1 [2009]: 80-89), shares some of the difficulties of the Willems book, for example its overdependence on philosophy (Derrida) and its needlessly opaque language. But Wood's more modest intention is to comment upon a work by Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, and her suggestive comments on "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" serve that purpose and also illuminate the poem.

Last year's review commented on an important novel based on Hopkins' life, Ron Hansen's Exiles. Another novel similarly rooted appeared in 2009: Robert Waldron's The Secret Dublin Diary of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Brandon). This latest fictional entry does not sustain a comparison with Hansen's. Both novels borrow from the poet's journals and correspondence to imagine dialog and invent scenes, and both provide a sympathetic treatment of the poet. But where Hansen invented when he could not know, Waldron mangles chronology, which he could know, and instead of inventing language he pirates it wholesale. So much of the language of this book is the poet's that Hopkins should be credited as co-author--except he would be horrified at the uses to which his words have been put. …

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