Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Hopkins

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Hopkins

Article excerpt

For 2013 the major book publication related to Hopkins was the two-volume edition of his Correspondence, part of the new Oxford Collected Works and reported on in these pages last year (VP 51: 394-397). Rather unusually, no monographs devoted solely to Hopkins appeared during the year, but there were many substantial articles and book chapters.

The largest grouping of these articles and book chapters focuses on some aspect of religious belief or practice. John Brenkman in "'... wrestling with (my God!) my God': Modernism, Nihilism, and Belief' (Qui Parle 21, no. 2: 1-25) examines Hopkins as someone whose poetics reflects the tension between Pascal and Nietzsche, in other words between traditional religious belief, even if wracked by doubt, and the peculiarly modern variants of nihilism. Key passages from "The Wreck of the Deutschland" and "Carrion Comfort" are examined from an avowedly Heideggerian perspective to illustrate the inevitable tension for a modern writer (T. S. Eliot affords the best comparison to Hopkins) between tropes of divinity and tropes of often-desolate experience. The final line of the latter poem, for example, offers a trope of divinity, i.e., the naming of God, yet also in its tropes dramatizes the experience of the ongoing dissolution of the self in a world without meaning. Brenkman does not seek "to turn poetry against religion, but rather ... to show how the rhetorical and figurative action of poetic language conveys experiences of belief in the suspension of belief' (24).

Natural theology, i.e., the belief that knowledge of God is best obtained not from revelation or scripture but rather from observation of the natural world, forms the subject of Hilary Fraser's "Aesthetics, Visuality and Feelings in the Natural Theology of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Alice Meynell" in Form and Feeling in Modern Literature: Essays in Flonour of Barbara Hardy, ed. William Baker with Isobel Armstrong (London: Legenda Press, 88-99). Drawing on Barbara Hardy's work, Fraser agrees that Hopkins's "passionate, sometimes poignantly unrequited love for Christ ... is indeed the wellspring of his poetry and of his theology" (89), and she argues that he wants to re-conceptualize natural theology, the dominant nineteenth-century mode, so that it fits a post-Darwinian age. For Hopkins, as later on for Alice Meynell, the Incarnation is what makes it possible to see God in all [natural] things even after Darwin, and that insight depends in turn on the cultivation of the feelings: "It has been my argument that, in the case of both Hopkins and Meynell, not only does the interior life of the feelings take form in their poetry and their lyrical prose, but the embodied writer who experiences those feelings is echoing, chiming with, and responding passionately to, something equivalent in the external world: the presence, or the devastating absence, of Christ incarnate" (97). In the phrase about "devastating absence" Fraser comes closer to Brenkman, but in general she recognizes in Hopkins a more joyous engagement with the natural world than what Brenkman posits.

Martin Dubois in "Hopkins and the Burden of Security" (Essays in Criticism 63: 435-457) delineates the spiritual value that Hopkins found in suffering, even or especially violent suffering, as in persecution to the point of martyrdom. Dubois shows how this valorization of suffering permeated the Victorian religious culture which Hopkins knew, and it became a valuable tool that could be employed in religious cultural wars. In fact, Dubois argues, Hopkins's poetry and his letters often focus upon the theme of suffering, even martyrdom, by Catholics as they underwent persecution for their faith; such martyrdom insures salvation for the victim while strengthening both the faith and its rhetorical position in these cultural wars. "That steadfastness in the face of persecution might be a means of proving the incomparability of Catholic truth is an idea which inspires The Wreck of the Deutschland" (436) and even governs its verbal patterning, as Dubois shows through a careful analysis of the poem. …

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