You tossed a blanket from the bed,
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
(T. S. Eliot, ‘Preludes’ 25-9)
I have always liked poems that abused women. In simple generational terms, this should not be particularly surprising. Anyone whose early reading habits were influenced by T. S. Eliot would encounter a fearsome array of intensely sexualised verse, Donne, Marvell, Blake, Baudelaire, Swinburne, along with a whole bevy of Jacobean dramatists, whose common feature may in retrospect be seen as a kind of eroticised apprehension. It may seem a straightforward enough decision to reject these early loyalties as a regrettable aberration. Yet responses more complex and persistent than an adolescent craving for shock and arousal must also be involved; this intimacy of sensation is also collective, intelligible, and endorsed.
Men have read misogynist texts meaningfully, attentively, respectfully, and we should at least pause before mocking and decrying that relation. Their force has been registered obliquely, with a variety of strategems of euphemism and redefinition. But it is rare for an author to be excluded from the canon for this reason. The tradition of overt anti-feminist satire (Marston to Oldham) has perhaps been more occluded than most, but if one considers the other authors who might have merited inclusion in this book—Langland, Wyatt, Spenser, Milton, Swift, Prior, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Rossetti, Browning, Hardy, Meredith, Lawrence, Yeats, Dylan