Victorian Women Poets

By Chapman, Alison | Victorian Poetry, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Victorian Women Poets


Chapman, Alison, Victorian Poetry


There is a rich field in this first review essay of Victorian women poets for Victorian Poetry. Since the impressive anthologies of Victorian women's poetry published late in the last century by Angela Leighton and Margaret Reynolds, Isobel Armstrong and Joseph Bristow, and Virginia Blain, when a vast array of poems were recovered to critical view, there has been a period of sifting and sorting, as the teaching and research canon adjusted to the new wealth of information about women's poetry in the period. This sense of women's poetry as a classification still in process is ongoing in recent critical work. Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning--treated elsewhere in the Year's Work--perhaps attract the most attention, but research on other Victorian women poets continues to uncover new material, represented by scholarly editions, and also continues to assess the importance of women's poetry, as suggested by monographs exploring less canonical women poets in more depth. In addition, many critics are analyzing women poets alongside their male counterparts and placing women's poetry more securely within wider debates and contexts of the Victorian studies. Rather than being merely a subgroup of Victorian poetry, women poets are beginning to be welcomed and assimilated into the larger field.

One of the major publications of last year was Marion Thain and Ana Parejo Vadillo's Broadview edition of Michael Field, The Poet: Published and Manuscript Materials. The poetry of the Michael Field has attracted much deserved attention in the last few years, exemplified by Margaret Stetz and Cheryl Wilson's edited collection of essays Michael Field and Their World (2007), as well as Thain's own "Michael Field": Poetry, Aestheticism and the Fin de Siecle (2007). But research on, as well as classroom teaching of, the poets have been hampered by the lack of an accessible edition of the poetry until now. Thain and Vadillo have admirably plugged this gap, offering a rich selection of the poems from their published volumes--published only "to show the writers as public literary figures and to allow assessment of them within those terms" (p. 48). Selections are included from every edition published by the poets under the name Michael Field, as well as from their projected volume that was published posthumously as The Wattlefold. This edition also is very welcome for its generous inclusion of material from the diaries, which Bradley and Cooper planned to publish, and from the letters, which helped to form a public aesthetic identity. Also offered are a handful of key contemporary reviews, as well as an index of the major artistic and literary figures mentioned in the life-writing, and a chronologu and bibliography. In addition, the editors' introduction provides a welcome overview of Bradley and Cooper's invention of themselves as "Michael Field," as well as their contribution to aestheticism and Catholic poetics. Michael Field: The Poet is an outstanding achievement, a major scholarly edition that places the Fields firmly within their fin-de-siecle circle, and that will transform both teaching and scholarship by finally putting to rest the tradition of the Fields as eccentric, isolated figures. This edition will also redraw the map of late Victorian and early modernism, giving Bradley and Cooper a key position in some of the major debates of the period. It is also to be hoped that this edition will inspire renewed interest in Bradley and Cooper's drama and lead to a further accessible edition of their work in that genre.

Criticism on women poets was notable this year for its deep engagements with historical contexts. Linda Hughes's rigorous essay "Discoursing Xantippe: Amy Levy, Classical Scholarship, and Print Culture" (Philological Quarterly 88, no. 3 [Summer 2009]: 259-281) is impressive for its sophisticated examination of Amy Levy's turn to classicism, placing it within "a complex discursive network of British and German classical scholarship, higher criticism, and popular print culture" (p. …

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