Historical Hopkins: What Hopkins’s Poems Teach us About Prosody

29 Mar

Meredith Martin (Princeton University)

Wednesday, Mar. 30, 2011 – 3:30 PM

Communications 202

Would the history of twentieth-century approaches to Victorian meters have been different without the untimely appearance of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry? Meredith Martin (English, Princeton University) argues that Hopkins’s life and meter (in many ways indistinguishable in 20th-century criticism) have supported a model of twentieth-century reading that assumes metrical form to be expressive only in its deviation from a prescribed norm. Rather than a disruption to the literary histories of Victorian poetry that were being written and codified in the early twentieth-century, Hopkins’s publication history gives us a unique vantage point from which to historicize our own desire to understand Hopkins’s prosody in particular and Victorian prosody in general. By misreading Hopkins, we have largely misread Victorian metrical culture. Hopkins’s poems and writing about prosody teach us to read historically, but only if we are willing to admit that we are always, potentially, misreading. In this talk, Martin will trace the reception history of Hopkins poetry (at the turn of the twentieth century, at the end of the First World War (1918), in the interwar period (1930), and after the publication of his letters in 1933) to show the expectations and disappointments of early twentieth-century approaches to Victorian meters.

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