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Unformatted text preview: T H E S H O R T OXFORD HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE Andrew Sanders ":J& MA 82.0.0 SAN/Sba CLARENDON PRESS 1994 · OXFORD Oxford University Prat, Walton Smet, Oxford 0x2 6w Oxford Sew York Toronto Delhi Bombay Calcutta Madras Karachi Kuala Lumpur Singapore Hong Kong Tokyo Nairobi Dar es Salaam Cape Town Melbourne Auckland Madrid and associated companies in Berlin Ibadan Oxford is a trade mark of Oxford University Press Published in the United Slates by Oxford University Press Inc., Sew York О Andrew Sanders 1994 All rights reserved. So part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in anyform or by any means. without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press. Within the UK, exceptions are allowed in respect ofanyfair dealingfor the purpose of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, or in the case of reprographic reproduction in accordance with the terms of the licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside these terms and in other countries should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way oftrade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher i prior consent in anyform of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without и similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Sanders, Andrew. 'The short Oxford history of English literature/Andrew Sanders. Includes bibliographical references and index. 1 . English literature—History and criticism. L Title. PR83S26 1994 820.9—dc20 93~3 330 ISBS&-19-811202-s ISBSo~iQ-8inoi-j (рщ 2 Typeset by Joshua Associates Ltd, Oxford Printed in Great Britain on acid-free paper by Baokcraft Ltd. Mulsumer Sorton, Bath Agnes and Cecilia ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I AM most grateful to the following friends and colleagues who made close, help­ ful, encouraging, and often indispensable comments on various aspects in this History: Isobel Armstrong, Sandra Clark, Robert Inglesfield, Peter Mudford, Graham Parry, Jan Jedrzejewski (formerly of the University of Lodz, now of the University of Ulster), Chantal Cornut-Gentille D'Arcy (of the University of Zaragoza), Mihaela Irimia (of the University of Bucharest), and Anita WestonBilardello (of the University of Perugia). 1 am also, if less directly, grateful to the many anonymous readers of sections of the manuscript whose detailed comments were generally most helpful. Above all, I would like to thank my patient wife, Edwina Porter, for bearing the strains of composition and for offer­ ing immediate critical comment on pages thrust in front of her. Shirley Levy provided what I needed when I was most out of my depth: carefully considered direction and notes for the chapter on medieval literature. I am also grateful to my colleagues in the English department at Birkbeck College for two terms of 'light teaching' over a four-year period which enabled me to complete certain parts of the text without significant interruption (except for examination scripts!). My final thanks are due to Kim Scott Walwyn who flattered me into writing this book, to Andrew Lockert who coaxed and encouraged it into its present existence, tojason Freeman who oversaw its progress through the press and to Michael Rogers who so patiently and scrupulously helped to proof-read it. Andrew Sanders Birkbeck College M a r c h - O c t o b e r 1993 CONTENTS A Note on the Text ix Introduction: Poets' Corners: T h e Development of a Canon of English Literature л 1 1. Old English Literature 16 2. Medieval Literature 1066-1510 28 3. Renaissance and Reformation: Literature 1510-1620 83 4. Revolution and Restoration: Literature 1620-1690 186 5. Eighteenth-Century Literature 1690-1780 273 6. T h e Literature of the Romantic Period 1780-1830 333 7. High Victorian Literature 1830-1880 398 8. Late Victorian and Edwardian Literature 1880-1920 457 9. Modernism and its Alternatives: Literature 1920-1945 505 10. Post-War and Post-Modern Literature 577 Chronology 641 Index 663 A NOTE ON THE TEXT IN the case of quotations I have endeavoured to cite the best scholarly texts avail­ able. In most instances this has meant that the spellings have not been brought into line with modern usage, though where I have quoted from the plays and cer­ tain poems of Shakespeare and his contemporaries I have followed the common editorial practice of accepting a modernized spelling. I apologize if these anoma­ lies offend certain readers. I hope that the quotations in the text give some sense of the development of the English language and English usage over the centuries. INTRODUCTION 9 Poets Corners: The Development of a Canon ofEnglish Literature on after his death in October 1400 the body of Geoffrey Chaucer was placed a modest tomb in the eastern aisle of the north transept of Westminster Abbey, the coronation church of the English kings. H e was so honoured not because he was the author of The Canterbury Tales, but because he had formerly held the post of Clerk of the King's Works and because he had been living in the precincts of the Abbey at the time of his death. H e was, moreover, distantly connected to the royal family through his wife Phiiippa. When John Gower died some eight years later he was interred in the Priory Church of St Mary Overie in Southwark (now Southwark Cathedral). Gower, who had retired to the Priory in his old age, received a far more elaborate tomb, one which pro­ claimed him to be Anglorum Poeta celeberrimus ('the most famous poet of the English nation') and one which showed him in effigy somewhat uncomfortably resting his head on his three great works, the Vox Clamantis, the Speculum Meditantis, and the ConfessioAmantis. T h e respective fortunes of the burial sites of these two 'dead, white, male poets' is to a significant degree indicative of how a distinct canon of English literature has emerged over the centuries. Although St M a n ' Overie's, renamed St Saviour's in the sixteenth century, later housed the tombs of the playwrights John Fletcher (d. 1625) and Philip Massinger (d. 1640) and of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (who died at the nearby Winchester House in 1626), it never proved as prestigious a church as the distinctly aristocratic Westminster Abbey. Nor did the body of Gower prove to be as powerful an object of poetic veneration as that of Chaucer. In 1556 Nicholas Brigham, a government official with anti­ quarian tastes, erected a new, but conservatively Gothic, monument over Chaucer's bones. His act of national piety was a tribute to Chaucer's acknow­ ledged status as, to use Edmund Spenser's term, the 'pure well head of Poesie'. It was within feet of Chaucer's grave that Spenser himself was buried in 1599, his mural monument, erected some twenty years later, pronouncing him to be ш« Prince of Poets in his Tyme'. T h u s specially consecrated to the Muses, this corner of a royal church later contained the ashes of Michael Drayton, who exchanged his Laurell for a Crowne of Glorye' in 1631, of'rare' Ben Jonson 2 Introduction who died in 1637, and of Abraham Cowley who died in 1667. Its prestige was firmly established with the burial of John Dryden in 1700 and by the sub­ sequent construction of an elegant funerary monument which seems to guard the entrance to the aisle. Writing in The Spectator in 1 7 1 1 , Joseph Addison referred to this alreadycelebrated part of the Abbey as 'the poetical Quarter'. Its name was gradually transmogrified into the familiar 'Poets' Corner'. T h e seal was set on its function as a place where English poets might, and indeed ought, to be commemorated, regardless of their actual place of interment, in the middle years of the eighteenth century. Here, in what was rapidly becoming less like an exclusively royal church and more like a national pantheon, was an area largely devoted to the posthumous celebration of writers. Here distinguished citizens, and not the state, decreed that, with the Dean of Westminster's permission, men of letters might rest or be sculpturally remembered in the ancient Roman manner. In 1721 the architect James Gibbs designed a fine mural tablet in memory of Matthew Prioi; In 1737 William Benson, a connoisseur of literature and the Surveyer-General of Works, paid for the setting-up of Rysbrack's posthumous bust of John Milton (d. 1674) and, three years later, a spectacular mural cenotaph, carved by Peter Scheemakers, was erected to the honour of William Shakespeare (who had been buried in provincial Stratford 124 years earlier). T h e monument, proudly inscribed with the words AmorPublkusPosuit ( ' T h e public's love placed it here'), was the outcome of an appeal for funds made by a committee which included Lord Burlington and Alexander Pope. Although Pope himself contributed notably to the Abbey's expanding collection of poetic epitaphs, he never received even the most modest of memorials in Poets' Corner. T h e honour was, however, accorded to James Thomson in 1762, to Thomas Gray in 1771, and to Oliver Goldsmith in 1774. In 1784, to affirm the Abbey's status as a national pantheon, the much respected Samuel Johnson was interred in the floor of the south transept at the foot of the monument to Shakespeare. Edmund Spenser's conscious construction of a literary tradition, in which he was associated in life and death with the poetic example of Chaucer, had there­ fore been instrumental in establishing the significance of Poets' Corner in the minds of those who sought to define a line of succession in national literature. In common with many other self-appointed arbiters of public taste, however, the Abbey authorities were singularly behindhand in recognizing the marked shift in literary fashions in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. While relatively minor poets such as William Mason (d. 1797) and the author of the once celebrated New Bath Guide, Christopher Anstey (d. 1805), were commemorated in wall-tablets, the new generation of poets, many of whom died young, were initially conspicuous for their absence. Notoriously, in 1824 the immoral' Lord Byron was refused a tomb by the Dean of Westminster, a refusal compounded seven years later by the rejection of Thorvaldsen's marble statue of the pensive poet specially commissioned bv a group of Byron's Introduction 3 friends. A memorial slab to Byron was somewhat shamefacedly installed only in 1969. Keats and Shelley, both buried in Rome, equally had to wait until the mid-twentieth century for an Abbey monument. By the early Victorian period, however, both public and ecclesiastical opinion deemed it proper to erect post­ humous busts of Coleridge (d. 1834) and Southey (d. 1843) and a statue of the seated Wordsworth (d. 1850), all of them significantly clustered in the pro­ tective shadow of Shakespeare. T h e enlightened Victorian Dean of Westminster, Arthur Stanley (1815—81), a former pupil of D r Arnold's at Rugby, was instrumental in allotting the already over-occupied south transept its most visited grave, that of Charles Dickens (d. 1870). Stanley's decision to bury Dickens in the Abbey is notable for two reasons: he overrode Dickens's express desire to be buried in Rochester, and he also, for the first time, included a novelist amongst its eminent literary dead. T h e privilege had already been denied to Thackeray (d. 1863) and Elizabeth Gaskell (d. 1865) and was not extended to the agnostic George Eliot (d. 1880) (though it had been suggested to Stanley that she was 'a woman whose achievements were without parallel in the previous history of womankind') or to the singularly 'churchy' Anthony Trollope (d. 1882). After Stanley's time, however, the niceties of religious belief and unbelief were largely set aside as the graves of Browning, Tennyson, Hardy, and Kipling virtually filled the available space and gave the entire transept its popular, if narrow, character as a W h o was W h o of English letters. When one says 'English' letters, it should be remembered that Victorian inclusiveness insisted on the addition of busts of Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns, on the commemoration of the American Longfellow and of Adam Lindsay Gordon, the 'Poet of Australia'. Since the nineteenth century, literary societies and informal pressure groups have systematically brought about the canonization by tablet of the particular objects of their admiration. T h u s women writers (Jane Austen, the Brontes, and George Eliot) have received belated notice. T h e once overlooked or notably absent now have their busts (Thackeray by Marochetti, Blake by Epstein), their mural tablets (Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Clare), or their engraved floor slabs (Ca:dmon, Hopkins, Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, .Anthony Trollope, Henry James, D . H . Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, John Masefield, T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, and an omnium gatherum of poets who served in the First World War). Poets' Corner has always commemorated a surprisingly arbitrary selection of writers and, like any parallel attempt to draw up a canon or a list, generally represents the opinions of what a certain group of influential people have wanted to believe mattered to them and to their times. What the memorials in Poets' Corner represent is a loose series of decisions, all of them, in their time, considered decisions, which have subsequently been interpreted as categorical and canonical. This is how most canons come into being. T h e trouble with canons is that they not only become hallowed by tradition, they also enforce tradition. Introduction 4 In its original sense, the idea of a canon included not just the biblical books approved as a source of doctrine by the Church, but also the list of saints whose names could be invoked in prayer and to whom a degree of devotion could be directed. T h e r e have always been writers who have sought to associate them­ selves with a secular canon and a secular apostolic succession as earnestly as the Christian Church hallowed its Scriptures and looked to its history in order to justify its continued existence/Chaucer was anxious to prove his credentials as an innovative English poet by appealing to ancient authority and by dis­ playing his knowledge of modern French and Italian writers. Some 150 years later, Spenser insisted not only that he had drunk deeply at the well of Italian poetry, but also that he was nourished by a vernacular tradition that he dated back to Chaucer. Milton, in his turn, claimed to be the heir to the 'sage and serious' Spenser. In the nineteenth century such invocations of a tradition were supplemented by a reverence only marginally this side of idolatry. In the third book of The Prelude у William Wordsworth described his sense of intimacy as a Cambridge undergraduate, with the spirits of Chaucer, Spenser, and Milton, and the dizzy 'libations' drunk to the memory of the sober Milton in the poet's former 'lodge and oratory'. Later in life Wordsworth insisted to his nephew that he had always seen himself as standing in an apostolic line: 'When I began to give myself up to the profession of a poet for life, I was impressed with a con­ viction, that there were four English poets whom I must have continually before me as examples—Chaucer, Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton.' These four poets he claimed to have systematically studied and attempted to equal ' / / / could . John Keats treasured an engraving of Shakespeare and fancied that the Bard was a 'good Genius' presiding over his work. H e posed in front of the Shakespeare for his own portrait, and, when composing, was apt to imagine 'in what position Shakespeare sat when he began " T o be or not to be" '. Sir Walter Scott had a cast of Shakespeare's Stratford monument placed in a niche in his library at Abbotsford and hung an engraving of Thomas Stothard's painting of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims over the fireplace in his study. In 1844 Charles Dickens had a copy of the same engraving hung in the entrance hall at ι Devonshire Terrace and gilt-framed portraits of his friends, Carlyle and Tennyson, prominently displayed in his library. When he acquired Gad's Hill Place in Kent in 1856 he was so proud of its loose Shakespearian connection that he had a framed inscription proclaiming the fact placed in his hallway. Before the privations of his career as a Jesuit began, the undergraduate Gerard Manley Hopkins asked for portraits of Tennyson, Shelley, Keats, Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante to decorate his rooms at Oxford. T h e grace of the literary tradition stretched even to the death-bed. Tennyson, who had been rereading Shakespeare's plays in his last illness, was buried clasping a copy of Cymbel'me and crowned with a wreath of laurel plucked from Virgil's tomb. Even in the anti-heroic twentieth century this yearning to be associated with an established tradition seems not to have diminished. Amidst the plethora of his own images which decorate George Bernard Shaw's house at Ayot St Lawrence is a 1 Introduction S Staffordshire pottery figure of Shakespeare; behind Vita Sackville-West's writing table in her sitting-room at Sissinghurst hang portraits of the Bronte sisters and Virginia Woolf; according to one of his recent biographers, T . S. Eliot acquired a photograph of Poets' Corner, with Dryden's monument prominent in the foreground, soon after his arrival in England. An awareness of the significance, as well as the decorative value, of the English literary' tradition was by n o means confined to literary aspirants to that tradition. By the mid-eighteenth century English porcelain manufacturers were marketing paired statuettes of Shakespeare and Milton, designed to stand like household gods on refined middle-class chimney-pieces. T h e Shake­ speare was modelled on the Scheemakers statue in Westminster Abbey, the Milton being given a similar half-column on which to rest a pile of books and his elegant left elbow. T h e s e models, with variations, remained current until well into the Victorian era, being imitated in cheap Staffordshire pottery (such as seems later to have appealed to Shaw) and in more up-market biscuit and Parian ware. T h e phenomenal popularity of high-quality Parian china in the mid-nineteenth century meant that there were at least 11 different versions of busts or statuettes of Shakespeare on sale to a mass public from various manu­ facturers. T h e r e were also some 6 distinct models available of Milton, 7 of Scott, 6 of Burns, 5 of Byron, 4 of Dickens, 3 of Tennyson, and one each of Bunyan, Johnson, Wordsworth, Shelley, Browning, Thackeray, and Ruskin. The pairing of Shakespeare and Milton as chimney-ornaments, in Parian china and in other cheaper materials, was reflected for Scots and Scotophiles by parallel figures representing Scon and Burns. It is interesting to note, despite political arguments to the contrary, how easily a popular view of the literary tradition seems to have assimilated both establishment and antiestablishment figures. Much as it balanced the 'classical' Milton against that 'Gothic' warbler of native woodnotes wild, Shakespeare, so it seems to have accepted the counterpoise of the (we assume) royalist Shakespeare and the republican Milton. So too, it balanced the Tory Scott and the radical Burns. Although this decorative art may have sprung from a hero-worshipping impulse, it was scarcely confrontational. T h e idea of possessing representa­ tions of famous writers (or, still nowadays, of composers) may have been stimu­ lated by a desire to show off an aspiration to, or an acquisition of, an 'élite' culture, but it cannot properly be seen as a fashion imposed exclusively from above. T h e desire to comme...
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