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Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible

Charles LaPorte

BUY Cloth · 304 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813931586 · $49.50 · Nov 2011
BUY Ebook · 304 pp. · ISBN 9780813931654 · $49.50 · Nov 2011

Sonya Rudikoff Northeast Victorian Studies Association Award, Northeast Victorian Studies Association (2011)

Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible charts the impact of post-Enlightenment biblical criticism on English literary culture. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw a widespread reevaluation of biblical inspiration, in which the Bible’s poetic nature came to be seen as an integral part of its religious significance. Understandably, then, many poets who followed this interpretative revolution—including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning—came to reconceive their highest vocational ambitions: if the Bible is essentially poetry, then modern poetry might perform a cultural role akin to that of scripture. This context equally illuminates the aims and achievements of famous Victorian unbelievers such as Arthur Hugh Clough and George Eliot, who also responded enthusiastically to the poetic ideal of an inspired text.

Building upon a recent and ongoing reevaluation of religion as a vital aspect of Victorian culture, Charles LaPorte shows the enduring relevance of religion in a period usually associated with its decline. In doing so, he helps to delineate the midcentury shape of a literary dynamic that is generally better understood in Romantic poetry of the earlier part of the century. The poets he examines all wrestled with modern findings about the Bible's fortuitous historical composition, yet they owed much of their extraordinary literary success to their ability to capitalize upon the progress of avant-garde biblical interpretation.

This book's revisionary and provocative thesis speaks not only to the course of English poetics but also to the logic of nineteenth-century literary hierarchies and to the continuing evolution of religion in the modern era.

Victorian Literature and Culture Series


"Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible is an extraordinarily good book. The theme, that of the way in which the ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible affected a key selection of Victorian poets, is brilliantly original in the way that it explores the reverberation of critical ideas across the most unexpected poems. LaPorte is enormously literate and writes with clarity, subtlety, and a sharp wit. His range of reading is vast, covering not merely the works of the writers themselves but also their correspondence and related material, not to mention, of course, the miscellaneous works and sermons of die-hard opponents of the new criticism. This is an outstanding work."

Stephen Prickett, Regius Professor Emeritus, University of Glasgow, and Honorary Professor of English, University of Kent at Canterbury

Victorian Poetry and the Changing Bible redefines a significant post-Romantic poetic tradition inspired by transformative nineteenth-century biblical studies. LaPorte’s readings of canonical works such as Aurora Leigh, The Idylls of the King, and The Ring and the Book will include something new for all Victorian scholars given his repeated ability to link his commentary on poetics, with a seemingly effortless touch, to the period’s wider literary culture. Drawing on a mastery of British and European biblical scholarship as well as an impressive range of sources snatched from the age’s vast archive of periodical writings, this exciting, learned study will renew and revise our understanding of the experimental verve animating so much of Victorian poetry.

William R. McKelvy, author of The English Cult of Literature: Devoted Readers, 1774–1880

About the Author(s): 

Charles LaPorte is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Washington.

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