Across the border : a study of the English verse novel, 1840-1870

Castan, Constantine (1973). Across the border : a study of the English verse novel, 1840-1870 PhD Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Castan, Constantine
Thesis Title Across the border : a study of the English verse novel, 1840-1870
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1973
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor P.D. Edwards
Total pages 491
Language eng
Subjects 2005 Literary Studies
Formatted abstract

In its most distinctive form, the verse novel is a narrative poem of not less than one thousand lines, which tells a story, invented by the poet, about contemporary life in his own country. The characters belong to the middle or lower classes and are not heroic. It is told in a non-allegorical and non-symbolical way, and ranges stylistically from the prosaic to the poetic. Some verse novels, however, exhibit modifications of one or more of these characteristics. The genre originated in the eighteenth century and verse novels are still being written today. Apart from the section which discusses general features, this thesis is limited to the years from 1840 to 1870, when more English verse novels of real value were published than during any other period of comparable length; a poem that retains interest as a period piece (Patmore’s The Angel in the House); a minor comic masterpiece (John Sterling’s The Election); an imperfect, but still living, credo in narrative form (Mrs Browning’s Aurora Leigh); and four works of high excellence (Clough’s The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich and Amours de Voyage, Tennyson’s Maud, and Meredith’s Modern Love). Lesser verse novels of the period are also studied so that the form is seen in its strengths and weaknesses. This thesis discusses a larger sample of verse novels than has ever been considered before, and its listing of title- both within and outside its period- is the most extensive to date. The following subjects, which are related to one another, are considered; the general tendencies of verse novels during the period; the ways in which they resemble, and differ from, prose novels; and the characteristics shared by the most successful among them. With a few important exceptions, Victorian verse novels use the most common metres of English verse narratives: blank verse, the heroic couplet, ottava rima, and octosyllabics. Furthermore, many of the aims and techniques can be traced back to Chaucer, Crabbe, Wordsworth, or Byron; other pre-Victorian poets had a more limited influence. The majority of Victorian verse novelists are mere imitators, but some innovate according to their own needs. The authors of the best are to be found among these. Some verse novels are tales of domestic life and explore the nature of marriage. The Angel in the House, which presents an ideal widely admired by the Victorians, and the more realistic Modern Love, are the best of these. Other verse novels are concerned with political, societal, or aesthetic questions, the most inclusive being Aurora Leigh. Most of these avoid being merely moral tales, although they did offer guidance to the readers of the time on the most pressing questions of the day. The influence of Carlyle is as pervasive as it is in the mid-Victorian prose novel. A larger number have retained almost direct relevance more than a hundred years later. Like many prose novels, Victorian verse novels exhibit a kind of subjectivity whereby facets of the author’s psyche are transformed into one or more characters, or into other aspects of the work. This tendency, which also links the verse novel with romantic poetry, offers an interesting challenger to the critic. To equate author with character is always simplistic, and the tendency to do this or the fear of doing it, gives an added importance to the attempt to understand the correct relationship in each work. Victorian verse novels are much shorter than prose ones and employ fewer characters. They do not make extensive use of conversational dialogue. The Bothie, partly an exception, is a tour de force. The other truly successful verse novels- Amours de Voyage, Maud, and Modern Love- are all written in various forms of first-person monologue which avoid dialogue altogether. They are primarily concerned with the inner life of a disaffected individual during a state of severe mental crisis. Here the shortness of the genre is turned to advantage in powerful fifth-act dramas, and the verse can most appropriately rise to poetry in the expression of complex personal feelings.

Keyword English poetry -- 19th century -- History and criticism

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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