8:3355 Victorian Poetry
Professor Florence Boos

Syllabus | Assignments | ICON

We will sample some of the wide range of poetry written during this period: poetry remarkable for its linguistic virtuosity (G. M. Hopkins); narrative complexity (Elizabeth Barrett Browning); feminist agenda (Amy Levy); psychological intensity (William Morris); unconventional eroticism (Algernon Swinburne); philosophic depth (Alfred Tennyson); intricate humor (Robert Browning); and broad social appeal (Janet Hamilton, Eliza Cook). We will discuss poetry of celebration, consolation, amusement, and reflection writing during the high-Victorian period and the fin de siecle by women and by men, by members of several classes, and by defenders of different social and religious faiths.

In our class sessions, we will also consider issues of poetic language, rhetoric and genre, and the social context and audience of all these works. I will offer information about the period, the individual authors’ lives and the Victorian literary marketplace, and we will view many examples of Victorian visual art. Class will focus on discussion, so attendance is essential (and will affect final grades), and I will ask students to submit internet responses and twelve pages of written work.


January 21st Wednesday syllabus; course assignments and organization; comments on poetry of period; basic metrics; handouts Carol Christ and Linda Hughes

January 26th Monday Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”; Hughes introduction

January 28th Wednesday Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “The Cry of the Children,” Carol Christ introduction

February 2nd Monday Robert Browning, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”

February 4th Wednesday Robert Browning, “Fra Lippo Lippi”

Friday February 6th First Icon posting due 12 a. m.; should comment on Hughes or Christ articles

February 9th Monday Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Blessed Damozel”

February 11th Wednesday Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Jenny”

February 16th Monday Pre-Raphaelite slides

February 18th Wednesday Augusta Webster, “The Castaway”

Friday February 20th Second Icon posting due; should comment on slides

February 23rd Monday Alfred Tennyson, “Ulysses,” “The Lotus Eaters”

February 25th Wednesday Alfred Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” first half

March 2nd Monday Alfred Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” second half

March 4th Wednesday -------

Friday March 6th Title and bibliography of paper due

March 9th Monday Christina Rossetti, “Goblin Market,” “In an Artist’s Studio,” “A Birthday,” “Remember,” “When I am Dead, My Dearest,” “Echo.”

March 11th Wednesday William Morris, “The Haystack in the Floods,” “The Defence of Guenevere”

Friday March 13th Third Icon posting due

March 16th and 18th spring break

March 23rd Monday slides William Morris and the decorative arts
First 6 page essay due

March 25th Wednesday Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach,” “A Summer Night,” “The Buried Life,” “Isolation: To Marguerite, Continued”

March 30th Monday visit to Special Collections

April 1st Wednesday working-class and dialect poets: Samuel Laycock and Janet  Hamilton (handout)

Friday April 3rd Fourth Icon posting due, should comment on Special Collections visit

April 5th Monday Algernon Swinburne, “The Triumph of Time,” “Hymn to Prosperpine”

April 8th Wednesday Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Windhover,” “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” “Carrion Comfort”

April 13th Monday Gerard Manley Hopkins, “No Worst, There is None,” “Felix Randall,” “Spring and Fall” (handout); “Binsey Poplars” (handout)

April 15th Wednesday Amy Levy, “Xantippe”

Friday April 17th Fifth Icon posting due

April 20th Monday fin de siècle: Lionel Johnson, “The Dark Angel” (handout), Mary Coleridge, “The Other Side of the Mirror,” “The White Women”

April 22nd Wednesday Rosamund Marriot Watson, “The Ballad of the Bird Bride,” “A Ballad of the Were-Wolf,” “The Open Door”

April 27th Monday A. E. Housman, selections from “The Shropshire Lad”

April 29th Wednesday Oscar Wilde, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”
Friday May 1st Sixth Icon posting due

May 4th Monday Thomas Hardy, “The Darkling Thrush,” “Snow in the Suburbs,” “Afterwards” (handout); “Drummer Hodge”

May 8th Wednesday Charlotte Mew, “The Cenotaph,” “The Farmer’s Bride,” “The Trees are Down” (handout)

Exam week: final course meeting Monday May 11th or Tuesday May 12th (your choice); students will briefly summarize their papers.  

Please hand in the final draft of your take-home exam/essay in final form by Friday May 15th, 2015, accompanied by printouts of your ICON postings in a packet.


MW Room 106 EPB 3:30-4:45  

Instructor: Florence Boos, florence-boos@uiowa.edu

Teaching materials and course website page: www.uiowa.edu/~boosf

Office: 319 EPB: office phone 335-0434

Office hours: before and after most classes; Monday 5-6; Friday 3-4; and by appointment

Textbooks Broadview Anthology of Victorian Poetry, Concise Edition and handouts from Linda Hughes, The Cambridge Introduction to Victorian Poetry, and Carol Christ, "Victorian Poetry," from the Blackwell Companion to Victorian Poetry.

Exam: Monday May 11th at 3:30 p. m. (students will report on their final paper)

Course Requirements:

 1. participation: contributions to class discussion. Please read the assignment before class and come prepared to discuss the poem’s form and content, and ask any questions you may have about unclear passages.

2. participation: from time to time during the course students will be asked to provide background information on one of the authors we read. To prepare, please use biographical sources such as the Dictionary of Literary Biography or a biography (not simply Wikipedia!).

3. participation: ICON. 6 times during the semester  by the times indicated on the syllabus, please post an essay equivalent to two typed pages on our space on ICON. Details to follow.

Of the postings, at least one should concern the book arts, based on our trip to Special Collections; one should respond to works of Victorian art, most likely from the Pre-Raphaelite and Morris slides which we view; two should use biographical or critical material from an article or book chapter which discusses the text on which you are commenting, and two should apply some of the observations in Linda Hughes’s The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry to a poem or poems which we read.

4. two essays: In addition to these short essays, you will be asked to write a six page + critical/research paper, and a six page final take-home examination.

Your critical/research paper must be based on research in the biographies, book-length critical studies, and critical articles on the author you have chosen (that is, you cannot merely use web-page citations). A title, bibliography and if possible, an outline should be turned in a week before the first draft is due, as indicated in the syllabus.

If you hand a draft to me one week early, I will be glad to give initial comments and suggestions.

5. The final essay/take-home exam will be a comparative critical discussion of the works of two or more authors/texts you have read during the course.

The final will be held during examination week, most likely Monday May 9th.

Grading: With some variation for special factors and marked improvement, grades will be roughly based on the following scale:

2 papers: 60%

ICON postings 10%

class participation: 30%

Some Features of Victorian Poetry:

The Victorian period, 1837-1901, which began in the period after the Napoleonic Wars and extended until before World War I, was an era of a great cultural outpouring with and expanding audience for literary production.

  1. Aural and musical, with an emphasis on rhythm and sound effects, reinforcing an emotive quality. Victorian poetry derives from oral culture—songs, hymns, ballads, recitations, public readings, private family readings--music as popularly experienced in parlor performances and church singing. Lines and stanzas are arranged in a series of repeats and variations / alternations of stressed and unstressed syllables and passages / onomatopoeia.
  2. Pictorial and visual—word painting, descriptive imagery, influenced by Romantics such as Keats, and by Pre-Raphaelite painters such as J. E. Millais and D. G. Rossetti.
  3. Colorful and detailed descriptions—age of realism, photography, period of geological discoveries and Darwin, tendency to see beauty in exactitude and detail (age of scientific advances on many fronts)
  4. Receptive to features also found in other genres—novels, serial fiction, fairy tales, drama and theatrical effects, newspapers and periodicals, argumentative or meditative essays and sermons.
  5. Embedded in the issues of the time--women’s sexuality, double gender standards, scientific ideas, technology, poverty, war, class inequities, and issues of meaning and spirituality. The Victorian period was an age of great religious debates—Darwin vs. Bishop Ussher.
  6. Circulated in many forms, more available as century progressed—broadsides, cheap reprints, periodicals, books; the latter were often illustrated and given as gift books on special occasions. Earlier in the century, books were often read as part of a circulating library subscription, but as the cost of manufacture lessened books became less expensive, cheaper formats proliferated and a fine press movement grew up to model more artistic book designs.
  7. Intended to amuse, please, entertain, and prompt reflection.

Mid-Victorian poetry exhibited a romantic, reformist tone, a sense of discovery, and a concern with ethical themes—e. g., the nature of beauty, goodness, or human achievement, modes of coping with death.
By the late-Victorian period, fin de siècle poetry exhibited more detachment and disillusionment. The artist was often portrayed as an observer or even outcast, as in Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” Rejecting grand systems and metaphysical certainty, poetry emphasized themes of isolation, repression, suffering, and pain. Poets were concerned with the desecration of nature, the anomie of urbanization, the alienation of distant imperial wars, and the depersonalization of modernity.
The late Victorians are essentially “moderns,” spiritually eclectic, and less orthodox than their predecessors under the influence of increasing knowledge of many traditions.
As you read, look for common themes and patterns, and think of how their expression changes over the course of more than 60 years--from 1837 to 1901.

Some Possible Research/Critical Paper Topics:

6+ pages, title and bibliography due Friday March 6th, 2015; paper due Monday March 23rd, 2015 (directly after break; students are encouraged to hand them in early if possible) Be sure to consider issues of language and form as well as content.

Language/Silence/Naming in “The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point”  
The Rupture of Familial Relationships in "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" 
Race, Color and Morality in "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" 
Nature and Violence in "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" 
Necessary Infanticide? The Effectiveness of the Ending of "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" 
Passion and Anger in "The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" 
"The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim's Point" as an Abolitionist Poem 
Anger, Irony, and Sarcasm in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Poetry 
E. B. Browning's and Augusta Webster's Portrayals of Social Outcasts 
Maternity and Children in the Poems of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Augusta Webster  
Browning’s Portrayal of the Artist in “Fra Lippo Lippi”

Ekphrastic Art: Browning’s “Fra Lippo Lippi”

Art and Character: Aesthetics and Morality in "Fra Lippo Lippi" 
Vasari’s Lives and Robert Browning’s Dramatic Monologues on Artists

Onomatopeia/ Sound and Diction in “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”

Victorian Medievalism: “Childe Roland” and “The Defence of Guenevere” 
Character or Situation? Identity in the Dramatic Monologues of Robert Browning and Augusta Webster  
The Use of History and Myth in the Monologues of Tennyson and Browning 
Rossetti as Painter and Poet: “Jenny” and “Found” 
Augusta Webster's "The Castaway" and Victorian Debates on 'The Woman Question' 
Contrasting Views of the Fallen Woman: D. G. Rossetti's "Jenny" and Augusta Webster's "The Castaway" [or “Goblin Market,” “The Defence of Guenevere”] 
The Victorian Dramatic Monologue as a Vehicle for Social Criticism /Psychological Exploration 
Tempering Judgment with Sympathy: the Dramatic Monologues of Robert Browning and Augusta Webster (could also use EBB, Tennyson) 
D. G. Rossetti's Illustrations for the Moxon Tennyson  
Visual Elements in Tennyson’s Poetry  
Tennyson's Reshaping of Classical Myth in "Ulysses" and "The Lotus-Eaters" 
Desire and Rest in "Ulysses" and "The Lotus-Eaters" 
Patterns of Language, Imagery and Epiphany in Tennyson's "In Memoriam" 
Healing in "In Memoriam" 
Death and Immortality in "In Memoriam" 
Science and Faith in "In Memoriam" 
Belief and Unbelief in "In Memoriam" 
What Are Those Goblin Fruits?: Sensuous Experience and Repression in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market" 
Sisterly Love in "Goblin Market" 
Redemption in "Goblin Market": The Devotional Life of Christina Rossetti 
Fairytale as Allegory in "Goblin Market" 
Social Criticism in "Goblin Market" 
Fairytale as Allegory in "Goblin Market"/Social Criticism in "Goblin Market"/ "Goblin Market" as a Tale of Sisterhood 
Christina Rossetti’s “In An Artist’s Studio” and Rossetti’s “Jenny” / the Pre-Raphaelite Ideal of Woman 
Rhythm and Meaning in Christina Rossetti's Lyrics  
Christina Rossetti’s Devotional Poems/ Poems on Sisterhood  
The “Fallen Woman” in the Poetry of D. G. Rossetti/Christina Rossetti

Malory’s “Le Morte de Arthur” and Morris’s “The Defence of Guenevere”

Victorian Medievalism and “The Defence of Guenevere”/”The Haystack in the Floods”

Rhetoric and Argument in “The Defence of Guenevere”

Gender and Violence in “The Haystack in the Floods” 

Victorian Poetry, Final Paper/Exam 3355: May 2015:

The draft should be ready for our final session on Monday May 11th at 2:00-3:30 p. m., and the final version handed in, if possible in print form, by 5 p. m. May 15th. For our Monday exam session you should be prepared to give a 4-5 minute summary of your essay. When submitting your essay, please also include a packet of printouts of your six Icon postings.

For this essay, you should write a six page paper contrasting some aspect of the works of two poets we have studied. Your essay should show how these represent an important feature of Victorian poetic culture or sensibility, or alternately, different aspects of Victorian poetic taste. If the poets you discuss are from different periods, you should consider whether their different choices reflect shifts in Victorian poetic taste as the century progressed. Your essay, in short, should comment not only on the poems themselves but how they express the thematic concerns or stylistic tastes of their respective periods.

Your essay should also include comments on formal features of the poetry you discuss: style, stanzaic form, rhythm, meter and diction.

Poets we have studied have included Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Augusta Webster, Christina Rossetti, Matthew Arnold, Dante G. Rossetti, William Morris, working-class poets, among them Janet Hamilton and Samuel Laycock, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Oscar Wilde, Rosamund Marriott Watson, Lionel Johnson, Mary Coleridge, Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman and Charlotte Mew.

Topics you might consider for contrast include:

use of imagery, symbols and allegory
use of landscape; themes of nature and the environment
issues of gender/race/sexuality/crime
religious imagery/revisionist uses of faith/issues of belief and doubt
introspection, the divided or alienated self
the oppressions of convention
myth and legend (e. g. Arthurian legend, classical mythology)
fallenness/ “original sin”/divided or alienated selves
the possibility of romantic love
issues of fate/social determination
war and conflict
the uses of music/art/history
the meaning of death
evocation of regional differences
parents and children
uses of the dramatic monologue
patterns of the lyric
social hierarchy/issues of class and marginalization
Victorian sonnets (EBB, C and D Rossetti, Webster, Field)
the meditative sequence/Victorian narrative poetry
redemption/human fellowship/alternative societies or ideals
the nature of beauty; the nature of morality
art, portraiture, ekphrasis
mirrors, the divided self