On the 15 November 2013 I was fortunate enough to attend the London Nineteenth Century Seminar at Senate House in London (organised by Ana Vadillo). At this very special event, Professor Isobel Armstrong spoke about the process of revising her monumental 1993 study, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetic, Politics for a new, updated version which is currently forthcoming. The event was held to celebrate Armstrong’s achievement in transforming the face of Victorian Poetry scholarship, and to reflect on the status of Victorian Poetry twenty years on, asking: what are the current trends within the field, and where do we go from here?
To this end, Professor Armstrong was joined by two panellists – Professor Richard Cronin (University of Glasgow) and Dr Gregory Tate (University of Surrey). Richard Cronin spoke about the distinctive contribution Armstrong’s book made to the study of Victorian poetry, a much-maligned field during the larger part of the twentieth-century, due to misrepresentations of modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot and critics such as F. R. Leavis. Gregory Tate discussed the status of Victorian poetry today, and how scholarship might move on into the future.
One of the most illuminating aspects of this event, in my opinion, was Isobel Armstrong’s own autobiographical account of her career. She recounted her experiences as a PhD student, the challenge of writing her doctoral thesis, and how a number of seemingly false turns led her to write Language as Living Form in 19th Century Poetry (1982) and eventually, the trail-blazing Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetic, Politics (1993). Armstrong’s sheer intellectual energy and dynamism, and her fearless urge to tackle huge, unwieldy yet crucial topics came across during her talk. To hear her recount her own experiences and ever-changing thought processes was truly inspiring.
Another exciting aspect of the event was to hear about the planned revisions to Victorian Poetry. Though Armstrong explained that she is limited in terms of what she can add and change, we can expect a new introduction and, most intriguingly of all, a whole new chapter which will focus on fin-de-siècle poetry. Armstrong noted the boom in scholarship on late-nineteenth century poetry and aims to address and respond to this in her book. She made specific mention of Michael Field as a poet she aims to discuss in this chapter, citing some examples of recent work on Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper. I personally am very excited to read this chapter when the revised edition comes out. The addition of Michael Field among other fin-de-siècle poets is proof – if it were needed – that Michael Field are well and truly ‘on the map’ of nineteenth century poetry.
Blog post by: Dr Sarah Parker