254. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

Thackeray’s Vanity Fair doubles that charge: the novel is braced by a simultaneous awareness of Regency and Victorian foibles, of Regency and Victorian hypocrisy, and Regency and Victorian euphemism (I shorten early-mid Victorian to “Victorian” throughout; I refer to the Regency and also the rein of George IV as “Regency”). In that double-ness lies its singularity: a sense for the history of satirical judgment itself, … Continue reading 254. (William Makepeace Thackeray)

109. (John Ruskin)

When Henry James, looking back on the novels that had marked the turn from the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, insisted on limits authors must set to the web of relations, he might have had any number of authors in mind. Poets and novelists dwell, as the phrase goes, in a “forest of symbols”–and they must, James says, see the forest for the trees. Otherwise perdition. … Continue reading 109. (John Ruskin)

15. (Robert Browning)

Tennyson, haunted by the memory of Arthur Hallam, must look down from atop that long staircase to the stars (the one he describes in In Memoriam) with brooding pleasure at those who remain haunted by Hallam today—for such still exist, the eccentric brood of those who have devoted time and thought to Victorian poetry, and in so doing have had to encounter, and re-encounter, sometimes unrecognizable … Continue reading 15. (Robert Browning)

13. (Robert Browning)

In “The Bishop Orders His Tomb,” it is difficult to believe that the Bishop’s children are listening attentively to all that he says, especially as he launches onto flights of vain visionary greed. At times, the Bishop is his own audience; or at least it is plausible that he is—and the plausibility that he might be speaking to himself only, an expression of his Vanity, … Continue reading 13. (Robert Browning)

12. (Robert Browning)

Something happens to attention in works of literature during the early stages of the Victorian era—I had wanted to say that it becomes not only the means but the object of literary scrutiny, but this is not quite right because it is not taken as an explicit object, as something discussed or held up to discursive examination by many authors a great deal of the … Continue reading 12. (Robert Browning)

8. (Robert Browning)

Bagehot, a man in the know, confides to his readership: “One of his greatest admirers once owned to us that he seldom or never began a new poem without looking on in advance, and foreseeing with caution what length of intellectual advance he was about to commence.” Does any other major poet have a posse of admirers so willing, even eager, to exonerate admiration by … Continue reading 8. (Robert Browning)