Victorian Poetry and the Culture of the Heart

By: Kirstie Blair

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Victorian Poetry and the Culture of the Heart is a significant and timely study of nineteenth-century poetry and poetics. It considers why and how the heart became a vital image in Victorian poetry, and argues that the intense focus on heart imagery in many major Victorian poems highlights anxieties in this period about the ability of poetry to act upon its readers. In the course of the nineteenth century, this study argues, increased doubt about thevalidity of feeling led to the depiction of the literary heart as alienated, distant, outside the control of mind and will. This coincided with a notable rise in medical literature specifically concerned with the pathological heart, and with the development of new techniques and instruments of investigation such asthe stethoscope. As poets feared for the health of their own hearts, their poetry embodies concerns about a widespread culture of heartsickness in both form and content. In addition, concerns about the heart's status and actions reflect upon questions of religious faith and doubt, and feed into issues of gender and nationalism. This book argues that it is vital to understand how this wider culture of the heart informed poetry and was in turn influenced by poetic constructs. Individual chapterson Barrett Browning, Arnold, and Tennyson explore the vital presence of the heart in major works by these poets - including Aurora Leigh, 'Empedocles on Etna', In Memoriam, and Maud - while the wide-ranging opening chapters present an argument for the mutual influence of poetry and physiology in theperiod and trace the development of new theories of rhythm as organic and affective.
Publication Date:
27 / 04 / 2006

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