A Poetics of the Soul: Devotional Poetry in Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Christina Rossetti
McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Albert C. Labriola
Victorian poetry, devotional, gender, Tennyson, Rossetti, Barrett Browning
This study explores devotional poetry of the nineteenth century as a poetic discourse in which tropes of the human soul connect spiritual reflection with lived experience in order to engage literary, religious, and social issues in Victorian England. Like G. B. Tennyson's Victorian Devotional Poetry: The Tractarian Mode (1989), this project situates individual poets in their cultural and religious contexts, and it encourages an understanding of devotional verse as an important feature of Victorian poetry. In addition to these aims, this dissertation surveys both popular and lesser-known devotional verse by poets not formally part of the Oxford Movement in order to demonstrate the far-reaching influence of devotional poetry. Defining devotional poetry in a broad sense, this analysis examines ways in which devotional verse employs tropes of the soul in order to reveal, evaluate, and challenge Victorian concerns with progress and modernity as well as social and gender relationships. Specifically, Elizabeth Barrett Browning challenges religious and literary authority as a woman writer whose vivid use of devotional language displays the soul in its formative processes and contests readers' ideas of Christian unity. Quite by contrast, as a well-established male writer, Alfred, Lord Tennyson employs tropes of the soul in In Memoriam to provide a dialectic of faith and doubt and to emphasize the variegated and complex nature of a "modern," progressive faith. Lastly, Christina Rossetti's devotional verse, when read in relationship to her ideas of secrecy, reveals a powerful way in which disempowered "fallen" women might regain their spiritual and social equilibrium. One goal of this dissertation is to work against the assumption that devotional poetry is merely simplistic piety in verse, which becomes less relevant and interesting as poetry of skepticism and doubt emerges in the nineteenth century. This study suggests a different trajectory for religious literature: one that accounts for the vibrancy and complexity of devotional verse as it emerges in the works of a variety of Victorian poets.
Cianciola, H. (2008). A Poetics of the Soul: Devotional Poetry in Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Christina Rossetti (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/410