Victorian Writers & Poets

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by Russell James

Click to see the book: Writers & Poets

The Pocket Guide to Victorian Writers and Poets

In any poll of the nation’s favourite poems today a good many will come from the Victorian age.  And in any listing of classic novels the sturdy Victorians still burst to the fore.  This book includes some 250 writers, giving each a brief biography, a critical outline, and a note of important works to look out for.  Their biographies can be surprising. 

Victorian literary scandals include:

* William Aytoun and the ‘Spasmodic’ school of poetry

* the feuding Bulwer Lyttons

* the scandalous divorcees Ménie Muriel Dowie and Caroline Norton

* the pugnacious Charles Reade

* and the self-destructive Oscar Wilde.

Bulwer Lytton

Extraordinary lives were led by authors such as

* Amelia Barr (who showed that a woman was better off without her man)

* the Countess of Blessington (did she, didn’t she, would she?)

* Wilfred Scawen Blunt (rake and scandal-maker)

* Edward Bulwer-Lytton (and his troublesome wife)

* Sir Richard Burton (geographic and sexual explorer)

* Baron Corvo (a living fiction of his own creation)

* George Gissing (hell-bent on ruining his life)

* A J Munby (best known for his unconventional love life)

* Ouida (self-made and a snob)

* Laurence Oliphant (and the ‘Brotherhood of New Life’)

* H M Stanley (Livingstone was not his most extraordinary adventure)

* and the campaigning W T Stead (the ‘sensational’ journalist).

But to many Victorians the greatest scandal, already raging before Charles Darwin’s belief-battering book, was ‘The God Debate’ and, while Victorian Writers & Poets does not burden itself with the interminable details of that fight, it does give space to some of its leading combatants: Robert Chambers, Charles Darwin, T H Huxley, Benjamin Jowett, John Keble, Charles Kingsley, John Henry Newman and the peaceable Mark Rutherford.

a notorious cartoon of Darwin

Less expected might be the inclusion of several sexual revolutionaries, such as Edward Carpenter, George Egerton, Havelock Ellis and the poet, John Addington Symmonds.  And I found it impossible to ignore those notorious literary marriages, some unconsummated (Thomas Carlyle, Anna Jameson and John Ruskin), some never legitimised (the most famous being that of George Eliot).

Not all of the 250 writers in this book led unconventional lives.  Some were merely unfortunate.  Consider Valentine Durrant, W E Henley, Lionel Johnson, Amy Levy, Philip Bourke Marston, Hugh Miller, and the two unrelated poets, Francis Thompson and James Thomson.  Others were – or were considered to be – great thinkers, though I’m sure you can spot the odd man out among Walter Bagehot, Thomas Carlyle, William Lecky, John Stuart Mill, Walter Pater, John Ruskin, Samuel Smiles, Herbert Spencer, and the conjoined Beatrice & Sidney Webb.  Others simply wrote.

Who wrote 'Sweeney Todd'?



Potboilers flowed from the pens of many, including Harrison Ainsworth, Mrs Mary Braddon, Thomas Prest, J M Rymer and Mrs Henry Wood.  Children’s stories came from many hands; famous ones here include Helen Bannerman, J M Barrie, Lewis Carroll, Mrs Ewing, George MacDonald, Mrs Molesworth and the unfortunate Anna Sewell.

 Best-sellers were produced by real-life travellers such as Sir Richard Burton, David Livingstone, J H Speke, H M Stanley – and, in his different style, Robert Louis Stevenson.  Poets in the book include William Allingham, Malcolm Arnold, Alfred Austin, W E Aytoun, William Barnes, The Brownings, Ernest Dowson, William Morris, Coventry Patmore, Christina Rossetti, Swinburne, Tennyson – even the excruciating William McGonagall and Martin Farquhar Tupper. 

In Victorian Writers & Poets you’ll find many old friends – and you’ll also learn a great deal they didn’t teach you at school!

by Russell James, published by Remember When (an imprint of Pen & Sword)
Recommended price £12.99 (though lower on the net)
ISBN 978 1 84468 083 2

Order online from the publishers:

Or from Amazon: The Pocket Guide to Victorian Writers and Poets



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