The Spasmodic Poets

Appraising a Controversial School of Victorian Literature

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About the Book

Few stories capture the unique interplay of critical theory, mass media and public taste better than the story of the Spasmodics. These earnest, youthful and largely self-educated neo–Romantics hoped to become prophets who would influence literary society on a grand scale. From about 1850 to 1860, the Spasmodics successfully cast a long shadow over virtually every serious discussion of Victorian poetry. Many mid–nineteenth-century writers, including Tennyson, both Brownings and Matthew Arnold, were either adherents or outspoken detractors of the Spasmodic School.
This work documents, in appropriate social contexts, the trajectory of the Spasmodic School in both its original incarnation and subsequent appraisals. Examining the various personalities and aesthetic principles that fashioned the movement, the author does not champion any particular critical stance or verdict. The scholarly apparatus cites a number of competing Victorianist interpretations, approaches and judgments with varying degrees of expertise.

About the Author(s)

Lori A. Paige, a professor of English at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts, teaches courses in British and gothic literature.

Bibliographic Details

Lori A. Paige
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 216
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2022
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8296-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4815-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Introduction 1
1. “Some Special Providential Purpose”: The Tale of the Spasmodic School 11
2. “Fearless Strains”: British Literary Culture at Mid–Century 29
3. “Barbaric Jewelry”: Bailey’s Festus and the Birth of the Spasmodic Ideal 54
4. “With a Halo Crowned”: Gerald, A ­Life-Drama, and the Coming of the Vates 77
5. “The Unstable Bubble of Inflated Thought”: Dobell, Bigg, and the Flowering of High Spasmody 100
6. “All High Poetry Is and Must Be Spasmodic”: The ­Anti-Spasmodic Reaction 124
7. “A Cloud of Poisonous Flies”: After the Spasmodics 147
Epilogue: “Vast Displays of Critic Wit”: The Future of the Spasmodic School 169
A Spasmodic Timeline 173
Chapter Notes 177
Bibliography 197
Index 205