Algernon Charles Swinburne

Unofficial Laureate

Algernon Charles Swinburne is acknowledged to be one of the most important Victorian poets, a founding figure for British aestheticism, and the dominant influence for many fin-de-siècle and modernist poets. This book is a collection of essays that re-evaluate his literary contribution. It brings together some of the best new scholarship on Swinburne, resituating him in the light of current critical work on cosmopolitanism, politics, print culture, form, Victorian Hellenism, religious controversy, gender and sexuality, the arts, and aestheticism and its contested relation to literary modernism. The first section lays emphasis on Swinburne's embeddedness and centrality in a culture from which he has been partly written out. It examines Swinburne's involvement in the history of cosmopolitanism, a field of enquiry that is attracting growing attention among literary critics. This section provides complementary accounts of the difficult and often invisible dynamics behind influence and marginalisation, unveiling narratives of problematic acceptance and problematic rejection, by a female and a male poet respectively. Through a detailed examination of Swinburne's unpublished flagellatory poem 'The Flogging-Block', the book discovers a web of connections between the nineteenth-century culture of metrical discipline and the pedagogic discipline of minors portrayed through sexual fantasy. The last section of the book examines Swinburne's own influence on his modernist successors. The twin mechanics of poetic dialogue and cultural polemic is also discussed. T. S. Eliot's ambivalence towards Swinburne left a strong mark on twentieth-century criticism.

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‘The chapters provide an enriching blend of perspectives that, to varying degrees, pivot on the ways ‘sexuality itself might help shape, inform, or condition style, poetics, and other aspects of literary practice’. The essays collected in Unofficial Laureate… will be of immense benefit to students, experts, and dilettantes of Swinburne. They are set to cast a long shadow, to galvanize and update Swinburne studies, reigniting the slow-burning interest in this underrated Victorian poet and his work.
Kostas Boyiopoulos, Durham University

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