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Keith Hanley, An Annotated Critical Bibliography of William Wordsworth. London and New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1995. ISBN: 0-13-355348-5. Price: £65.00 (hardback)

  • Ruth Mead

…plus d’informations

  • Ruth Mead
    University College London

Corps de l’article

This excellent bibliography is arranged in four sections: Editions and manuscripts [E], Aids to research [A], Biographies and memoirs [B], and Criticism [C] , within which each item is numbered. These sections are subdivided for our further convenience, and several head-notes act as pointers for cross-referencing within the volume, or seeking information elsewhere. The entries are indexed, three times over, under the headings, 'Works by Wordsworth', 'Subjects and Persons', and 'Authors and Editors'. Where necessary, a single work is separately detailed in two sections: John E. Jordan's De Quincey to Wordsworth (Berkeley, 1962), for instance, rightly appears in the 'letters' section of E , and also in Biographies . Hanley draws our attention to related bibliographical projects in progress at the time of publication: Paul Betz's account of the holdings at Grasmere library, and Mark L. Reed's bibliography of Wordsworth's writings. This measure places the book in its precise moment amid the onward flow of Wordsworth scholarship (Hanley's critical listings go up to 1993), and should defend it from the possible confusions caused by inevitable supersession in specialist areas. Meticulously organized, this bibliography is extremely easy to use, and will be an invaluable tool for students of Wordsworth, at all levels, for many years.

The section on twentieth-century criticism is by far the longest, with 651 entries, divided into Collections and surveys, Full-length studies, and Articles and chapters , each arranged chronologically. Hanley explains his methods of selection in 'Advice to the reader', and, since he cannot be exhaustive, he is generous in the detail of his entries, often listing the poems on which a work focuses, as well as indicating its theoretical orientation. Value-judgements are not too frequent, and are therefore meaningful: Hartman's Wordsworth's Poetry 1787-1814 (New Haven & London, 1964) is "easily the most influential post-war account of W" (C124), whilst Alan Liu's Wordsworth: the Sense of History (Stanford, 1989) is "monumental and challenging" (C201). Adverse criticism is extremely rare.

Objectionable omissions - and Hanley points out that, in this section, "the mesh" necessarily "grows finer" (p. xi) - are few. Every Wordsworth scholar who chooses may quibble. One of Douglass H. Thomson's essays on the fascinating 'Nutting' off-cuts is included: '"Sport of Transmutations": The Evolution of Wordsworth's "To Lycoris"' (C584), but its companion piece, Thomson's earlier 'Wordsworth's Lucy of "Nutting" in Studies in Romanticism 18 (1979), is not. In Biographies and memoirs we find F. E. Halliday's popular biography Wordsworth and his World (London, 1970) - included, perhaps, on account of its many interesting illustrations - but not Hunter Davies' much longer William Wordsworth (London, 1980), with its intriguing description of Wordsworth's deficient sense of smell: 'You miss a lot of lush sensations when your olfactory organs are not working' (p. 317). The most serious omission that I have noticed is that of Jonathan Bate's Shakespeare and the English Romantic Imagination (Oxford, 1986), which has one chapter on Wordsworth's knowledge of, and comments about, Shakespeare, and another on the imaginative presence of Shakespeare in Wordsworth's poetry, and ought to be in section C2.3, where Edwin Stein's Wordsworth's Art of Allusion (University Park, 1988), entry C194, is accidentally reproduced as C605. Viviana Comensoli's article on 'The Literary Analogues of Wordsworth's "Goody Blake and Harry Gill"' (C198) has slipped into the full-length studies section. The essays in Peter Manning's Reading Romantics: Texts and Contexts (New York, 1990) are described briefly as C644, and much more fully (though with an incorrect subtitle) as C206. Perhaps the double entry was intentional (the work is a collection of essays, but with so much Wordsworth that it counts as a 'full-length study'); but, if so, a cross-reference would have been helpful. A moment's confusion is caused on page 98, where a paragraph from the facing page has duplicated itself , half way through the abstract of Hartman's '"Was it for this...?" Wordsworth and the Birth of the Gods'.

Hanley explains that 'no particular contemporary approach is intended to be served more than any other' (p. xi); nevertheless, his neat summaries are, fortunately, not objective to the point of plotlessness. Details from older criticism are interestingly chosen, so as silently to point towards later critical developments. We are told of Charles Burney's review of Lyrical Ballads , for example, that it reacts "especially to the social context (including that of the contemporary war situation), which is missed in 'Tintern Abbey', a poem 'somewhat tinctured with gloomy, narrow, and unsociable ideas of seclusion from the commerce of the world.'" (C17). This gestures thoughtfully towards Marjorie Levinson's Wordsworth's Great Period Poems (Cambridge, 1986), and the New Historicist school in general. Hanley sketches the lines of critical history more directly, too, as vital connectors are indicated: Leslie Stephen's 1876 'Hours in a Library: No. 13' (C49) "provoked Matthew Arnold's rejection of Wordsworth as a philosopher (see E121)", which itself influence Swinburne's consideration (C52).And this plot is continued into the twentieth century, as David Ferry's The Limits of Mortality (Middleton, CT, 1959) argues 'against the grain of Matthew Arnold's stress on naive emotionalism... and Leslie Stephen's case for ethical coherence' (C119).

Milestone sound-bites are always included: Jeffrey's 'this will never do' (C26) and Byron's 'puerile' (C18). Other spot-quotations provide various interest and light relief - like Southey's characterization of 'The Idiot Boy' as "'[resembling] a Flemish picture in the worthlessness of its design and the excellence of its execution'" (C16). Many details are selected with great poise. Francis Jeffrey "particularly scorned" the 'household tub' of 'The Blind Highland Boy', Hanley tells us (C19), leaving us to remember, or discover, for ourselves, that said tub subsequently metamorphosed into a turtle's shell. It is such that give this volume its great browsability. And serendipity creates provoking patterns of its own. In 1828 John Wilson frowns at the absence of "Revealed Religion" in The Excursion (C32). Flick over a couple of pages, and an anonymous contributor to the Christian Observer complains, in 1850, that the later additions of religious matter are "'engrafted' rather than organic" (C38). On facing pages, De Quincey claims Wordsworth's distinction to be 'the extent of his sympathy with what is really permanent in human feelings, and also the depth of his sympathy' (C36), whilst another Anon. identifies 'want of sympathy' as the poet's prime fault (C39).

Like all the sections of this book, the first, Editions and manuscripts , is not only a vital reference tool, but makes great reading in itself. Here we have a skeletal account of Wordsworth's conquest (by publication) of America, and, in section E 3.1 , the late nineteenth-century contenders for the title of definitive complete edition are ranged side by side, with their credentials assessed. Hanley gives full accounts of each of the Cornell editions, detailing their significant new contributions, and including (in the entry that covers the venture as a whole, E76), the key items in the accompanying critical debate. On the very first page, we find, in a single succinct paragraph, the publishing history of Lyrical Ballads during the poet's lifetime, with its subtitle changing, changing again, and changing back. Perhaps Hanley could have explained what was Wordsworth's contribution to his third item, Wrangham's Poems (London, 1795): a translation of 'La naissance de l'Amour', printed facing the original. There will be new information in these primary-source pages for every Wordsworth scholar. This one will take a look at entry E32, Selections from the Poems of William Wordsworth, Esq. Chiefly for the Use of Schools and Young Persons (London, 1831), as soon as the British Library copy ceases to be 'in transition to St. Pancras'.