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Ah! Two desires toss about
The poet’s feverish blood.
One drives him to the world without,
And one to solitude.
Matthew Arnold’s lines illustrate how much of the Romantic impulse survived into the allegedly bleak Victorian age with its confidence in Utilitarian values. Early Victorian poetry reveals tensions that are symptomatic of Victorian culture: while it permanently negociates with its Romantic heritage, at the same time, however, the poets feel the need to redefine the poetic discourse for the Victorian age. When John Stuart Mill, e.g., rejected Romantic poetry as ”feeling confessing itself to itself in moments of solitude,” he expressed a warning that Arnold took very seriously, arguing in 1853 against ”the dialogue of the mind with itself” and for the need to write poetry with a moral purpose. Yet, Victorian poetry also represents a cultural space where the artist could criticize society and find solace in moments of frustration and despair.We will study a selection of early Victorian poetry focussing in particular on Alfred Tennyson, Emily Bronte, Matthew Arnold, Robert Browning, and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning. A reader with all the texts will be available at the beginning of the semester.