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The Start of the World War One

  • Date Submitted: 03/26/2010 06:59 AM
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Introduction: Matthew Arnold: The Writer as Touchstone
JOHN P. FARRELL Matthew Arnold died in 1888. So too did Sir Henry Maine, Edward Lear, and Bronson Alcott. The year marked the centenary of Byron's birth. The Times celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone celebrated their fiftieth. There was bitter cold in July. John L. Sullivan fought to a draw in a match lasting thirty-nine rounds. Biographies of Hannah More and Elizabeth Barrett Browning appeared in the Eminent Women Series. And Mr. Rennell Rodd published The Unknown Madonna and Other Poems. The question immediately provoked by such a miscellany is, insistently, the question of significance. How much do any of these occasions matter in 1988? Some matter a great deal, some not at all. The essays collected in this special issue of Victorian Poetry are, in their various ways, reflections on why Matthew Arnold matters one hundred years after his death. The reflections, direct or indirect, acquire a particular edge not only from the centenary but from the charged dialectical weather surrounding-some would say engulfing-it. Appropriately, then, the essays printed here help us to refocus our attention on specific issues and specific texts, to clarify our understanding of Arnold's aims and achievement, and, indeed, to call into question some aspects of his fame. A review of Arnold scholarship during the last fifteen years maps the main approaches to the present state of Arnoldian affairs. It implicitly points to a continued emphasis on Arnold's probings of the self in crisis and the world in conflict. It is a bit ominous that no major re-evaluation of Arnold's poetry has been published in fifteen years, though the inevitable deconstructive ceremonies have begun. Arnold's criticism has been more closely studied and more aggressively confronted than the poetry, but the results are very mixed. Perhaps Arnold's contemporary position as critic is most accurately reflected in the fact that two...

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