Victorian Literature Reading List.
The best anthology of poetry is Christopher Ricks’s The New Oxford Book of Victorian Verse (1987), but you will need to acquire or to borrow editions of the authors you choose to study. Some Background Reading.
G.K. Chesterton’s The Victorian Age in Literature (Oxford, 1913; often reprinted) is eccentric and dazzling. Robin Gilmour’s The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature, 1830-90 (Longman, 1994) is a steadier account of the background. Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870 (1957) is a bit leaden but full; Jerome Buckley, The Victorian Temper: A Study in Literary Culture (1951, 1981) is a bit more lively. Two very good books of intellectual history by Basil Willey: Nineteenth century Studies: Coleridge to Matthew Arnold (1949) and More Nineteenth Century Studies: A Group of Honest Doubters (1956).
I will be giving you more specific reading lists as we go along, but here are some more general titles that you might find illuminating or otherwise useful. For poetry: E.D.H. Johnson, The Alien Vision of Victorian Poetry: Sources of the Poetic Imagination in Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold (1952); Isobel Armstrong (ed.), Major Victorian Poets: Reconsiderations (1969); Eric Griffiths, The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry (Oxford, 1989); Isobel Armstrong, Victorian Poetry: Poetry, Poetics and Politics (1993); Joseph Bristow (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry (2000); Bernard Richards, English Poetry of the Victorian Period, 1830-1890 (second edition, 2001); Matthew Reynolds, The Realms of Verse 1830-1870: English Poetry in a Time of Nation-Building (2001); Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Victorian Afterlives: The Shaping of Influence in Nineteenth-Century Literature (2002). For the novel: John Sutherland’s Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (1988) is an invaluable handbook. There are classic readings to be found in David Cecil, Early Victorian Novelists (1934) and F.R. Leavis, The Great Tradition: Eliot, James, Conrad (1948). Also worth reading: Peter Conrad, The Victorian Treasure-House (1973); Gillian Beer’s Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1983).
(I list here under each author, first, suggested editions to use, and then what you might begin by reading.)
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)
Carlyle’s essays and books exerted an immense influence on the age and you should have at least some sense of them. ‘Signs of the Times’, first published in 1829, is included in many collections of Carlyle’s prose; Past and Present crops up in second-hand bookshops all the time. ‘Signs of the Times’. [ Past and Present. ]
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
Aurora Leigh and Other Poems, ed. Bolton and Holloway (Penguin). Aurora Leigh. Read the first book, and read the rest if you like that. ‡ Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)1
The best edition is the generous selected edition by Christopher Ricks (paperback; Longman, 1989), but it is expensive. Alternatively, there is a volume in the Oxford Authors series edited by Adam Roberts, or a good selection from Penguin, edited by Aidan Day. ‘Ulysses’; ‘Morte d’Arthur’; ‘Break, break, break’; ‘Now sleeps the crimson petal’, ‘Tears, Idle Tears’, and ‘Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height’ (from The Princess); In Memoriam ii, v, vii, ix, xi, xv, l, liv, lv, lvi, xcv, cxix, cxxi, cxxiii. [ The rest of In Memoriam; Maud. ] ‡ Robert Browning (1812-1889)2
If you fall for Browning you will want the two-volume Penguin text, edited by Pettigrew and Collins, though it is expensive; the Oxford text, Browning’s Poetical Works 1833-1864 (1970), edited by Ian Jack, is cheaper and will do. If you do become an enthusiast, the work to move on to next is The Ring and the Book, Browning’s epic of competing points of view: it comes in a separate volume from Penguin, edited by Altick. (Balliol library has one of the best...