Marvell Studies and Newsletter items categorised as article
At least since James Turner’s note “Upon Appleton House,” published 35 years ago, convincing evidence and arguments have accrued to establish that Andrew Marvell’s grand country house poem describes neither the present brick structure nor even the larger brick edifice it replaced (or of which it is the surviving central part), depicted in two engravings of 1655 or 1656, but a relatively small house of the 1540s built of stone salvaged from the site’s medieval nunnery, a house shortly to undergo drastic alteration or demolition even as the poet wrote, probably in 1651-52 . Nigel Smith’s introduction to the poem in his edition of The Poems of Andrew Marvell nicely summarizes the case.
Andrew Marvell’s pastoral vision in “The Coronet” and “Upon Appleton House” shares with George Herbert and John Donne a particularly British vision of reformed Christianity that draws heavily from older Catholic and Spanish devotional and poetic forms. These poets draw from these forms in order to displace and supplant them for Protestant and British ends. (I do not see these pairings as examples of hendiadys, though British Protestants often did.) The figure of a woman chastely married becomes the presiding genius of Marvell’s distinctively British Godly garden, supplanting the earlier monastic devotion to the Virgin and competing models of Spanish Catholic retirement referred to explicitly in the conclusion of “Upon Appleton House.” In Marvell’s poetic imagination, chaste married women, or virgins who will be married, consistently supplant Catholicism’s Virgin Mother Mary as the presiding genius of his British garden.
When one first reads Andrew Marvell’s poem “The Mower against Gardens,” an immediate concern is to identify the Mower: what or who is the Mower? Dean R. Baldwin claims that “the mower’s character remains elusive” (26) across all four of the “Mower” poems. This critical attention on the Mower, however, may cause readers to overlook perhaps the more primary question: what is the garden? Readers might take for granted the meaning of the “garden,” assuming it is safe to interpret it literally or at least metonymically, representing fields of “flowers and plants…where Nature was most plain and pure” (ll. 3-4). Baldwin is among the many critics who read the “garden” as a metonym for all of nature, arguing that “‘Mower against Gardens’…dourly satirizes man’s ‘improvements’ on nature”.
An initial examination of the female personae in Andrew Marvell’s poetry seems to reveal a distinct discrepancy between his treatment of older and younger women. However, the success or failure of these poetic portraits also hinges on elements of power and sexuality, particularly the allure of innocence and virginity as compared to worldliness and experience. Michael DiSanto, in “Andrew Marvell’s Ambivalence toward Adult Sexuality,” investigates what he terms “the problems surrounding the presence of powerful and attractive nymphets and threatening adult women in Marvell’s poems” (166), but he is most interested in the degree to which Marvell’s “constellation of language…is constantly and obsessively concerned with sexuality and virginity” (167). DiSanto argues that “Marvell’s own sexuality is manifested in his art” (168), equating the poet with the speaker who demonstrates a decided fascination with virginal young girls and a pronounced fear of adult women.
This article offers Marvell scholars—though not just those and certainly not all—a practical approach to some of the difficulties that they face as they pursue their research outside the research universities and research libraries. For some, it will be old news, even covered in an up-to-date course on Bibliography and Research Methods. Nonetheless, some of the following scholars may find it useful.