Reviewed by David Hart
The simultaneous arrival of an invitation to review articles on Andrew Marvell in the Summer 2009 issue of Explorations in Renaissance Culture and William Chace’s article,”The Decline of the English Department,” in the Autumn 2009 The American Scholar prompts a review focused on the teaching potential of these articles. (Admittedly, the efficiently combined elegy/aut-elegy/autopsy of English departments has become a well established minor art form, as predictable as an Elizabethan sonnet sequence, but Chace’s article is more apt than usual.) Chace rounds up the usual suspects but emphasizes the fragmentation of the discipline and the loss of a “sense of duty” to works of English and American literature, replaced by divergent methodologies and the use of any and every sort of text. Students become disenchanted in the face of such turbulence.
How do the EIRC studies on Marvell fare under this light? How and how much can they enchant and stimulate students?
Annabel Patterson’s “The Point and Power of the Footnote: Marvellian Parliamentary History” carefully assembles Long Parliament commentary to argue that Marvell was a close reporter of Parliamentary affairs and an active influence in several contentious debates. The topic will have little interest for undergraduates but is an excellent set-piece to illuminate for graduate students the poet/politician facets of Marvell.
Graduate students interested in biographical background of a writer’s work can learn from Nicholas von Matlzahn’s “Marvell and Maniban.” The “Maniban” poem and exchanges of letters between Marvell and his nephew William Popple (and his wife) indicate cautious warnings about the abb’s influence.
Serious students can be engaged in the convergence of a poet’s sense of his subject and the intellectual and the aesthetic furniture employed in a poem. Gilles Sambras’ “Marvell’s Ideological Decorum” offers a dense and subtle approach to the vexed question of Marvell’s ambivalent Royalist/Republican sentiments. The “ideological decorum” attributes distinct genre, imagery, and tone to each poem, accounting for, e.g., praise of Villiers and Cromwell.
Advanced undergraduates and graduate students can profit by a searching study of a complicated poem-combining textual criticism, biography, history, and different arts-that opens the poem. Joan Faust’s “‘Upon Nunappleton House’: Marvell’s Creation of a Liminal Realm” is such a study, a challenging exploration of the entire poem, using the concept of the liminal to explicate the variety of tones, images, and styles, while accounting for Marvell’s recurrent “blurring” or combining of genres.
Today, forward youth is always energized by sexual ambiguity, but can be led thence to see how close reading can provide a comprehending interpretation of an obscure work. George Klawitter’s “The Subliminal Muse in Marvell’s ‘Unfortunate Lover'” postulates a homoerotic theme (to account for the gender problem of the narrator and the subject addressed), and additionally proposes identification between poet and the poem’s narrator.
Nigel Smith’s “Andrew Marvell and Rhyme” closes the volume. Rhyme and tonal repetition in verse are extended to a study of echoes, duplication, and-especially-satiric juxtaposition in the prose satires. It is an ambitious and over-arching analysis of Marvell’s use of a pervasive and subtle (sometimes buried) structural technique. The article is learned, graceful, witty, and perceptive, but few students can be led to the prose satires nor kept there long.
University of Arkansas, Emeritus