This may have been the most Marvell filled year of my life, which would be saying something. Can that be right? More than 2002, when I finally pulled the Longman Annotated edition of Marvell together and stayed up into the night in the final months reading proofs? Or 1995 when I spent an entire leave just working on “Upon Appleton House.” Whatever is right, this was the year when I began my stint as president of the Andrew Marvell Society. That began during the Society’s meeting at the SCRC conference last March in Corpus Christi, Texas, where we heard some excellent papers and Martin Dzelzainis’s out-standing Louis Martz memorial lecture .
Spurred on by that occasion I spent the spring and the summer working on the proofs for my biography of Andrew Marvell, and having the pleasure once again to engage in editorial to and fro with Candida Brazil, the chief copy editor for Yale University Press at their London office. I also had much fun chasing images for the biography. Perhaps the detective work requiring to obtain a photograph of the republican Colonel Robert Overton was the most memorable. Overton was known to both Marvell and Milton, and among the significant figures in Marvell’s life, the closest to him in terms of geographical origins: Overton was born and grew up in Easington, in Holderness, east Yorkshire, not far from Winestead, the village of Marvell’s birth. Has anyone seen the miniature portrait now at the University of Texas, Austin, said to be of Andrew Marvell?
The main thrust of my Marvell year has, however, been concerned with pedagogy and its dissemination. Early July saw the fruition of the first part of a project planned for some time with Diane Purkiss, my successor at Keble College, Oxford. This was to hold two conferences, one in Oxford, one in Princeton, each on a different aspect of Marvell. With a very limited budget we were able to bring together a few experts and some graduate students from each institution in Oxford to talk broadly about “Marvell and London.” This was under the auspices of a joint Oxford-Princeton arrangement designed to share the resources of each institution, but it was no closed-door affair since a group of extra-Oxford/Princeton scholars and enthusiasts came from across the UK and the US. We intend to do the same next early June in Princeton with the theme “Marvell and the Continent.”
But more important than that was probably the fact that for the first time ever I taught a course on Marvell, only Marvell, to graduate students at Princeton. As if Marvell were Milton, or even Shakespeare! It has been a thundering success, fully enrolled, with very pleasurable class discussions, always running out of time with much more to say left unsaid. Even if the class had just focused on the poetry, we would have kept talking and talking and some poems would have been left unexplored. But we also considered all of the prose, and students engaged fully with that and with glee: there were extensive, highly intelligent engagements with each of the prose works, and I heard new interpretations and new discoveries being offered on The Rehearsal Transpros’d and Mr. Smirke in particular. I’m just waiting for the papers to be submitted, but I am entirely confident that there will be publishable work in the making and a collection of future conference papers awaiting me.
I’ve just arrived at the MLA in Los Angeles and met by chance on Figueroa Street Steven Zwicker, who gave a memorable plenary in Oxford and who will be introducing his new work on Marvell with Derek Hirst at next March’s SCRC in St. Louis. Steven said he had also just taught a Marvell course and while the students might have felt it was “too much Marvell,” by the end they also derived great illumination from such a focus. How many more Marvell single subject classes are there out there (in addition to Oxford’s retention of Marvell as a special author subject in the undergraduate curriculum for much of the last decade)?
I’ll be going to Marvell’s hometown Hull (where I was an undergraduate and where I spoke on Marvell at another conference last July) in northern England in a fortnight’s time to talk in connection with the biography. Hull University now has an Andrew Marvell Centre and I’ll be thinking much of how I was inspired by some Marvell teaching there thirty two years ago (and by some dedicated high school teaching in Hertfordshire two years before that). When I speak at Hull I’ll make the case for Marvell as thinker and activist as well as poet, something that we were not in as a good a position to do then as we are now.
Andrew Marvell Society President