It’s been a busy spring for Marvellians. After our full deployment at South Central Renaissance Conference in New Orleans in early March (on which see the Executive Secretary’s report), the President and Past President hurried up the eastern seaboard to run two sessions at the Renaissance Society of America conference in Washington, D.C., at the month’s end. Filling the opening two slots on the RSA program, the sessions were scheduled bracingly early in a location impressively challenging to locate. With our speakers wedged behind a Brobdignagian desk and a half-closed pull-out bed at the back of the room, one could have been forgiven for thinking we had blundered into Richard Flecknoe’s garret.
The surroundings may not have been expansive, but the papers were. The first session explored Marvell’s difficult to determine allegiances, focusing especially on his literary and ideological allegiances. We were treated by Nicholas McDowell (Exeter U) to a fresh investigation of the circumstances—especially the literary circumstances—attending Marvell’s conversion, or near-conversion, to Catholicism during his student days at Cambridge. The paper both troubled our perhaps too-easy association of “baroque” devotional modes with Roman Catholicism and raised important questions about the place of aesthetics in shaping ideological commitments. From Giulio Pertile (Princeton U) we learned about the impact of French libertine thought and poetry on Marvell. Pertile brought out the importance, for English poets, of the fascinating figure of Théophile de Viau, arguing for echoes of his estate poem, “La Maison de Sylvie,” in “Upon Appleton House.” The session brought to mind T. S. Eliot’s maxim that “Marvell’s best verse is the product of a European . . . culture” and suggested that we have still not taken the full measure of this claim.
Our second session focused on the textual foundations of Marvell’s writings, in which we heard from three scholars based in the UK. Diane Purkiss (Oxford U) treated us to an overview of her project on the most important surviving Marvell manuscript, Bodleian Eng. Poet. d. 49, offering a critical examination of arguments over its status and authority, some challenges to current views, and suggestive examination of other more or less contemporary manuscripts. Marvellians will look forward to more news from Oxford as the project progresses. Johanna Harris (Exeter U) mapped for us the social world of dissenters around the Harley family, situating Marvell’s Restoration letters and prose practices in this socio-literary and ideological context. And Thomas Roebuck (Oxford U) offered a valuable overview of his work on the dissemination of Marvell’s texts in the later seventeenth century personal miscellanies and scribal collections. His call for greater attention to the physical dimensions of the surviving textual artifacts (by way, for instance, of a wide-ranging analysis of watermarks), and the need for greater collaboration on such matters with archivists and librarians found warm support in the audience. One left the session feeling that a new stage in the textual study of Marvell was underway.
But the Marvellian spring did not stop at two conferences. Shortly after the SCRC meeting in New Orleans an anonymous donor approached the President of SCRC, Sean Benson, with the generous offer of a $100 annual stipend for the best paper on Andrew Marvell delivered by a graduate student, early career faculty member, or independent scholar at SCRC’s annual meeting, Exploring the Renaissance. A full announcement appears elsewhere in this Newsletter. We are most grateful to our anonymous benefactor and hope that you will bring the announcement to the attention of qualified applicants.
The season has also been one of transition. At SCRC we thanked Nigel Smith (Princeton U) for his two years of service as President. Nigel is of course one of the leading Marvell scholars in the world and has brought to the presidency his distinctive blend of vision, energy, and charisma, publishing a major new biography of the poet (Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon (2010)) and acting as the leading impetus behind our establishment at RSA. We’re lucky that he still has two years to serve as Past President, during which his wisdom and enthusiasm will be much sought.
As I look forward to my own presidency, I anticipate a period of institutional retrenchment. With George Klawitter planning to step down as webmaster in the winter of this year, both Newsletter and society website will be taken up by fresh hands—on which more in due course. As we expand both nationally and internationally, our constitution, which is not entirely cogent in all its aspects, needs to be clarified and streamlined. As our web presence grows, our corporate status needs to be put on a firm footing. There’s some work to be done building structures to keep up with the extraordinary growth the society has enjoyed over the past half dozen years or so. Along with my fellow executive committee members, I look forward to tackling it.