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The Crimean War in Victorian Poetry


Tai-Chun Ho

Cast in the shadow of the soldier-poets of the First World War, Victorian war poets have often been disparaged as «armchair patriots» glorifying military action in an unthinking fashion. Challenging this long-standing assumption, The Crimean War in Victorian Poetry considers the evolution of the figure of the homefront poet and explores the daunting task of representing war from a civilian perspective.

By virtue of the medium of modern reportage, the Crimean War (1854-1856) witnessed the inauguration of the civilian spectatorship of distant suffering, provoking a heated debate over the concept of the war poet and the function of war poetry during moments of national crisis. Confronted with news of soldiers’ hardships and of the distress caused by the government’s mismanagement of war, the so-called armchair poet sought ways of addressing the problem of pain and adversity from a distance and of engaging with the politics of war by composing lines of verse at home.

This is the first book-length study to examine the predicaments and achievements of mid-Victorian war poets. It provides historically nuanced readings of how a diverse group of British poets – ranging from the Poet Laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson to the highly acclaimed female poet Louisa Stuart Costello – fought a literary war as they reworked the established traditions of war poetry and experimented with poetic forms in response to news of distant combat.

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This book began life as a doctoral thesis at the University of York. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my supervisors Matthew Bevis, Trev Broughton and Matthew Campbell, whose advice, criticism, and guidance made it possible for me to conceive and write this book. Any errors that remain are mine alone, and there would certainly have been many more without the help of the following individuals who have read drafts of chapters and offered valuable feedback at different stages of my career: Emma Major, the late Jane Moody, James Williams, Holly Furneaux, Valerie Purton, Lucy Pell-Walpole, Erin Louttit, Sarah Green, Tracy Hayes, Laurel Plapp and Michael Garvey. I would also like to thank the anonymous readers for Peter Lang whose insightful reviews greatly improved this book. For inspirational conversation about Victorian war poetry, I thank Hugh Haughton, Clare Broome Saunders, Marysa Demoor, Florence Boos and Linda Hughes. For access to manuscripts and primary materials, I thank Grace Timmins, doyenne of the Tennyson Research Centre, and the staff of the British Library.

An early version of Chapter 1 was first published as ‘Tyrtaeus and the Civilian Poet of the Crimean War’ in Journal of Victorian Culture, 22.7 (December 2017), 503–20; parts of Chapter 2 first appeared as ‘The Afterlife of Thomas Campbell and “The Soldier’s Dream” in the Crimean War’ in 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century, 20 (May 2015); and Chapter 5 is a revised and expanded version of ‘Tennyson’s Echoes of War-Cries...

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