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Poetry in the Novel

Selected Case Studies

Adrian Kempton

Taking up Virginia Woolf’s provocative claim that «the best prose is that which is most full of poetry», this study examines the different ways in which novelists have incorporated poetry into the fabric of their fictions. The inclusion of poems in a novel may serve a variety of purposes: to heighten the atmosphere, to represent a character’s sensations and thoughts as «stream of consciousness», to illustrate a protagonist’s creative output, to provide an explicit or embedded literary illusion, to function as an interlude or structural divider, or to create an unclassifiable literary hybrid that highlights an author’s dual talents.

To illustrate these and other forms of integration, twenty-two works of prose fiction are analysed under five headings: textual composites that combine prose, poetry and poetic prose to achieve original effects; apprenticeship novels about the development of fictive poets and their work; fictions concerned with the investigation and appropriation of a dead poet’s opus; works in which a single long poem constitutes a novel’s principal focus; and research-based biofictions relating particular events in the lives of real poets.

Intended to stimulate reflection on the interrelations of prose and poetry, this book works against literary compartmentalization by revealing how poetry can enhance prose narrative and how the novel can bring poetry to the notice of a wider reading public.

CONTENTS: Verse and Song: John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress – Mixed Strains: Jean Toomer’s Cane – Soliloquies and Interludes: Virginia Woolf’s The Waves – Left-Handed Poems: Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid – Borderline Vignettes: Jamie Iredell’s Prose. Poems. a novel – Emily St. Aubert: Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho – Stephen Dedalus: James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Yuri Zhivago: Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago – F. X. Enderby: Anthony Burgess’s Inside Mr Enderby – Adam Gordon: Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station – Mary Swann: Carol Shields’s Swann – Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte: A. S. Byatt’s Possession – Thomas Chatterton: Peter Ackroyd’s Chatterton – Bob McCorkle: Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake – John Shade’s «Pale Fire»: Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire – Lisa Erdman’s «Don Giovanni»: D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel – Paul Celan’s «Todesfuge»: Mary Rakow’s The Memory Room – Gerard Manley Hopkins’s «The Wreck of the Deutschland»: Ron Hansen’s Exiles – Ann More and John Donne: Maeve Haran’s The Lady and the Poet Songs of Innocence and of Experience: Tracy Chevalier’s Burning Bright – Emily Dickinson and her Journal: Jamie Fuller’s The Diary of Emily Dickinson – Sylvia Plath and Ariel: Kate Moses’ Wintering.