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The Verse Novel in English

Origins, Growth and Expansion

Adrian Kempton

The second of two studies devoted to the interrelations of poetry and prose fiction, this volume examines the origins, development and flowering of the verse novel as a literary hybrid. While the first study was concerned with the different ways in which novelists have incorporated poetry into their fictions, what is analysed here is the manner in which poets have adopted novelistic genres and techniques and adapted these to the prosodic requirements of rhyming, blank and free verse in order to produce original literary blends. The novel may thus acquire a fresh dimension by being re-immersed in its original verse narrative sources and poetry be rendered more accessible to a wider reading public.

Beginning with Pushkin, who was the first to coin the term «verse novel» to describe his masterpiece Eugene Onegin, the first section of this study considers a number of nineteenth-century Romantic and Victorian verse narratives, as well as some mid-twentieth-century experimental works, which can be seen to have contributed to the rise of the verse novel. The second, much longer, section concentrates on the period 1980-2010, which witnessed the full fruition of the verse novel as a multicultural fictional genre. A selection of some two dozen verse novels from this period, notably those by Anthony Burgess, Anne Carson, Glyn Maxwell, Les Murray, Vikram Seth and Derek Walcott, are discussed in terms of both their novelistic and their prosodic merits.

CONTENTS: Origins of a genre: Questions of terminology – European Romantic masterworks – Victorian verse novels and novellas – Modernist experimentation – Epic, science fiction and myth – Historical and picaresque narratives – Social issues, fantasy and crime – Amatory and epistolary strains – Autobiography and self-construction.