Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life

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9780002176620: Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life

Probably no English poet of the 19th century is today so widely read or greatly loved as Gerard Manley Hopkins. Yet in his lifetime he was almost entirely unpublished, and only a handful of his close friends knew that he wrote poetry at all. On his death, many of Hopkins' poems, together with most of his other papers, were burned by his fellow Jesuits who did not realize what they had in their midst; and they were to guard closely what remained, until now. Robert Bernard Martin is the first biographer to have had unrestricted access to Hopkins' surviving papers. The result is as complete a biography of this astonishingly immediate poet as we are ever likely to achieve. It is also, in places, revelatory. Martin shows that the homosexuality many have found latent in Hopkins' poetry blossomed in his undergraduate love for a flamboyant friend Digby Dolben. He also shows how, though Hopkins' chaotic psyche needed the structure which life as a Jesuit gave him, the severity of its discipline inevitably constricted his creative faculty, at times almost to the point of strangulation. Despite the obscurity of Hopkins' life, his surviving work marks him as a central figure in English literature.

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About the Author:

Robert Bernard Martin (1918-1999) was born in Illinois. He had a distinguished academic career and was Professor Emeritus of English at Princeton University, USA, from 1951 to 1975, before retiring to Oxford, where he became a writer. He published ten books about the Victorian era, including biographies such as Tennyson, the Unquiet Heart in 1980 and A Very Private Life in 1991.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Martin (English/Princeton) brings his ranging knowledge of English Victorian life and his understanding of the poetic sensibility (Tennyson, 1980; With Friends Possessed: A Life of Edward Fitzgerald, 1985) to the subtle, obscure, introverted, and spare life and works of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), the Jesuit priest whose work, published first in 1918, 29 years after his death, is considered as influential as T.S. Eliot's in initiating the modern movement in poetry. Chapter one, ``The Importance of Being Manley,'' introduces the major struggle in Hopkins's life--a strong sexuality conflicted between what his family expected of him in giving him a name he seldom used and his own homoerotic impulses, suppressed, dislocated, and ultimately projected on nature and God, producing his religiously charged sensual poetry. Educated at Oxford, Hopkins later discovered in the discipline, intellectuality, and fellowship of the Jesuit order a refuge for his quirky personality, querulous nature, and personal style of piety. His subtle and unique philosophy of ``inscape,'' a highly complex sense of identity, and ``instress,'' the thrust of energy that allows one to apprehend the unique identity of each individual, found expression in a cryptic, dense, evocative experimental poetry, manipulating syntax, diction, and rhythm to reflect his sense of himself, his world, and his very personal relationship with God. Beset by melancholy, fears of his own unworthiness, and guilt at his lack of accomplishment, he published only one, nearly inscrutable, poem during his lifetime: The Wreck of the Deutschland (1875), describing the drowning of five nuns in a shipwreck. Along with sympathy, tact, appreciation, and humor, Martin brings new information from previously unpublished sources to elucidate the shadows in which Hopkins's life and poetry had been enfolded by well-meaning friends, scholars, and the critics who have made an industry of him. -- Copyright ©1991, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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