A Gift Imprisoned : The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold

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9780747542872: A Gift Imprisoned : The Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold
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As a youth, Matthew Arnold was an impassioned lyric poet, deeply at odds with his times. In his later years, he turned himself to more 'purposeful' prose composition and became a social prophet and literary critic. This biography addresses some of the mysteries surrounding Arnold's life.

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Review:

Why doesn't Matthew Arnold enjoy a higher reputation today? He wrote some of the most beautiful poetry of the Victorian period; lyrics that are peculiarly appropriate to the alienated longeurs of modern existence. And yet he distrusted his own poetic genius and effectively stifled it after its early blossoming, devoting his maturity instead to writing worthy but unexciting prose criticism. The reasons why he did this and the extraordinary tension in the poetry he did write between outbursting passion and fierce repression, are excellently handled in Ian Hamilton's critical biography. The title of the study comes from W H Auden's assessment of Arnold's career: "He thrust his gift in prison till it died". Hamilton outlines that prison--the Victorian upbringing, the unhappy love affair that was beyond the pale of 19th- century convention and had to be hidden away and forgotten, the painful abandonment of poetry, the one thing Arnold did best--deftly and wittily. Read Arnold's "To Marguerite-- Continued" (surely the bleakest and most beautiful statement of hopeless love in the language); and then read this book for its expertly sketched account of the life behind the poetry. --Adam Roberts

About the Author:

Ian Hamilton is one of the foremost literary critics and biographers of our time. He is the author of the definitive biographies on Robert Lowell and that elusive master, J.D. Salinger. Among his other books are two collections of poetry, The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English (Editor); Keepers of the Flames: Literary Estates and the Rise of Biography from Shakespeare to Plath; Writers in Hollywood; and most recently the collection Walking Possession. He has been the literary editor of the TLS and various other influential English publications. He has recently been appointed contributing editor for The New Yorker.

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