Narrative Means, Lyric Ends
Temporality in the Nineteenth-Century British Long Poem
Monique R. MorganTheory and Interpretation of Narrative
233 pp. 6x9
$59.95 cloth 978-0-8142-1111-3
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“How is Victorian verse formally innovative, not just in the invention of new metrical or stanzaic forms, but in relation to the expectations, and cognitive abilities, of readers? This is the kind of question only a finely honed literary intelligence can answer, and Monique Morgan exhibits that intelligence throughout this fresh and much-needed investigation.” —Nicholas Dames, Columbia University
“Narrative Means, Lyric Ends will be of enormous use to anyone who teaches British nineteenth-century writing. It does a particularly fine job of moving between poetry and prose, something virtually no other critic does these days. The emphasis on experimentation that Monique Morgan notes throughout all these texts is also strikingly her own critical mode, and her book is an example of how a scholar, finding unexpected connections in challenging literary works, can lift the level of the discourse in a field to new heights. This book is a model of careful and imaginative scholarship, and a pleasure to read.” —Hilary M. Schor, professor of English, University of Southern California
How did nineteenth-century poets negotiate the complex interplay between two seemingly antithetical modes—lyric and narrative? Narrative Means, Lyric Ends examines the solutions offered by four canonical long poems: William Wordsworth’s The Prelude, Lord Byron’s Don Juan, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, and Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book. Monique Morgan argues that each of these texts uses narrative techniques to create lyrical effects, effects that manipulate readers’ experience of time and shape their intellectual, emotional, and ethical responses. To highlight the productive tension between the modes, Morgan defines narrative as essentially temporal and sequential, and lyric as creating an illusion of simultaneity. The poems reinforce their larger narrative strategies, she suggests, with their figurative language.
Through her readings of these texts, Morgan questions lyric’s brevity and a-sociability, interrogates retrospection’s importance for narrative, examines the gendered implications of several genres, and determines the dramatic monologue’s temporal structure. Narrative Means, Lyric Ends offers four case studies of the interactions between broad modes and among specific genres, changes our aesthetic and ideological assumptions about lyric and narrative, expands the domain of narratology, and advocates a renewed formalism.
Monique R. Morgan is associate professor of English at McGill University in Montreal.