Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem

Princeton University Press
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Many people in Great Britain and the United States can recall elderly relatives who remembered long stretches of verse learned at school decades earlier, yet most of us were never required to recite in class. Heart Beats is the first book to examine how poetry recitation came to assume a central place in past curricular programs, and to investigate when and why the once-mandatory exercise declined. Telling the story of a lost pedagogical practice and its wide-ranging effects on two sides of the Atlantic, Catherine Robson explores how recitation altered the ordinary people who committed poems to heart, and changed the worlds in which they lived.

Heart Beats begins by investigating recitation's progress within British and American public educational systems over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and weighs the factors that influenced which poems were most frequently assigned. Robson then scrutinizes the recitational fortunes of three short works that were once classroom classics: Felicia Hemans's "Casabianca," Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," and Charles Wolfe's "Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna." To conclude, the book considers W. E. Henley's "Invictus" and Rudyard Kipling's "If--," asking why the idea of the memorized poem arouses such different responses in the United States and Great Britain today.


Focusing on vital connections between poems, individuals, and their communities, Heart Beats is an important study of the history and power of memorized poetry.

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About the author

Catherine Robson is is professor of English at New York University. She is the author of Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman (Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Sep 24, 2012
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Pages
312
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ISBN
9781400845156
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Poetry
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Read Aloud
Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Fascination with little girls pervaded Victorian culture. For many, girls represented the true essence of childhood or bygone times of innocence; but for middle-class men, especially writers, the interest ran much deeper. In Men in Wonderland, Catherine Robson explores the ways in which various nineteenth-century British male authors constructed girlhood, and analyzes the nature of their investment in the figure of the girl. In so doing, she reveals the link between the idealization of little girls and a widespread fantasy of male development--a myth suggesting that men become masculine only after an initial feminine stage, lived out in the protective environment of the nursery. Little girls, argues Robson, thus offer an adult male the best opportunity to reconnect with his own lost self.

Tracing the beginnings of this myth in the writings of Romantics Wordsworth and De Quincey, Robson identifies the consolidation of this paradigm in numerous Victorian artifacts, ranging from literary works by Dickens and Barrett Browning, to paintings by Frith and Millais, to reports of the Royal Commission on Children's Employment. She analyzes Ruskin and Carroll's "high noon" of girl worship and investigates the destruction of the fantasy in the closing decades of the century, when social concerns about the working girl sexualized the image of young females.



Men in Wonderland contributes to a growing interest in the nineteenth century's construction of childhood, sexuality, and masculinity, and illuminates their complex interconnections with a startlingly different light. Not only does it complicate the narratives of pedophilic desire that are generally used to explain figures like Ruskin and Carroll, but it offers a new understanding of the Victorian era's obsession with loss, its rampant sentimentality, and its intense valorization of the little girl at the expense of mature femininity.

Fascination with little girls pervaded Victorian culture. For many, girls represented the true essence of childhood or bygone times of innocence; but for middle-class men, especially writers, the interest ran much deeper. In Men in Wonderland, Catherine Robson explores the ways in which various nineteenth-century British male authors constructed girlhood, and analyzes the nature of their investment in the figure of the girl. In so doing, she reveals the link between the idealization of little girls and a widespread fantasy of male development--a myth suggesting that men become masculine only after an initial feminine stage, lived out in the protective environment of the nursery. Little girls, argues Robson, thus offer an adult male the best opportunity to reconnect with his own lost self.

Tracing the beginnings of this myth in the writings of Romantics Wordsworth and De Quincey, Robson identifies the consolidation of this paradigm in numerous Victorian artifacts, ranging from literary works by Dickens and Barrett Browning, to paintings by Frith and Millais, to reports of the Royal Commission on Children's Employment. She analyzes Ruskin and Carroll's "high noon" of girl worship and investigates the destruction of the fantasy in the closing decades of the century, when social concerns about the working girl sexualized the image of young females.



Men in Wonderland contributes to a growing interest in the nineteenth century's construction of childhood, sexuality, and masculinity, and illuminates their complex interconnections with a startlingly different light. Not only does it complicate the narratives of pedophilic desire that are generally used to explain figures like Ruskin and Carroll, but it offers a new understanding of the Victorian era's obsession with loss, its rampant sentimentality, and its intense valorization of the little girl at the expense of mature femininity.

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