Thursday, March 22, 2012

March 22

March 22, 1844 Miss Barrett writes a letter to her friend Hugh Stuart Boyd. Boyd was a blind Greek scholar who became friends with and helped Miss Barrett master Greek. As a young woman she visited his home for hours at a time reading Greek to him. He appears to have been something of a Greek snob, thinking that no other type of poetry ever rivalled the ancient Greek forms. This particular letter is very interesting in that it introduces some background on what ultimately became known as "A Drama of Exile".

"At last my book is in the press. My great poem (in the modest comparative sense), my 'Masque of Exile' (as I call it at last), consists of some nineteen hundred or two thousand lines, and I call it 'Masque of Exile' because it refers to Lucifer's exile, and to that other mystical exile of the Divine Being which was the means of the return homewards of my Adam and Eve. After the exultation of boldness of composition, I fell into one of my deepest fits of despondency, and at last, at the end of most painful vacillations, determined not to print it. Never was a manuscript so near the fire as my 'Masque' was. I had not even the instinct of applying for help to anybody. In the midst of this Mr. Kenyon came in by accident, and asked about my poem. I told him that I had given it up, despairing of my republic. In the kindest way he took it into his hands, and proposed to carry it home and read it, and tell me his impression. 'You know,' he said, 'I have a prejudice against these sacred subjects for poetry, but then I have another prejudice for you, and one may neutralise the other.' The next day I had a letter from him with the returned manuscript—a letter which I was absolutely certain, before I opened it, would counsel against the publication. On the contrary! His impression is clearly in favour of the poem, and, while he makes sundry criticisms on minor points, he considers it very superior as a whole to anything I ever did before—more sustained, and fuller in power. So my nerves are braced, and I grow a man again; and the manuscript, as I told you, is in the press. Moreover, you will be surprised to hear that I think of bringing out two volumes of poems instead of one, by advice of Mr. Moxon, the publisher. Also, the Americans have commanded an American edition, to come out in numbers, either a little before or simultaneously with the English one, and provided with a separate preface for themselves."

The poem finally went to press as "A Drama of Exile" depicting Eve's emotions, her discussion with Lucifer and the ultimate road back for her after the exile from Paradise. This look at the expulsion from the point of view of Eve was certainly new, Adam normally being the focus of attention. The insight into her cousin John Kenyon's intervention in the publishing of the book shows the influence he had on her. A little bit of positive encouragement goes a long way. His influence of introducing her to Browning early in the next year certainly influenced her in a way she never expected.

1 comment:

  1. She thought long and hard on things. A little positive feedback does go a long way.