Parting Words: Valedictory Performance in Victorian Poetry
Drawn from my dissertation project, this talk explores the relationship among leave-taking, self-presentation, and public address in Victorian poetry. From Tennyson’s “Ulysses” to A.C. Swinburne’s “Anactoria,” the era’s poems of retreat and departure, I argue, take the measure not only of poets’ disenchantment or exclusion from the public sphere, but more importantly, of their engagement with poetry’s changing status in an emergent mass culture. When critics have attended to Victorian poetry’s role in the public sphere, it has generally been through that poetry’s engagement with political or cultural discourse. My project considers instead the rhetorical possibilities that poets employed to grapple with the idea of publicness itself. In their valedictory poems, poets present speakers who imagine leave-taking as their entrance into circulation as exemplary figures and cultural icons. As scenes of performance, their speeches manage problems of distance and relation: taking leave makes public the personal and, in doing so, comments on the forms of publication—the books and pages and print—that are presumed to survive the departure of the speaker.
Justin Sider is a PhD candidate in English at Yale University and will receive his degree this December. He has recently completed his dissertation, entitled “Parting Words: Address and Exemplarity in Victorian Poetry,” which explores the relationship among poetic address, public speech, and cultural authority in Victorian poetry’s valedictions and scenes of leave-taking. He has published articles on Alfred Tennyson and John Ruskin in Victorian Poetry and Studies in English Literature respectively.