This article is prompted by the turn since 2000 in literary study to ‘formalism’ (‘New Formalism’) to return to Matthew Arnold (1822–88) and his work to realign the Bible and literature after Strauss’ mid-century higher biblical criticism. The article interrogates the terms of Arnold’s poetic-religious formulations, and his reputation for scepticism, so as to recover an obscured energy in how the academy reads poetry in his wake. It demonstrates this through a reading of the ‘man of sorrows’ and weeping in Arnold’s ‘Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse’, seeking ways to recover the historical conditions of faith and expression.
Drawn from my PhD thesis, this article – for a special issue on sonnets in the nineteenth century – looked at how the circulation of Shakespeare’s unexpurgated sonnets in ever proliferating new editions impacted the cultural regard of the sonnet form itself. Although sonnets had some reputation for being ‘direct expressions’ of emotion and feeling, Shakespeare’s example was disruptive — once speaking ‘freely’, Shakespeare spoke of love for a a young man, and lust for a ‘dark lady’. Variously received with delight or consternation, I traced how Shakespeare’s collection saw the sonnet form itself become associated with obscurity, encoded emotion, occult feeling and highly-wrought conceits and riddles.
Rhian Williams, ‘ “Pyramids of Egypt”: Shakespeare’s sonnets and a Victorian turn to obscurity.’, Victorian Poetry, 48(4) (2014), pp. 489-508.