The verse-novel: a description of the form, with special attention to selected verse narratives of the Victorian period

Clarke, Ronald (1968) The verse-novel: a description of the form, with special attention to selected verse narratives of the Victorian period. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Since 1900 the term "verse-novel" has frequently appeared in discussions of certain long narrative poems of the Victorian Period. The critics and literary historians who use the term, however, have applied it very loosely. Several critics, for example, have referred to Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book as a verse-novel, while a number of others have called it a form of epic. Again, while Mrs. Browning herself spoke of her Aurora Leigh as a novel-poem (i.e. a verse-novel), one critic refers to it as a metrical romance. There seems to be no general agreement on the exact meaning of the term, and, so far as I know, no critic has ever offered a precise definition. This study attempts to work out a descriptive definition of the term "verse-novel", especially as it has been applied to longer Victorian narrative poems. Two problems arise in attempting such a definition. First, while the term ''verse'' may be generally understood, the term ''novel '1 has never been exactly defined or described. It is necessary, then, to examine the prose novel at considerable length to determine the special characteristics of the form. Then, since most critics insist that the novel is necessarily in prose, I examine the historical relationship between the prose-novel and verse. This examination shows that the novel, since its very beginning, has usually had some kind of relationship with verse. Having determined the distinguishing features of the novel genre, and using as my touchstone the only English poem the major critics agree is a verse-novel, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, I offer a tentative definition of the verse-novel. The verse-novel, however, in many respects resembles both the epic and the verse-romance. It is necessary, therefore, to ascertain the essential differences between these three forms of narrative. To differentiate between the verse-novel and the epic I compare and contrast the special characteristics of each. Then, having examined a poem critics agree is an epic fragment, Matthew Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum, I apply my jury definition to Robert Browning's The Ring and the Book in an attempt to determine whether it is an epic, as some critics say, or a verse-novel, as several others maintain. Distinguishing between the verse-novel and the verse-romance is sometimes especially difficult. Like the term "novel", "romance" has apparently never been clearly defined. A romance, therefore, may be to one commentator an account of the strange, the wonderful, or the remote, and to another a story of love relations between the sexes. It is necessary, then, to examine the romance historically to establish the distinct . features of the form. This done, I discuss the verse-romance in relation to the verse-novel. Then, having examined a poem critics agree is a verse-romance, William Morris' The Life and Death of Jason, I attempt to determine whether Mrs. Browning's Aurora Leigh, called by some critics a verse-romance, really fits my definition of a verse-novel. Having tested my definition in this manner, I briefly examine other Victorian narrative poems critics have called verse-novels or verse-novelettes to further establish its validity. Finally, I offer a brief evaluation of the versenovel in the Victorian Period.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/12239
Item ID: 12239
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 125-128).
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: September 1968
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: English poetry--19th century--History and criticism; Narrative poetry.

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