Dear reader,

How to define “Popular Victorian Poetry?” What does it mean to define a literary category based on the most read poems? How would it change canonical Victorian poetry studies and the understanding of poetics? Would the popular poems even be teachable? And how to quantify popularity? 

In our seminars we have put each key term into question (popular, Victorian, and poetry) as we interrogated what it means to construct a course based on the poems that most Victorians would have read. One of the major achievements of the students was to forge their own syllabus of poems, creating their own “greatest hits” of the Victorian period which are represented in the anthology.

This website is a product of the graduate students’ work over the semester, presented here as a research and teaching resource to inspire other work on this fascinating topic. 

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A word cloud of our definitions, created by one of the enterprising students (thanks, OF!)

In our penultimate seminar, we had a brainstorming session to ask what definitions of popular Victorian poetry we have encountered, and here are the responses:

Poetry that was widely read and circulated through newspapers, annuals, collected volumes.

Characteristics in common: short, easier to understand, accessible, designed to be read in newspapers and magazines, (ephemeral?)

Simple, light verses, trying to reach as large an audience as possible

Ways of accessibility; in dialogue with other aspects of media; print context

Religious undertones

Related to context and ideology – domesticity, compliance, subversion

Poems were highly aware of how readers were going to experience them

Poems were very timely – related to time of year (cf. volume poetry)

Popular poetry as cultural capital; popularity determined not just by how it was read but how it was referenced and how people engaged with it

Poetry that was widely read by Victorian audiences and poetry that was highly visible; niche markets (people aware of collectors and a niche market that they weren’t part of)

Lyric and ballad as a common characteristic; rhythms easy to remember, promoting popularity (and musical settings, hymns)

Accessible in terms of price (different economic backgrounds), and range (inclusive of certain things from canon, derivative), and movement (does the poem cross over from one space to another, from strictly a print phenomenon to a social space e.g. to schools); function in everyday life

Instructive (culturally instructive), often in a conscious way through the magazine’s target audience and “signature”; authors knowingly target audience and reading fashions

Popular Victorian Poetry

is a collaborative creation of

Alison Chapman’s English 550 Fall 2013 graduate class

at the University of Victoria.

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