Victorian into Modern Interiority and Impersonality

The Victorians, however, provided technical solutions as well as a social and ideological precedent for the later modernists. Robert Browning's penchant in his use of the dramatic monologue for 'grotesque' non-poetic diction and eccentric metres mimetic of what Walter Bagehot termed a 'mind in difficulties' (Faas, 1986, p. 21) were an example to Eliot and especially the early Pound.

Above all, the dramatic monologue is distinguished by the 'objective' position of the poet (the term was Browning's own), set apart from the speaker who unravels his/her own emotional life to a silent listener — in effect the reader, who is therefore drawn into the poem as doctor/analyst in a psychological case history. The 'impersonality' of detached scientific observation and the analogous language of precise observation so prized by Eliot, Hulme, Pound and the Imagists was therefore already installed within Victorian poetics. Browning's 'My Last Duchess' and 'Porphyria's Lover', as well as Tennyson's 'Maud' and 'St Simeon Stylites', testify to Victorian poetry's 'modern' fascination with extreme states of mind: evidence for Arthur Symons in 1886 of 'this intensely subjective and analytic nineteenth century, with its . . . ceaseless restless introspection' (Faas, 1986, p. 25), though he might as well have been discussing the ambience of the early T. S. Eliot.

Pound's reassessment of his poetry in the wake of Ford's historic roll began in the volume Ripostes (1912) to bear some modernized fruit, in places gravitating towards what in 'The Serious Artist' he termed 'the cult of ugliness' and the 'surgery' of satire (Pound, 1960, p. 45). Many examples fed into this change of mind and manner: Villon, Baudelaire, Corbière, Beardsley (ibid., p. 45); the French and English philosopher critics, Remy de Gourmont and Allen Upward, as well as Anglo-Saxon and Latin models in the poems of Ripostes themselves. Meanwhile the tradition of English verse was narrowing for Pound to little more than Browning, who by the late 1920s he saw as the lone English example after Landor of 'serious experimentation' (ibid., p. 33). Ford had insisted on the use of spoken rhythms and the standards of good prose in verse. The dramatic monologue undoubtedly assisted Pound in this aim, presenting a form capable of registering the ironies playing across spoken tone and overt statement. To this was soon added the lesson of the American Sinologist Ernest Fenollosa on the dynamics of the ideogram and the more technical lessons, learned from Mallarmé's 'Un Coup de Dés' (1897), on the importance of the spacing of the line, and from Théophile Gautier on the sculptured 'hardness' of verse form (Pound, 1960, pp. 285—6). In Ripostes (1912), Cathay (1915) and Lustra (1916) Pound was applying the knowledge of spoken forms, spacing, syntax and composition taken from this diverse but radically selective tradition. His watchwords were 'precision' and 'energy', but above all he was seeking a modernized form for modern content. The accomplished result, arguably, was Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920). But these were the years also of the early draft Cantos. In the original Canto 1 (as published in Poetry, June 1917) Pound staged a dialogue with Browning on exactly this question. Was Browning's youthful long poem Sordello (1840) a model for the modern epic? The Canto opened:

Hang it all, there can be but one Sordello!

But say I want to, say I take your whole bag of tricks,

Let in your quirks and tweeks, and say the thing's an art-form, Your Sordello, and that the modern world Needs such a rag-bag to stuff all its thought in

For Canto II, as finally published, Pound cut this version's long colloquy to three opening lines. Browning, Pound's last Victorian, was edited out as he was absorbed into the more assured phrasing and heightened formal speech of Pound's modernism in the Cantos. The dialogue with the literary past, and the question Pound put to it at this point concerning modern epic form (a question Joyce and Eliot were also asking), would continue, however, to govern this project.

The intense subjectivity and introspection Arthur Symons detected in the nineteenth century also proved a continuing, if contradictory, feature in modernism. Its expression was influenced, like many ideas of the new century, by the French philosopher Henri Bergson. Bergson's formulation of experience as a continual flux importantly blurred the demarcation between the internal and the external realms, while his concept of 'duration' unstitched the conventionally separate categories of past, present and future. Eliot attended Bergson's lectures in Paris, and at Harvard worked on the thesis later published as Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (1964). Bradley too was concerned with the relativity of experience, though when Eliot came to provide footnotes to The Waste Land he disclosed a darker side to this preoccupation with interiority. His note to line 411 of the poem makes characteristic reference to Dante's Inferno. However, the hellish mental condition of imprisonment — 'We think of the key, each in his prison / Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison' as the poem goes on — is further glossed by a quotation on the innate privacy of external sensations from Bradley's Appearance and Reality. In the contextual ambience of The Waste Land, with its dramatic clatter of voices, Bradley's relativism suggests confinement and disconnection: 'my experience falls within my own circle, a circle closed on the outside' (Eliot, 1974, p. 86). His conclusion that 'the whole world for each is peculiar and private to that soul' taps into the failure of communication and affection that pervades the poem; its nadir voiced in the blank confession: 'I can connect / Nothing with nothing.'

Bergson and Bradley aside, there is a further precursor to the treatment of inner and outer sensations with whom the recognized modernist poets were in a restless dialogue. Walter Pater's The Renaissance (1873) is a key document in any discussion of the breaks and continuities across the text of Victorian and modernist poetics. Pater's aestheticist doctrine is apparent from his 'Preface' where, anticipating some of the terms already of Eliot and Pound's 'impersonality', he posits a distanced contemplation which takes science as its model. The 'aesthetic critic', he writes, fulfils his function when he has 'disengaged' a 'special impression of beauty' and noted its virtue 'as a chemist notes some natural element' (Pater, 1986, p. xxx).

However, it was the 'Conclusion' to The Renaissance (in fact written five years before the rest of the volume) which proved profoundly influential. Pater's own anxiety over the impact of its discourse on 'sensation' upon impressionable young men

(as, for example, upon Oscar Wilde's character Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray) led him to withdraw the 'Conclusion' from the second edition. It opens with an epigraph from Heraclitus upon the instability of things and seeks then to reconcile 'the splendour of our experience' with its 'awful brevity' (Pater, 1986, p. 152). Pater's answer was to cram the limited 'interval' between birth and death full of experience: 'For our one chance lies in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time' (ibid.). We can detect here the germ of Joyce's notion of 'epiphany' and of Pound's early doctrine of the 'luminous detail' (Pound, 1973, p. 23), even of his definition of the image as presenting 'an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time' (Pound, 1960, p. 4). Once more, however, if Pound was at first attracted to the Nineties and an English aestheticism inspired by Pater, he was soon to distinguish his own emphasis on hardness and precision from the associative Symbolism he found in Yeats, and from Pater's 'impressionism'. Thus, in 1918, he could find 'beautiful bits' in Yeats's book of Noh plays, 'But it's all too damn soft. Like Pater . . . not good enough' (Paige, 1971, p. 137).

Such was the fluidity of ideas across these transitional decades, however, that traces persisted nonetheless. In one astonishing example, Pater anticipates the imagery of self-imprisonment Eliot employs, by way of Bradley, in The Waste Land. 'Experience', Pater writes, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us.

. . . Every one of those impressions is the impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world. (Pater, 1986, p. 151)

Eliot's early poetry is full of instances of neurotic isolation, blending the dramatic monologue's concern with the objectification of introspection and the ennui of the fin de siècle that Pater's work, however inadvertently, fostered. We find this combination in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', where the persona's ennui echoes the urban background whose 'Streets . . . follow like a tedious argument' (Eliot, 1974, p. 13). As in the dramatic monologue all the 'evidence' the reader is given has been filtered through the externalized consciousness of the speaker. This method came therefore to assist Eliot in the adaptation of Symbolist doctrine to his own 'poetics of impersonality'. The major statement of this theory was Eliot's 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' (1919). Aided by the scientific analogy of the poet as a 'catalyst', Eliot trounced the subjectivist and 'inexact' conventions of Romanticism. For all its confidence, however, the strict separation the essay makes between the poem and the life of sensations (between 'the mind which creates' and 'the man who suffers') risked an aestheticism Eliot otherwise eschewed. The problem was how to register the inner life of emotions in an 'impersonal' poetry. The solution Eliot discovered, in the essay 'Hamlet' published in the same year, was the notion of the 'objective correlative':

in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. (Eliot 1951, p. 145)

What is most interesting in Eliot's account, however, is that this formulation of an equivalence between emotion and object was occasioned by an example of its perceived failure. Eliot's essay, that is to say, concerns the deficiency of Shakespeare's play, since 'Hamlet (the man) is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear' (ibid.). This unresolved tension between control and excess appears elsewhere in Eliot (notably, in his view of Joyce's 'mythic method' in Ulysses as 'ordering . . . the futility and anarchy' of contemporary history; Kolocontroni, Goldman and Taxidou, 1998, p. 373) and underlies the exhausted struggle of male protagonists in the poems. Most frequently this emotion is that of disgust. Its general object might be the 'futility and anarchy' of modernity, but its focus is alarmingly often on women. This is most graphically the case in the poem 'Hysteria' which Rainer Emig reads, without apology 'in Freudian terms as a prototypical description of castration anxiety' (Emig, 1995, p. 71). Prufrock's disgust is emphasized by the exclamation mark that accompanies his realization that the statuesque beauty of female 'white and bare' arms is actually '(. . . in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)' (Eliot, 1974, p. 15); an emotion 'in excess of the facts' which is contained as soon as uttered by the closed parenthesis. Prufrock is 'not Prince Hamlet' but it is Hamlet, in Eliot's reading, who comes to serve as the extreme case of this type, bewildered by an 'excess' emotion for his mother, Queen Gertrude.

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