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by Matthew Reynolds; pp. xii + 300. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001, 45.00 [pounds sterling], $65.00.
That's Realms of Verse, not Reams, don't worry--though among the many virtues of this broad-minded, sure-handed book is the extent of ground it commands. Matthew Reynolds provides substantial new readings of the major long poems of mid-nineteenth-century Britain, in welcome technical detail and in persuasive political context. Giving "politics" a narrower construction than prevails to his scholarly left, Reynolds conceives the topic in relation to regimes, legislation, and how these changed, in Britain and also on the Continent, especially Italy. It was in response to questions of political governance, he shows, that the High Victorian poets (anything but the alien-visionary escapists they are still mistaken for) did their most important writing.
Reynolds evaluates that writing by a criterion of double complexity. At the level of ideology the poets he admires took their politics seriously enough to be chastened by, even resistant to, their own motivating commitments: "the relationship between individuals and the larger political whole [...] is itself …