THE "LUCY POEMS": A CASE STUDY IN LITERARY KNOWLEDGE. By Mark Jones. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995. Pp. xv + 337. $55.
This well-written book suggests that what is revealed by the example of the "Lucy Poems" exemplifies features of interpretive practices in general. Though it may be questionable whether that claim will actually convince anyone outside Wordsworth studies, this is the best book on its topic that I know.
The book is a study of "the rise of the institutional study of English literature since Wordsworth. The `Lucy Poems' never existed as such in Wordsworth's day, but were invented by Victorian critics and editors shortly after his death" (p. ix). This book questions the persistence of that editorial and critical fiction "within an institution that does know better." The fiction has "served to legitimate `English' as a `discipline' capable of producing `knowledge'" (pp. ix-x).
The book's first chapter mentions the obscurity of these poems ("Strange fits," "She dwelt," "I travelled," "Three years," and "A slumber") and suggests that Wordsworth wrote and arranged them to provoke interpretive activity on the part of "readers" or "the reader." (This sort of explanation--alleging authorial intention according to the principle of customer satisfaction--is one of the now-old-fashioned presumptions of the book. For the last decade or …