Victorian Poetry Network "much to do with Victorian poetry"

New Media, Old Poetry
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It turns out that Swinburne has a Facebook page. His last wall posting is dated May 5, 2010, which suggests he hasn’t been online for a while. Swinburne is not the only Victorian poet with a (semi-)active Facebook account. Christina Rossetti, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and even Lord Tennyson, the last poet one would expect to display any form of technological savviness, all have Facebook accounts. If, as we are told, social media is the new agora, the place where all those in the know meet to exchange ideas, if this is in fact the case, our Victorian poets are certainly hanging out with the cool kids, sending each other perfect iambic tweets.

Indeed, Victorian poets have had a rather noticeable presence in cyberspace. While projects such as Nines, The Rossetti Archive, and The Swinburne Project have been around for almost a decade now, and have presented innovative electronic archiving technologies, many Victorian poets—both major as well as minor (Benjamin Brierley, anyone?)—have fan pages in which retired schoolmasters and Goth teenagers express their devotion to repressed desires, pensive melancholy, and foggy nights in June.

Considering the plethora of online Victorian resources, one cannot but wonder how actual Victorian poets would react to this new media. Or in other words, how many friends would Hopkins have if, let’s say, he posted “The Wreck of the Deutschland” on his Facebook wall? Will Swinburne have any followers left after tweeting “Hope thou not much, and fear thou not at all”? And would anybody bother with Meredith’s Modern Love had it been originally published as a blog post? In other words, isn’t there something counterintuitive about discussing Victorian poetry with its conceptual and formal complexities in a medium that is responsible for what many perceive as a global case of ADHD?

If, as we have been told over and over again, academic debates are eventually going to move to cyberspace, scholars of Victorian poetry might be facing a serious challenge. There is no doubt that the internet is a wonderful tool when it comes to making poetic text more easily available. But once Aurora Leigh has been posted online in its entirety, what exactly are we supposed to do with it? What kind of discussion should we wish to have about it? Can our insights ever compete with the never-ending torrent of tweets and status updates?

There’s no question that in order for the study of Victorian poetry to remain relevant it must maintain an online presence and make use of online tools. The question that still remains unanswered is how exactly are we going to do that while taking into account both the specific demands of Victorian poetry and the nature of new communication technologies. There must be a way of combining serious scholarly insights with a medium that seems to resist depth. But as we look for ways to achieve this goal, we need to also be aware of the manner in which Victorian poetry had been read historically, and acknowledge the significance of its original medium.

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