A.C. Swinburne

Rikky Rooksby

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:
A.C. Swinburne

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Algernon Charles Swinburne (b. 1837–d. 1909) was a major Victorian poet and critic, as well as a central figure in the spread of ideas associated with Pre-Raphaelitism, aestheticism, and the Symbolists. After growing up on the Isle of Wight and in Northumberland, he was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. He left the university without a degree in 1860, having rejected the Christianity of his family upbringing. By then he had met the artists D. G. Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris and was determined to be a writer. Swinburne’s second book, Atalanta in Calydon, modeled on Greek tragedy, brought him to the literary world’s attention in 1865. It combined beautiful language with outspoken antitheism. His fourth book, Poems and Ballads (Moxon, then Hotten, 1866), ignited a controversy that made him both a literary phenomenon and a cultural hero to those in Britain and abroad who felt contemporary mores were too restrictive. Bold rhythms and a lyrical style of poetry conveyed controversial political, sexual, and religious themes, as well as those of lost or failed love and transience. After completing the groundbreaking William Blake. A Critical Essay (1868), Swinburne focused his poetic energies on dealing with political events in France and Italy, most notably in Songs Before Sunrise (1871). The republicanism of these poems connects Swinburne to the radical tradition of Blake, Shelley, Landor, Mazzini, Hugo, and Whitman. Other significant books included two more volumes of Poems and Ballads in 1878 and 1889, respectively, and the Arthurian epic “Tristram of Lyonesse.” Alcoholism and depression undermined Swinburne’s health in the late 1860s and 1870s. His move to Putney in 1879 and a more regulated life ensured continuing productivity as a poet and writer. He also wrote two novels, one unfinished. As an intemperate but insightful critic, he championed neglected authors of the past and many contemporary writers. His influence during the second half of the 19th century has still to be fully assessed.

Article.  11681 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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