Victorian Literature Gerard Manley Hopkins
by
Alice Jenkins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0034

Introduction

Gerard Manley Hopkins (b. 1844–d. 1889), or Gerard M. Hopkins, as he usually signed himself, was born in Stratford, London, the eldest son of an affectionate and artistic middle-class family. He began writing poetry while attending Highgate School, and he was also interested in music and drawing (two of his brothers went on to become professional artists). From 1863 to 1867, Hopkins studied classics at Balliol College, Oxford, where he was taught by some of the most influential Victorian scholars, including Benjamin Jowett and Walter Pater. During this time, Hopkins met Robert Bridges (b. 1844–d. 1930), who was to become a lifelong friend and later the editor of Hopkins’s poetry; he also met and was deeply attracted to Bridges’s relative, Digby Mackworth Dolben. As an undergraduate, Hopkins became strongly influenced by the High Church, Tractarian beliefs and practices still in evidence in the university following the Oxford Movement of the 1830s. Hopkins’s religious life became increasingly ritualist, and in 1866 he converted to Roman Catholicism, causing a severe breach with his Church of England family. After graduating from Oxford he decided to become a priest and entered the Jesuit novitiate in London. At this point he gave up writing poetry, fearing that it would distract him from his work as a priest. It was not until 1874, while he was undergoing part of his Jesuit training at St. Beuno’s in North Wales, that newspaper reports of the wreck of a ship whose passengers included five nuns fleeing persecution in Germany prompted Hopkins to resume writing poetry. “The Wreck of the Deutschland” is perhaps his masterpiece. Most of his fairly small poetic oeuvre (about 179 poems, many unfinished or fragmentary, and many short) dates from this period onward. Hopkins was not well suited to life as a parish priest, and after several fairly unsuccessful placements, the Jesuit order sent him in 1884 to teach at the new University College Dublin as professor of Greek and Latin literature. Continuing to write poetry, often confessional and highly formally experimental, Hopkins worked in Ireland until he died in 1889, aged forty-four, of typhus. Partly because of his innovative poetic technique, and partly because of his own anxieties, his poetry was almost entirely unpublished in his lifetime; copies circulated only among a few of his correspondents. In 1918, however, Robert Bridges published the first edition of Hopkins’s poems; though it took a decade for the first run of 750 copies to sell out, the second edition, which appeared in 1930, was almost immediately successful with a new generation of readers and critics. Since then, Hopkins’s work has become a distinct and crucial part of the canon of Victorian literature and has made a major contribution to 20th-century poetics.

General Overviews

The following are insightful and informative overviews by major Hopkins scholars. Storey 1992 and Brown 2004 are excellent introductory volumes; Mackenzie 1981 and Mackenzie 2008 especially are valuable as a resource to refer to during study of the primary texts or other secondary sources. Bump 1985 and Fearns 1987 are concise, authoritative introductory articles.

  • Brown, Daniel. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Writers and Their Work. Tavistock, UK: Northcote House, 2004.

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    Brown’s lively, readable short introduction to Hopkins is organized thematically. Very lightly referenced, it is nonetheless based on copious research, which Brown deploys in a denser scholarly mode in his earlier work.

  • Bump, Jerome. “Gerard Manley Hopkins.” In Victorian Poets after 1850. Edited by William E. Fredeman and Ira B. Nadel, 82–105. Dictionary of Literary Biography 35. Farmington Hills, UK: Gale, 1985.

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    A very informative biographical and critical overview of Hopkins as a poet. Includes a brief list of further reading.

  • Fearns, John. “Gerard Manley Hopkins.” In Victorian Prose Writers after 1867. Edited by William B. Thesing, 130–138. Dictionary of Literary Biography 57. Farmington Hills, UK: Gale, 1987.

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    Informative overview of Hopkins as a critic and prose writer. Includes a brief list of further reading.

  • Mackenzie, Norman H. A Reader’s Guide to Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Thames & Hudson, 1981.

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    Substantial and highly authoritative study written by one of the great Hopkins editors. Revised in 2008 (see Mackenzie 2008).

  • Mackenzie, Norman H. A Reader’s Guide to Gerard Manley Hopkins. 2d ed. Revised by Catherine Phillips. Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2008.

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    Mackenzie 1981, revised and updated by another great Hopkins scholar and editor, Catherine Phillips.

  • Storey, Graham. A Preface to Hopkins. 2d ed. London: Longman, 1992.

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    A lucid introductory survey of Hopkins’s life and poetry.

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