In This Article Gerard Manley Hopkins

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Reference Works
  • Biographies
  • Hopkins the Victorian
  • Literary Influences on Hopkins
  • Hopkins as Modern
  • Hopkins, Aesthetics, and the Visual Arts
  • Music
  • Queer Studies
  • Feminist Studies

British and Irish Literature Gerard Manley Hopkins
by
Emily Merriman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0128

Introduction

Despite his relatively few poems, almost none published while he was alive, Gerard M. Hopkins (b. 1844–d. 1889) is a major English poet. Hopkins’s often technically innovative, intellectually challenging, and emotionally charged poems include an ode, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”; sonnets like “The Windhover” that synthesize nature and religion; and the “terrible sonnets” of psychological and spiritual turmoil written near the end of his life. The posthumous first publication of Hopkins’s poems in 1918 has contributed to the shifting reception of his work. An educated Victorian middle-class gentleman, Hopkins followed developments in contemporary politics, the arts, and the sciences. Yet he was eccentric in his own time, and many early critics read him as a proto-modernist, whose unique and sometimes flamboyant verse style marks him as the kind of daring experimentalist that the literary 20th century increasingly welcomed after the First World War. Hopkins’s prose works, which include his letters, sermons, essays, and theological writings, sometimes aid the interpretation of his vivid poems, which are marked by their dual spiritual and linguistic intensity. At times, however, Hopkins’s ideas, such as “inscape” (the unique essence of something or someone) and “instress” (the energetic force of an inscape), and “sprung rhythm” (a verse measure in which one stressed syllable is followed by any number of unstressed ones, more akin to natural speech than iambic or other regular meters) are not always clearly explained—providing critics intriguing material with which to wrestle. The religious stance of literary critics themselves almost inevitably affects how they read Hopkins; his unusual life choices, especially his decisions to convert to Roman Catholicism and then to become a Jesuit priest, make his work exceptionally interesting for interdisciplinary studies of religion and literature. Other approaches to Hopkins include ecocritical studies, because his transcendent nature poems often recognize how human beings damage our earthly environment, and queer studies, as some critics have focused on how he sublimated his homosexual desires into his religious life and even into his distinctive poetic techniques. Though he remains most famous in England, the nation that he complicatedly loved, Hopkins now has a global following; he is studied and appreciated as far afield as the Caribbean and Japan.

General Overviews

Most early overviews of Hopkins’s work seek to provide overarching commentary. One of the most influential early works is Gardner 1944, a substantial two-volume work that focuses on what is strikingly different about Hopkins’s poetic self-presentation. Not surprisingly, there have been many treatments of Hopkins by fellow Jesuits, as well as by non-Jesuit Roman Catholics. See, for example, Mariani 1970. Again not surprisingly, such treatments often benefit from a deep sympathetic understanding of Hopkins’s theological immersions, but sometimes suffer from an absence of critical perspective. Several overviews that take a more secular academic approach appeared in the early 1980s, including Bump 1982, the scholarship of which ranges widely over essential aspects of Hopkins. Some general overviews are titled in terms that suggest how they will help the Hopkins scholar to approach the poet; they are in the form of a “guide” (MacKenzie 2008), a “commentary” (Mariani 1970), or a “preface” (Storey 2013). For a good introduction to many aspects of Hopkins’s work in a relatively short, readable book, consult Storey 2013 or Brown 2004. Easson 2011 provides considered guidance on how one might navigate the secondary critical literature, which the book often helpfully summarizes.

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

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    Reliable, well-written, thematic introductory overview by a well-published Hopkins scholar.

  • Bump, Jerome. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Twayne’s English Authors Series. Boston: Twayne, 1982.

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    Incorporating previously published essays, this is a sound scholarly introduction to several central aspects of Hopkins’s work. Bump assesses Hopkins’s response to nature, his use of allusion and love of typology, and the influence of both medieval thought and contemporary writers on his work. Bump weaves in some biographical material, but his primary focus is on reading the style, structure, and content of the poems.

  • Easson, Angus. Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    A useful guide for students to Hopkins’s life and work, with biographical and bibliographical overviews. As a companion to reading and understanding his poems and some of his prose, it provides contextual information as well as suggestions for how to approach—or avoid—the critical literature. Partly available online.

  • Gardner, William H. Gerard Manley Hopkins (18441889): A Study of Poetic Idiosyncrasy in Relation to Poetic Tradition. 2 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1944.

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    When these two insightful volumes appeared and for several decades subsequently, they stood as the most substantial and definitive assessment of Hopkins in print. Partly responsible for the critical view of Hopkins as a modern poet. As the subtitle indicates, Gardner took as his central investigation the productive relationship between Hopkins’s poetic non-conventionality and his rightful place in the development of the mainstream English literary tradition.

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

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    Valuable guide to many of Hopkins’s poems by a scholar deeply immersed in the manuscripts as well as thoroughly knowledgeable about their religious and intellectual contexts. Originally published in 1981; in 2008 it was revised and updated by another Hopkins expert, Catherine Phillips.

  • Mariani, Paul. A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1970.

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    An extensive and highly sympathetic consideration of the themes and language of many of the poems.

  • Storey, Graham. A Preface to Hopkins. Oxford: Routledge, 2013.

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    A good, short introduction with illustrations. It covers the biographical background quickly and offers a critical survey of a dozen poems. Revised in 1992 from the original 1981 publication. Partly available online.

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