What happens to poets' genius when they die? The peculiar affinity which was felt to exist between their physical and literary 'remains' - their bodies and books - is the subject of this original cultural study, which concentrates on poets and poetry from the Romantic to late Victorian period. Poetical Remains deals with issues such as the place of burial, the kind of monument deemed appropriate, the poet's 'last words' and last poems, the creation of memorial volumes, and the commercial boost given to a poet's reputation by 'celebrity death', focussing in each case on the powerful, complex, often unstated but ever-present connections between the poet's body and their poetic 'corpus'.
As well as the works of the poets themselves, Matthews draws on contemporary biography and memoirs, family correspondence, newspaper reports, and tribute verse among other texts, and places the literature of poetic death in its social, material, and affective context: the conflict between the idealized 'country churchyard' and the secular urban cemetery, the ideal of private, familial burial as against the pressure for public ceremony, the recuperation of death-in-exile as an extension of national pride, transactions between spiritual and material, poetic and pragmatic, in a secularizing age. Some of the most poignant and darkly comic moments in nineteenth-century literary history arose around the deathbeds of poets and the events which followed their deaths.
What happened to Shelley's heart, and to Thomas Hood's monument; the different fates which dictated that the first Poet Laureate appointed by Queen Victoria, Wordsworth, was buried in his family plot in Grasmere, while her second, Tennyson, was wrested from his family's grasp and interred in Westminster Abbey - these are some of the stories which Matthews tells, and which are bound up in a sustained and powerful argument about the way in which our culture deals with artists and their work on the boundary between life and death.
an engaging and invigorating study...a most stimulating book, carefully, indeed affectionately, compiled and it will be of considerable use to scholars Roger Evans, Tennyson Research Bulletin, November 2006 ...is in many ways a monument appropriate to its massive and wonderfully literary subject. Noah Heringman, Studies in English Literature A deft weave of close reading and cultural history that not only manages to say something fresh and original about individual poems, but also uses them as a series of lenses to refocus our assumptions... A closely argued study, carefully structured and brimming with sympathetic insights. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Times Literary Supplement,
1: Reading the poet's grave
2: 'Nothing but dust': Resurrecting Burns
3: The grave of a poetess
4: Bringing home the dead: Keats and Shelley
5: Wordsworth in 'The churchyard among the mountains'
6: In the cemetery
7: Poets' Corner and the hero as poet
8: 'The last chapter': Alfred Lord Tennyson and the red, white and blue