Thesis Title: Forms of Unknowing in Victorian Poetry
Supervisor: Professor Matthew Bevis
Research Interests: Victorian poetry; the relations between poetry and knowledge/knowing; poetic form; Victorian visual culture; nineteenth-century psychology; nineteenth-century Christianity; the Victorian reception of the Renaissance; the history of literary criticism.
Doctoral Research: My research focuses on the ways in which knowledge (and knowing) were conceived, valued, and debated in Victorian culture. I argue that Victorian poetry is fascinated by the boundaries between knowledge and ignorance, and that it inquires in particular into the felt experience of uncertain, withheld, or deflected knowledge, conditions I group under the rubric of ‘unknowing’. My project is both historical – seeking to recover a debate about the dangers and difficulties of knowing that played out across a diverse range of epistemic domains – and conceptual, exploring how knowing may be imagined as consolation or trap, encounter or possession, stimulus or hindrance to inquiry. By showing how poets across the period (Robert Browning, Arthur Hugh Clough, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Alice Meynell, and Thomas Hardy) were invested in these questions in distinct and often highly sophisticated ways, I consider what is lost and gained in the process of knowing, the many kinds and degrees of ignorance, and the dramatic and rhetorical opportunities of hidden knowledge. I aim to break new ground by demonstrating the significance of these hitherto neglected thematic concerns for an account of these poets’ stylistic creativity, revealing how otherwise quite disparate writers were engaged in a common pursuit: the search for forms that might give shape to the experience of thinking and perceiving in the shadow of the unknown.