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Swinburne and cowardice: Running away and poems and ballads (1866)

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-80
JournalJournal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies
Issue numberFall 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2017


This essay considers the distinctive place in Swinburne’s writing, and in his relationship with audiences, of ideas of bravery and cowardice. Although the essay reaches Poems and Ballads (1866)only at the end, its central point is to identify 1866 as a prominent manifestation of a life-long commitment, despite the consequences, to a kind of ‘muscular literariness’. Swinburne wrote about bravery but he was also interested in constructing occasions when he could show that, in words, he himself was brave. In the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century, this inclination even involved tempting legal action against him, with which more vaguely he had been threatened in 1866. Understanding Swinburne’s despising of cowardice, I claim, provides afresh perspective on this controversial poet’s relationship with controversy and reveals in part what was at stake behind his vigorous refusal not to alter a word of his most provocative volume—and then to move beyond it.

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