Wanne Mendonck, “‘I Sort Rather with Those who Do Not Read’: Edward Carpenter, the Religion of Socialism, and the Prophetic Agitation of Literary Form” (pp. 56–90)

Edward Carpenter’s prose poem Towards Democracy (1883) constructs “new forms” to frame a radical voice that helped shape the British “socialist revival” of the 1880s and 1890s. Formal questions, however, have often been skirted in relation to Carpenter, or referred to his reputation as a disciple of Walt Whitman. This article argues, by contrast, that they can be productively asked in relation to a prophetic understanding of individual political and artistic agency, Carpenter’s working out of which is illustrated via his early play Moses (1875). Carpenter’s hybrid lyrical-narrative poetry is shaped by a deeply anxious self-consciousness about its political-spiritual duties, which expresses itself in a form that attempts to cancel out its own formalism. Its prose rhythms and hyperquotidian diction strain toward an immediacy that ultimately chafes against its own textuality. Only thus can Carpenter attain to the spontaneity and “inescapability” that support an understanding of pioneering, prophetic authorial agency that is at the basis of his conceptualization of politics, evolution, and queer sexuality. His poetry desires to intervene in the extratextual but is intratextually “agitated” by anxiety about the political viability of its own (counter)cultural authority and texture. This reading opens newly expansive ways of understanding Victorian literary form in its dialogic relationship with the political, arguing for a dynamic understanding that regards even the most experimental of late-nineteenth-century socialist poetry as responding to, and resisting, dilemmas of discursive authority and intelligibility implied by an embedded authorial model.

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