The scope and complexity of the encounter with Europe in Victorian poetry remains largely underappreciated despite recent critical attention to the genre’s global and transnational contexts. Providing much more than colorful settings or a convenient place of self-exile from England, Europe—as destination and idea—formed the basis of a dynamic, evolving form of critical cosmopolitanism much in tune with attempts to theorize the concept today. Christopher M. Keirstead’s Victorian Poetry, Europe, and the Challenge of Cosmopolitanism synthesizes the complex relationship between several notable Victorian poets, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Matthew Arnold, and A. C. Swinburne, and their respective attitudes toward Europe as a cosmopolitan whole. Examining their international relationships and experiences, the monograph explores the ways in which these poets worked to reconcile their emotional and intellectual affinity for world citizenship with their British identity.
This book reveals how a diverse range of poets sought to resituate the form within a broad European political and cultural frame of reference. At the same time, a strong awareness of the difficulties of sustaining genuine, transformative contact between cultures permeates the work of these poets. The challenge of cosmopolitanism thus consisted not only in the threat it posed to entrenched assumptions about what was normative, natural, or universal but also in the challenge cosmopolitanism posed to itself.