Crime and the criminal poetics of the Victorian Era

Date of Completion

January 2000


Literature, English




From the notorious working-class crime ballads to the innovative dramatic monologues of high poetry, Victorian poets developed aesthetic strategies for voicing crime. Poets, ranging from anonymous balladeers to established male poets to a growing cadre of women poets, built a poetics of crime upon the aesthetic and cultural resonance of violence and transgression. This project analyzes the criminal narratives and voices of specific poems as textual experiments which exploit and interrogate the nineteenth century's growing discourse of criminology in its legal, scientific, and popular manifestations. Such an approach to Victorian poetry responds to recent calls to investigate the cultural politics of Victorian poetry while moving explorations of transgression, so popular in novel studies, into poetic studies. At the same time, the examination of low and high, men's and women's, and canonical and non-canonical verse reveals hitherto unacknowledged political and poetic dialogue between authors of various backgrounds. Chapters explore the voices of witnesses, criminal, and victims in order to trace the formal and political innovations which developed out of poetry's interest in crime. This criminal poetics allowed poets to interrogate Victorian criminal politics while expanding the realm of poetic vision to the crimes and guilt of modern society and transforming poetry itself into a domain of transgression. ^