Gerard Manley Hopkins - Poetry - Erotic Influences

Erotic Influences

Some contemporary critics believe that Hopkins's suppressed erotic impulses played an important role in the tone, quality and even content of his works. These impulses seem to have taken on a degree of specificity after he met Robert Bridges's distant cousin, friend, and fellow Etonian Digby Mackworth Dolben, "a Christian Uranian". The Hopkins biographer Robert Bernard Martin asserts that when Hopkins first met Dolben, on Dolben's 17th birthday, in Oxford in February 1865, it "was, quite simply, the most momentous emotional event of undergraduate years, probably of his entire life."

Hopkins was completely taken with Dolben, who was nearly four years his junior, and his private journal for confessions the following year proves how absorbed he was in imperfectly suppressed erotic thoughts of him.

Hopkins kept up a correspondence with Dolben, wrote about him in his diary and composed two poems about him, "Where art thou friend" and "The Beginning of the End." Robert Bridges, who edited the first edition of Dolben's poems as well as Hopkins's, cautioned that the second poem "must never be printed," though Bridges himself included it in the first edition (1918). Another indication of the nature of his feelings for Dolben is that Hopkins's High Anglican confessor seems to have forbidden him to have any contact with Dolben except by letter. Their relationship was abruptly ended by Dolben's drowning in June 1867, an event which greatly affected Hopkins, although his feeling for Dolben seems to have cooled a good deal by that time. "Ironically, fate may have bestowed more through Dolben’s death than it could ever have bestowed through longer life ... many of Hopkins’s best poems — impregnated with an elegiac longing for Dolben, his lost belovèd and his muse — were the result."

Some of his poems, such as The Bugler's First Communion and Epithalamion, arguably embody homoerotic themes, although this second poem was arranged by Robert Bridges from extant fragments. One contemporary literary critic, M.M. Kaylor, has argued for Hopkins's inclusion with the Uranian poets, a group whose writings derived, in many ways, from the prose works of Walter Pater, Hopkins's academic coach for his Greats exams, and later his lifelong friend.

Some critics have argued that homoerotic readings are either highly tendentious, or, that they can be classified under the broader category of "homosociality," over the gender, sexual-specific "homosexual" term. Hopkins’s journal writings, they argue, offer a clear admiration for feminized beauty. In his book Hopkins Reconstructed (2000) Justus George Lawler critiques Robert Martin’s controversial biography Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life (1991) by suggesting that Martin "cannot see the heterosexual beam... for the homosexual biographical mote in his own eye... it amounts to a slanted eisegesis". The poems that elicit homoerotic readings can be read not merely as exercises in sublimation but as powerful renditions of religious conviction, a conviction that caused strain in his family and even led him to burn some of his poems that he felt were unnecessarily self-centered. Julia Saville’s book A Queer Chivalry views the religious imagery in the poems as Hopkins’s way of expressing the tension with homosexual identity and desire. The male figure of Christ allows him to safely express such feelings, which mitigates the political implications.

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