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This review is taken from PN Review 183, Volume 35 Number 1, September - October 2008.

A GIFT NOT IMPRISONED CATHERINE PHILLIPS, Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian Visual World (OUP)

Unending controversy among Hopkins scholars - in the main, was religion good or mean to him - invites one to picture a neighbourhood in which the owners of bungalows built too close to each other have to bear with their neighbour's lawn-mowing, leaf-clipping and amateur carpentry. Thanks to her impartial and sweeping Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian Visual World, one may judge Professor Catherine Phillips comfortably outside the radius of that gated weekend club's CCTV. Despite the profuse rummaging-in-the-attic involved, her book has a blooming outdoor feel and takes Hopkins out of the claustrum, to art shows and on trips abroad, sketching in Switzerland, Kent and the isles of Man and Wight.

The reader revisits the exhibitions Hopkins attended, the painters he esteemed - Millais, D.G. Rossetti, Turner - and reviews what the critics recorded at the time. The evolution of British art criticism in the nineteenth century and Hopkins's own singular branch of it are also looked into. It all amounts to a stupendous historical reconstruction: a world unearthed, a doll's house of a book. A refocusing that zooms into specific corners, known perhaps but insufficiently scrutinised. In its subject amorously explored, in its telescoping of a mind within a specific context - no detail spared, which sounds like Hopkins's motto - it is on a par with the equally astonishing Thomas Browne and the Writing of Early Modern Science by Claire Preston (Browne being, apropos, also a lexical ...


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