Literary Criticism

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Selected Poems and Prose of W.E. Henley

John Howlett is a lecturer in Education Studies at the University of Keele. His recent books include Progressive Education: A Critical Introduction (Bloomsbury, 2013) and Edmond Holmes and Progressive Education (Routledge, 2016). His other main research interest is in Victorian and twentieth-century poetry: he has edited scholarly editions of the poetry of Edmond Holmes (Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2016) and Clere Parsons (Shoestring Press, forthcoming 2017).

The book title derives from Henley’s most famous poem Invictus, which has been used as the name of a Hollywood film and for the International Paralympic Games sport event created by Britain’s Prince Harry. The poem’s stanzas have been popularized by Winston Churchill, Aung San Suu Ky and President Obama, and used to literary effect by C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde and in Casablanca. But this fine short lyric has unfortunately overshadowed Henley’s other considerable literary output. Henley was the archetypal Man of Letters – a poet, reviewer, essayist, journalist, historian and newspaper hack. His friendships with Robert Louis Stevenson, J.M. Barrie, and Yeats places him at the centre of the Victorian literary milieu. As editor of National Observer he published writers as diverse as Kipling, Shaw, Hardy and Wells. He promoted new forms of expression in literature and art, and was a close friend of Rodin and Degas. Selected Poems and Prose reproduces key essays which relate to Henley’s thinking on poetry, poets and the writing process, as well as his early and late poetry (some only recently discovered and attributed), unpublished verses, ephemera appearing in manuscript archives and important unpublished (often anonymous) essays. A scholarly introduction and critical notes serve to explain the significance of his poetry, the provenance of the material, and provide a context for his literary work in relation to historical events. Henley is often referenced in literary criticism, but until now has not been subject to book-length critical review. John Howlett set outs the case for his significance as a poet and writer in the context of Henley’s central role in the publishing direction of Victorian literature.

Hardback ISBN: isbn1978-1-84519-886-2
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $69.95
Release Date: December 2017
Page Extent / Format: 200 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


Introduction: The First of the Moderns
Notes and bibliography

Selected Works of W. E. Henley
A note on the texts
A Book of Verses (1888)
The Song of the Sword, and Other Verses (1892)
Poems (1898)
For England’s Sake (1900)
Hawthorn and Lavender (1901)
A Song of Speed (1903)
The Collected Works of W.E. Henley, Volume VI, Poems (1921)
Selected Prose
Explanatory notes to the texts

Appendix A: Additional In Hospital Poems
Appendix B: Uncollected Early Poems
Appendix C: Uncollected Essay

Henley’s reputation rests on the popularity of one occasional lyric, ‘Invictus’, which has been judged unfairly as the most widely known bad poem in English. But his remarkable sequence, In Hospital, has been recognised as one of the starting points of the English poetry of the modern crisis.  Readers will be indebted, therefore, to Professor Howlett’s perceptive commentaries on Henley’s collected verses and his inclusion of all three published
versions (1875, 1887, and 1888) of the hospital poems.
Edward H. Cohen, Professor of English, Rollins College

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