Today I am presenting ‘Marvell in Manuscript and Print, 1649-1665’ at the English Postgraduate Forum in Leicester, which poses some new challenges.
It’s my fourth presentation of this material (following two seminars in Geneva and the PhD upgrade). All have been slightly different, in one way or another. But this is the biggest leap, given so few early modern postgraduates in Leicester.
It is one thing presenting a detailed paper to a broad spectrum of early-modern experts, another to present to an audience with very little any interest in Marvell.
The trick is in telling a good story, I’ve always believed. This is about a private man whose attitude and approach to print are particularly unusual. From late 1650, a self-imposed exodus from print lasted for almost 15 years (one anonymous exception aside).
The way in which he chose to disseminate material is cagey and deliberate. Some of the most powerful English poetry under this man’s pen appears to be completely private. What is going on?
Current critical orthodoxy concerns the ‘social function’ of seventeenth-century verse. Poetry was written, we are told, either for print or for manuscript circulation in coterie circles such as those attended by John Donne. This assumes that verse was always shown to others; even if there is no evidence of circulation, our default assumption should be that it took place. Marvell casts doubt on this.
So yes: I have to locate this in the seventeenth-century. But the decision to publish or withhold, to select one’s audience meticulously and to act publicly or privately, is fairly timeless. Privacy, boundaries and decision-making always offers something interesting (I hope).
The original version of this paper, presented at Hull this summer, anticipated the best of the world’s Marvellians in attendance. Now it has to be the most open introduction I have given.
Today, I hope to raise discussion around about what goes through someone’s mind when they decide whether or not to disseminate their works. If and when they do decide to, how it is done? That’s what will hopefully make this a positive experience rather than the depressingly empty room at Hull.
An abstract has been submitted for a completed version of this essay to appear in an edited collection. Generously supported by my supervisor, who may himself contribute, I could see my work alongside academic idols: Nigel Smith, Martin Dzelzainis, Blair Worden, Paul Seaward, and others.
For someone whose motivation has crashed spectacularly at times this year, this is a tremendously exciting opportunity.
UPDATE: The chapter referenced above was finally published in 2018: ‘Far off the publick stage’: Marvell in Manuscript and Print, 1649-1665.