Wilder, Lance Jason
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This project explores the phenomenon of what has often been called the “Gypsy Problem” in nineteenth-century Britain. Although the Roma/Gypsies have been in Great Britain at least since 1505, interest in the Gypsies exploded in the nineteenth century, and mainstream British legislators, scholars, and writers all found themselves fascinated by this mysterious people whose origins, language, and customs were unknown to people outside of the tribe. In novels alone, the Gypsy figure became suddenly quite common during the period, and several scholars have explored their role in the novels of the nineteenth century. To date, though, their role in the poetry of the time has gone largely ignored, despite the fact that poetic references to them increase nearly fourfold from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. The driving question for my project is this: why do so many poets of the nineteenth century find in the Gypsies something that fuels the poetic imagination? Over and over, the Gypsies take on a similar role in the century’s poetry: they become ways to think about other issues. The Gypsies act as a useful intersection of nineteenth-century anxieties. In this way, they provide the poets with a canvas on which to paint various histories of the period. First, I examine concerns about freedom and moderation in John Clare’s several short Gypsy poems and John Ruskin’s Newdigate Prize entry, “The Gipsies.” In the next chapter, I consider religious identity in George Crabbe’s “The Hall of Justice,” John Kenyon’s “Sacred Gipsy Carol,” Arthur Penrhyn Stanley’s Newdigate-winning “The Gypsies,” Father Prout’s “Flight into Egypt,” Francesca Alexander’s “The Madonna and the Gypsy,” and Amy Levy’s “Run to Death.” I then turn to time and purpose in William Wordsworth’s “Gipsies” and Matthew Arnold’s “To a Gipsy Child by the Sea-Shore,” “Resignation,” “The Scholar-Gipsy,” and “Thyrsis.” In the final chapter, I turn to issues of history and gender in George Eliot’s The Spanish Gypsy . Throughout, I frequently return to the cultural and historical work the Gypsies are doing in the poetry, as well as to a recurring thread concerning the visual arts and Marian iconography.