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Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life Hardcover – 30 Oct 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books (30 Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670020311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670020317
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 3.9 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 918,294 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. Patricia J. Skinner on 24 Aug 2009
Format: Hardcover
Paul Mariani offers readers an in depth account of Hopkins life as a Jesuit,
based almost entirely upon his letters and journals; but more importantly, using
his previously published commentary on the poems,he offers valuable insights into
the poet's densely exhillerating sprung rhythm.
Published by Viking New York the sad weakness of this major work is a consistent lack of close copy
editing. Examples abound:
Horsham is said to be '100 miles from London' which wd put it well into the English
Channel. Mount St Mary's, where Hopkins taught and wrote his touching poem 'The Brother'
is in Yorkshire, rather than Derbyshire. The Oxford degree ceremony, we are assured,
was normally held 'out-of-doors' but when rained off for Hopkins, they repaired to
the Sheldonian. Glastonbury now has a 'Norman' Abbey, while Tiverton Junction stands
'at the edge of Dartmoor'. Robert Persons was 'drawn and quartered' rather than first being
hung: in fact none of the three, he died in Rome, on April 15, 1610.
And so on relentlessly: until, at the very end of the book, the author cannot decide whether
Poet's Corner lies in Westminster Cathedral or the Abbey.
But our thanks to Mariani, himself a distinguished poet, for giving us a fullsome
life that takes Hopkins as a whole man,who defined English poetry anew and died in Dublin
declaring 'I am so happy',Hear Our Silence: A Journey into Prayerrather than a frustrated homosexual, damaged by his Jesuit vows.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
The transformed poetic vision, the grinding daily duty 26 May 2009
By John L Murphy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
In an immediate prose always in the present tense, Mariani distills forty years of research into a biography drawn from Hopkins' journals and correspondence. No critical detours, no theoretical jargon, only a sense of watching the poet labor and priest struggle. It's a scholarly work that reads like a novel.

The highlights, a discussion of "The Wreck of the Deutschland" as the early breakthrough, and the late "Hericlitean fire" poem, show Hopkins consistently battling despair by insisting upon the sacramental vision that transforms the mundane by the example of the Incarnated God. Taking the trouble out of love to become flesh, Christ for Hopkins proves the "Real Presence" in the Eucharist that exemplifies the transformation of the natural into the divine. This, Mariani gracefully depicts, takes Hopkins out of the agnostic, Darwinian, mechanistic milieu of his Oxford peers into a bold decision to take the toughest path possible: to give up his security and his career prospects to become not only a Catholic but a Jesuit.

The arduous years towards ordination do not end there; toiling in gritty, urban immigrant-poor parishes deprived Hopkins of his beloved countryside that in his studies in Wales brought him closest to what "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur" convey memorably: the shattering of the norm by the intense arrival of God, transforming but remaining within our beautiful world. Mariani takes Hopkins' priestly vocation to show how he believed what he preached, lived, and promoted in poems that could not find any audience, and for long stretches as a Jesuit, Hopkins either denied himself or lacked the time or inspiration to write verse.

He wore himself out young, dying at forty-four, of a typhoid flea's bite (or perhaps, Mariani suggests, what we know now as Crohn's disease). Hopkins in these pages remains, of course, a rather introverted, nervous, and conflicted man, fighting a lonely campaign against "acedia" and spiritual despair, shunted about from one dull assignment as a teacher or preacher to another in rapid fashion until at the ramshackle University College, Dublin, he's hired on the cheap as Jesuits will return their 400 pounds annual salary to the running of the institution!

Hopkins wore out his talent in drudgery. He knew it, too. Reading about the 557 exams in Greek and Latin facing him one day to grade down to the eighth-of-a-point, his dreary lessons to bored undergrads, his failure to get even his one patient reader-- lifelong friend, future laureate and editor Robert Bridges-- to understand much of his formidably dense and amazingly original verse, Hopkins emerges as a saint for his willingness to keep on in a very anguished and solitary calling. His eccentricities make him more like us; his gifts separate his daring energy from us.

He had a great knack for wordplay and punning; his comic verse as a young Jesuit sparkles. Arm wrestling, chasing a monkey on a roof, trying to mesmerize a duck so to study its beak, scrutinizing a peacock as closely as an oak tree's leaves, dragging or being dragged around a Dublin classroom to show Hector's posthumous fate: these vignettes enliven an otherwise serious life and biography. Mariani's extended, deadpan recital of a failed student sermon on the miracle of loaves and fishes that tried to relate the Ignatian "Composition of Place" to the Welsh local landscape fails magnificently in its "overdetermined" and unconsciously pedantic parody. I also heard wistfulness, when late in his life-- as Mariani shows, nearly all spent with males around him-- he admits to a Dublin class "while lecturing on Homer's Helen," he looks up from the text. "'You know, I never saw a naked woman.' And then, after a moment, 'I wish I had.'" (391)

The book has its slow stretches, as it takes a closely observed, scrupulously attentive, and very gifted fish-out-of-water character as its subject. And, being so focused on the protagonist's correspondence and journals, you never get a chance to step back from this startlingly precocious modernist. Still, this is a study based on primary sources and archival diligence. Like the man himself, it's a demanding subject.

Hopkins' compression of lines by sprung rhythm that takes the beat and puts it where he wants outside syllabic convention only grows with time into a dense, hammering, melodic, thundering pulse. Mariani takes you through the famous and the obscure poems and intersperses his own subtle explanations of how Hopkin's thoughts and circumstances evolved into what emerged on the pages of his unpublished poems. The instress forces you deep, into dark realms that mirrored Hopkins' own terror, and his rage at the natural world's beauties being savaged, the work of God ignored or denigrated, and the message of the Incarnation belittled or cheapened.

The "lens of faith" magnified and intensified, and perhaps distorted what Hopkins saw, in slums and on slopes. He looked at a Welsh stream's storm flow as if "melted candy," he saw himself, Mariani imagines, with God "whispering like some old married couple," and Hopkins learned, if to his Jesuit superiors' suspicion, to stress the "haeceittas," the Scotist "this-ness" of the startlingly individualized rather than the conventional Thomistic classification into general categories. He could not help but pick out the detail, to his detriment as a Jesuit preacher perhaps but to his advantage as a radical poet. He seems, too, to have been capable of such craft early on; Mariani does not truly explain 'why' this came to be, but concentrates on 'how' this works in Hopkins' intricate lines, that, as he matured, became more compounded and more off-kilter. Mariani shows how Hopkins' poetry expresses what his life contained, but Mariani seems to step away from accounting for it critically, preferring to present the verse and correspondence to us directly.

(By the way, one wonders what Joyce, who put the real "Rev. John Conmee, SJ" into "Ulysses," would have made of this transplanted Dubliner and his experiments with language, done in the few spare moments by one who met Conmee. Imagine Hopkins, both alienated from Ireland and sympathetic towards Home Rule despite his imperial patriotism, this weary Englishman and transplanted Classics professor longing for the Welsh mountains, by chance wandering and worn out late in his short life on O'Connell St one day. Conmee offered his tired younger confrere a rest at Clongowes Wood.)

A note on two tiny details: the early theologian's name's "Origen," not "Origin." And, Moel Fam[m]au in Wales is translated not as "mother of mountains" but the "'mountain/ bald topped-eminence' of mother.'" Mariani's love for Hopkins comes through along with his even-handed critiques in an impressively learned book, with a bibliography of Hopkins criticism, that nonetheless without being impeded by intrusive notes wears its own scholarship well. I never thought such an outwardly placid life as Hopkins has been portrayed to live had within such drama.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
masterful 30 Mar 2009
By J. Webber - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Paul Mariani has generously given us a magnificent gift. In exploring the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins, he has unveiled for us the interior life of this brilliant and eccentric poet-priest who could not (or would not) have his poetry published during his own lifetime.

Mariani has waded through letters, journals, and sermons to give context for the life of this devout little man and to provide a setting for his poetry. The context at times feels tedious, but never boring. Each entry helps to build the life of this complex Jesuit priest. And together the entries provide a setting for Hopkins' poetry, which Mariani deals with in great length. Having done his doctoral work on Hopkins' poetry, he has a fine understanding of the poet's nuances, difficult enough for Hopkins' casual fans. I found his commentary to be very helpful in unpacking some of the obscure references in Hopkins' poetry. Further, Mariani utilizes Hopkins' own vocabulary and style at many points to provide interpretive material. Mariani writes prose with a poet's heart.

I was most grateful that Mariani explored the spiritual foundations of Hopkins' life and poetry. Mariani was not shy about using Hopkins' own language to describe his struggle with God and Church. Most refreshing, Mariani wrote as an "insider." As a practicing Roman Catholic (with a Jesuit priest son), Mariani doesn't have to "borrow" spiritual language. It seems to me that Hopkins would be impossible to understand well apart from who he was as a man devoted to God. Mariani captures that devotion -- which was also a source of deep difficulty for Hopkins -- and struggle well.

I recommend this book without reservation.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Unrivalled 29 Nov 2008
By Hart Crane - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Portrayed in his fullness as poet, spiritualist and Roman Catholic Jesuit amid Victorian England--Hopkins steps out of these pages. You can feel him breathe. This biography cancels out all others.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Poetry Begetting Poetry 23 Oct 2009
By Terri Renee Moore - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has been some time now since I read Mariani's beautiful biography of Hopkins. So what remains in me is the emotion of the book. Wading into the first chapter, I remember how strange the style of writing felt to me. Mariani swung from staccato journalese in one chapter to flowing, florid poetical syntax the next. How strange, how different - now I wouldn't have it any other way. Later, I began having issues with Mariani the poet competing with Hopkins himself. I got over that in a hurry, I now wish all books were written so beautifully.

Regarding Hopkins the man. I find so much beauty in him, so much transcendence, as well as a deliciously deep and flawed human being. The revelations about Hopkins' difficulties and perfectionism regarding his poetry; his having to gain the approval of the Jesuit censors and believing he should (and would) forego acclaim in his lifetime. What joy in pain.

Reading of Hopkins' only love affair with his best friend was heart wrenching. So tragic, so lovely. Both the man and this book. The measure of all books in my opinion: I couldn't put it down. And in the end, I rued the fact that it was over (How could I ever find another book I loved as much?)and as all biographies end, this beautiful man, whom Mariani had helped me know and love, had died. I closed the cover after some time, tears flowing, a wretched smile on my face. I tend to believe that this will be the only book that I re-read in this lifetime. A Masterpiece!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I'll read it again. 30 Jan 2010
By Lawrence G. DeBlois - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this text because Paul Mariani wrote it. I've read Hopkins poetry for years and enjoyed what I could understand. Mariani showed me what I didn't understand and he placed each poem in its historical, biographical context. That helped. I'll read the book again. The book does take some work but it's worth the effort.
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