Apocalyptic care : the renewal of creation in Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
My dissertation seeks to correct the widespread misperception in Victorian literary studies and ecocriticism that belief in an embodied renewal of creation necessarily undermines a commitment to alleviating suffering now. This misperception prevents recognizing how central the apocalypse is—as a reality, not simply as a source of allusion—to the thinking and poetics of major Victorian poets. In my dissertation, I study the religious poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Gerard Manley Hopkins and challenge those prevailing assumptions through taking the poets’ religious commitments seriously as sources of hope and aesthetic formation. Ultimately, I demonstrate that their commitment to an embodied renewal of creation does not undermine but rather bolsters their commitment to caring for others—both human and nonhuman—in the present. Because of this, my driving question is: “How do these poets imagine and embody the eschaton in their poetry, and how do the theological ideas and poetics work together to invite readers into specific postures of attention, engagement, and action in the present world, all while anticipating the eschaton?” As I argue in my body chapters, EBB uses the eschatological imagery of crowns and graveyards to emphasize a Christocentric stance of receptivity and responsibility, Rossetti connects the sea to the apocalypse and uses this link to invite a stance of humility and connectivity, and Hopkins crafts visceral experiences of the eschaton that call readers to accept finitude and relationship. Each of these poets entwines their emphasis on the eschaton with an emphasis on the value of the physical, suffering world and its creatures. As the conclusion discusses, their acceptance of the eschaton also encourages them to embody in their poetry an acceptance of their own limitations, epistemologically, ontologically, and practically—and that acceptance of limitations encourages them to move beyond the individual self and into a sense of self defined through connectivity to God and to both humans and nonhumans.