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The Expiration of Commitments in Adelaide Procter's “Homeward Bound”

  • Emily Harrington

Extract

It has been a long time since the poetry of Adelaide Anne Procter, a favorite of Queen Victoria, captured much interest from readers of poetry, whether they be anthology aficionados, scholars, or students. Now considered a minor poet of the period, she was nevertheless a quintessential poet activist of her day, raising money for and working with the Providence Row Night Refuge, editing and contributing to the English Women's Journal alongside the Langham Place Feminists and the Society for the Employment of Women. She published volumes of her own poems, one of which ran to as many as nineteen editions between 1858 and 1881, and her work was featured regularly in Charles Dickens's periodical Household Words. Her legacy stands as a powerful testimony to the way ideas and tastes change over time. Full of angels, Christmases, quietly suffering children, and pious nuns (she converted to Catholicism in 1851), her poetry is often dismissed as sentimental and clichéd. A glance at her forms reveals many straightforward tetrameters with expected alternating, end-stopped rhymes, an easiness that seems to ally form and content. If Adorno had ever taken the time to read her poetry, he probably would have hated it, not just for its Catholic faith and its frequent focus on sin and redemption, but for its attempt “to work at the level of fundamental attitudes,” typical of committed art. Consider these lines from her frequently anthologized “Homeless,” which asks readers to recognize that their society takes better care of animals, criminals, and commodities than of the homeless poor:

For each man knows the market value

Of silk or woolen or cotton…

But in counting the riches of England

I think our Poor are forgotten.

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References

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Adorno, Theodor. “Commitment.” In Aesthetics and Politics, edited by Taylor, Ronald, 177–95. London: Verso, 1977.
Dickens, Charles. The Wreck of the Golden Mary. 1856. Edited by Gregory, Melissa Valiska and Klimaszewski, Melisa. London: Hesperus Classics, 2006.
Gregory, Gill. The Life and Work of Adelaide Procter: Poetry, Feminism and Fathers. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998.
Lootens, Tricia. The Political Poetess: Victorian Femininity, Race, and the Legacy of Separate Spheres. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.
Procter, Adelaide Anne. Legends and Lyrics: A Book of Verses. New York: D. Appleton, 1858.

The Expiration of Commitments in Adelaide Procter's “Homeward Bound”

  • Emily Harrington

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