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Forms of EmpireThe Poetics of Victorian Sovereignty$
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Nathan K. Hensley

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198792451

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198792451.001.0001

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Form and Excess, Morant Bay and Swinburne

Form and Excess, Morant Bay and Swinburne

Chapter:
(p.137) 3 Form and Excess, Morant Bay and Swinburne
Source:
Forms of Empire
Author(s):

Nathan K. Hensley

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198792451.003.0004

This chapter explains the political logic of A. C. Swinburne’s Poems and Ballads by constellating it with what I construe as a related political controversy scandalizing London in the late summer of 1866: the Jamaica Rebellion. Seen alongside other forms such as legal depositions, parliamentary reports, and minutes from colonial show trials during this period of martial law, lyrics like “Anactoria” freeze sadomasochistic excess and absolute control into a single conceptual unit on the page, disclosing law’s secret unity with violence. In so doing they transcribe into poetry a dilemma of sovereign power that even the most well-meaning commentators on the “atrocities in Jamaica” (as Mill called them) could not grasp. In Swinburne’s hands, technologies like the lyric poem and the heroic couplet thus explain how an avowedly universal law could subject to death the very bodies it claimed to protect.

Keywords:   lyric poetry, A. C. Swinburne, Jamaica Rebellion, violence, literary theory, historicism, dialectics, emergency law, martial law, British Empire

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