"We Should Be That Iago": Counterfactual Sympathy and the Lyric "We" in Augusta Webster's Portraits and A Housewife's Opinions

"We Should Be That Iago": Counterfactual Sympathy and the Lyric "We" in Augusta Webster's... CAOLAN MADDEN ugusta Webster called her 1870 collection of dramatic poems Portraits, but according to a review in the Nonconformist, the title is misleading. The poems, the reviewer explains, "are not portraits, but dramatic sketches," since Webster's "faculty of sympathy" prevents her from achieving the exacting objectivity required by "true portraiture."1 Specifically, the reviewer claims that Webster's "dramatic imagination" overwhelms her "critical faculty" in the poem "A Castaway." The poem, a first-person account of the life of Eulalie, a contemporary high-class courtesan, is plausible as "the kind of pleading a pure sister might offer on behalf of a fallen sister" but implausible as a monologue spoken by an actual prostitute. Referring to Eulalie's introspective account of her past, including a failed attempt to start a new life at a Magdalene refuge for fallen women, the reviewer reasons that "[t]he woman who had resolution enough to subject herself to so keen a torture as all this remembrance and selfjudgment involve, would have been able to break away from her entanglements, and could have borne the discipline of `the Refuge' " (p. 417). In speculating about what the Castaway would have been able to do if she had possessed a http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Victorian Poetry West Virginia University Press

"We Should Be That Iago": Counterfactual Sympathy and the Lyric "We" in Augusta Webster's Portraits and A Housewife's Opinions

Victorian Poetry, Volume 55 (1) – Jun 27, 2017

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Publisher
West Virginia University Press
Copyright
Copyright © West Virginia University.
ISSN
1530-7190
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Abstract

CAOLAN MADDEN ugusta Webster called her 1870 collection of dramatic poems Portraits, but according to a review in the Nonconformist, the title is misleading. The poems, the reviewer explains, "are not portraits, but dramatic sketches," since Webster's "faculty of sympathy" prevents her from achieving the exacting objectivity required by "true portraiture."1 Specifically, the reviewer claims that Webster's "dramatic imagination" overwhelms her "critical faculty" in the poem "A Castaway." The poem, a first-person account of the life of Eulalie, a contemporary high-class courtesan, is plausible as "the kind of pleading a pure sister might offer on behalf of a fallen sister" but implausible as a monologue spoken by an actual prostitute. Referring to Eulalie's introspective account of her past, including a failed attempt to start a new life at a Magdalene refuge for fallen women, the reviewer reasons that "[t]he woman who had resolution enough to subject herself to so keen a torture as all this remembrance and selfjudgment involve, would have been able to break away from her entanglements, and could have borne the discipline of `the Refuge' " (p. 417). In speculating about what the Castaway would have been able to do if she had possessed a

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Victorian PoetryWest Virginia University Press

Published: Jun 27, 2017

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