cover image Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life

Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life

Paul Mariani, . . Viking, $32.95 (496pp) ISBN 978-0-670-02031-7

The strength of this meticulous chronicle of the 19th-century Jesuit is the author’s focus on the inner life of a poet who was critically acclaimed after his death and almost unknown in his lifetime. The resulting lack of context is also the volume’s most persistent and occasionally tiresome weakness. A Hopkins scholar and poet who has written biographies of poets William Carlos Williams and Robert Lowell, Mariani has woven together Hopkins’s correspondence, sermons, journal entries and other materials to form a frequently fascinating account of the poet’s life from his decision to leave the Church of England at age 22 to his death 22 years later. The biographer also analyzes the poet’s innovative, idiosyncratic poems and their philosophical, theological and literary roots. The book would have benefited greatly by occasional views of the political, spiritual and artistic environment that influenced Hopkins and his literary contemporaries. Nonetheless, there is much to learn from this portrayal of an opinionated, often depressed yet likable priest-poet who toiled in near obscurity, constantly trying to subordinate his poetic gifts to his calling to serve God. (Nov. 3)