Stephen Copley Research Report: Jessica Fay on George Crabbe’s Passion for Particularity

By Amy Wilcockson

Here we have the latest report from Jessica Fay, the most recent winner of the Stephen Copley Research Awards, for more information about how to apply, please see here.

George Crabbe is best known for the harsh realities of his long poems The Village (1783) and The Borough (1810). Inhabitants of The Village are subject to punishing working conditions, poverty, and sickness while the characters that populate the fictional Borough, such as Peter Grimes and Ellen Orford (vividly reimagined in Benjamin Britten’s 1945 opera), commit and endure extreme cruelty. Heartbreak, loneliness, and ruin pervade the flattest and drabbest of landscapes. This relentless realism puzzled contemporary readers. Crabbe seemed to lack imaginative power; he was simply copying provincial human lives without adding any of the uplifting colour that makes poetry pleasurable.

Commenting on The Village in a letter to Samuel Rogers of 1808, Wordsworth wrote that ‘nineteen out of 20 of Crabbe’s Pictures are mere matters of fact; with which the Muses have just about as much to do as they have with a Collection of medical reports, or of Law Cases’ (29 September 1808). Hazlitt made the same point, complaining that too much ‘literal’ description gives Crabbe’s verse a ‘repining’ …read more