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Goldsmith’s "Retaliation" and its literary contexts Carson, James Patrick

Abstract

The subject of this thesis is an examination of the English literary background of Oliver Goldsmith's final poem, "Retaliation", and a detailed consideration of the structure and portraits of the poem itself. Three types of literary works of the Restoration and eighteenth century, though not wholly exclusive of one another, provide the most fruitful background for this investigation: verse satires, poems in anapaestic tetrameter couplets, and literary portraits. "Retaliation" is first placed into its current critical context. Goldsmith's portraiture skills are identified as one of his major strengths as a poet. The central problem for criticism of his major poems lies in a determination of the role of the author in his works. "Retaliation" is next considered in the context of mid-eighteenth-century verse satire. The deterioration of the poet's self-portrait as a satiric norm is illustrated by examples from Pope, Churchill, and Goldsmith. The eighteenth-century opposition between Horatian and Juvenalian satire is briefly discussed, and "Retaliation" is found to approximate closely to the pole of Horatian or "laughing" satire. The second chapter of the thesis is concerned with the eighteenth-century "low" style of poems written in anapaestic tetrameter couplets between Prior and Goldsmith. An attempt is made to explore the range of poems composed in this metrical form. More emphasis is placed upon poems which are similar to Goldsmith's anapaestic pieces in structure, diction, or intention. Evidence is provided to suggest that there is greater continuity in the anapaestic tradition of familiar epistles, character-sketches, and light satires than has sometimes been thought. In order to discover the characteristics of the anapaestic poetry of this period and to suggest why Goldsmith chose this metrical form for his poems of social life, the works of Prior, Swift, and Christopher Anstey are emphasized, but pieces by less influential writers of anapaests—including Pope, John Byrom, Edward Moore, Shenstone, Gray, Richard Owen Cambridge, and John Cunningham—are also examined. Goldsmith's other anapaestic poems, the "Letter to Mrs. Bunbury" and "The Haunch of Venison", are discussed primarily for what they reveal about Goldsmith's manner of self-portraiture. The final chapter of this thesis consists of an extended analysis of the structure and portraits of "Retaliation". The question of unity in the poem is of particular importance, because the poem is unfinished. While the occasional nature of the poem has determined much about its structure, Goldsmith paid careful attention to the arrangement of the epitaphs in order to facilitate a series of contrasts from which his satiric norms may be inferred. The occasional nature of the poem also induced Goldsmith to strive for a balanced, or equivocating, effect in his portraiture. Many of the satiric touches in "Retaliation" together constitute a playful commentary on serious satire. In the course of interpreting the portraits in "Retaliation", I have investigated the variety of Goldsmith's portraiture techniques and suggested some comparisons with satiric portraits by Dryden and Pope.

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