The Politics of Sentiment in Tony Harrison’s The School of Eloquence

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Tony Harrison’s filial sonnets, from his major ongoing sonnet sequence The School of Eloquence (1978-), are widely regarded as among the most moving poems in the language, and have conversely been criticized for sentimentality. Blake Morrison observes that the focus upon the sentiment of the filial sonnets has obscured their political concerns. What has not been noticed is the sonnets’ politics of sentiment. Harrison’s merging of filial and political concerns and the way his socialist humanism is refracted in these intimate sonnets is examined in this article in relation particularly to the great elegiac sonnet ‘Marked with D’ and ‘Heredity’, the brilliant, little- discussed verse epigraph to the sonnet sequence. A purpose of this article is to show the extent to which the filial sonnets merge empathy and politics and express powerful personal and political feeling in their own terms.

Contributor Notes

Christine Regan’s academic background is in literary studies, and she holds a PhD from the Australian National University. She is the author of The Rimbaud of Leeds: The Political Character of Tony Harrison’s Poetry (Cambria Press, 2016) and of essays published in English, Études Britanniques Contemporaines and Textual Practice. She is a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University.