The Violence Within / The Violence Without
Wallace Stevens and the Emergence of a Revolutionary Poetics

Jacqueline Vaught Brogan

A senior Stevens scholar sheds light on a complex American poet


"Many critics of Stevens talk about the pressure of reality. Jacqueline Brogan has the good sense to ask what reality and the clear, supple, imaginative prose to develop very interesting answers. And, as in her Simile in Wallace Stevens, she makes her case by paying careful and lively attention to how the transformative power of Stevensian language sustains the work of resistance."
—Charles Altieri, University of California at Berkeley

"In writing about Stevens's revolutionary poetics, Jacqueline Brogan succeeds in creating a work that is itself revolutionary. Her book challenges traditional notions about Stevens the poet and Stevens the man. This is a provocative and controversial thesis, and it is certain to generate critical debate for years to come."
—John N. Serio, editor, Wallace Stevens Journal

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Wallace Stevens (1879–1955), one of the leading poets of the twentieth century, continues to influence a wide range of poets writing today. However, an image persists of Stevens as an aesthete who was politically removed from his times and who also exhibited sexist and racist tendencies. Jacqueline Vaught Brogan offers careful readings from across the Stevens canon to demonstrate that, contrary to such enduring earlier assessments, Stevens's work over the years shows poetic and political changes that merge with his growing ethical concerns.

Brogan traces Stevens's evolving poetic practices along three major lines that often intersected. She situates the beginnings of Stevens's development within his early resistance to the pressures of "reality" on the imagination, an artistic stand that pitted him against the "objective" poetry exemplified in the work of William Carlos Williams. Then, in the midst of Stevens's career, World War II moved him forward with new poetic responsibilities both to witness the current world and to guide readers into their future. The emergence of an almost feminist vision defines Stevens's third line of development. Finally, in addition to identifying these developmental stages, Brogan addresses the undercurrent of race throughout Stevens's work.

According to Brogan, Stevens not only changed but matured over time. What began as an aesthetic "violence within," or a girding against such "violence without" as social unrest and war, rapidly evolved during Stevens's middle years into a set of perceptions and practices increasingly responsive to his times.

Page count: 216 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $46.95

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Jacqueline Vaught Brogan is a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame. Her books include Stevens and Simile and Part of the Climate, as well as a collection of her own poetry, Damage.