Hopkins felt the lack of readers and it was only in 1918, nearly thirty years after his death, that an edition of his poetry appeared and widespread reading, response and criticism were possible. Although Robert Bridges was scarcely the most sympathetic of critics, yet he held that he had a responsibility to Hopkins, to publish him and to prepare the ways to publication. And despite Bridges’s reservations throughout those thirty years, expressed again at the first edition’s publication, he unwittingly held back Hopkins to a time when everything Victorian in society and art was being challenged or rejected and Modernism was the dominant movement in literature and the arts, whether the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, the fiction of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, or the music of Stravinsky and Schoenberg. Modernism in literature stressed linguistic texture and detail, stressed discontinuity and intensity, so that Hopkins, though all his work was completed more than a decade before the Victorian age came to an end, was hailed both as a new writer and as a Modernist. It was as a Modernist or at least a Modern – effectively a twentieth-

century writer, not a Victorian – that Hopkins was treated through the 1920s and 1930s and on to the mid-century. Yet others perceived, very early, that historically and therefore aesthetically Hopkins was a Victorian, a current of thought culminating most obviously in Alison Sulloway’s Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian Temper (1972), but fed by the publication in the 1930s onwards of Hopkins’s letters, journals and devotional writings. Such assessment and reassessment complicated further the

reading and understanding of Hopkins, since the terms ‘Victorian’ and ‘Modernist’ are not equivalents, the first being primarily

chronological, the second aesthetic, assessment complicated too by the personality and career of Hopkins, who as a committed Catholic and priest, did not fit easily with the Victorian polarisation of Protestant Christianity and doubting secularism nor with the agnostics of the twentieth century who treated religious experience as neurotic or comic. Hopkins’s delight in language and verbal virtuosity, despite links to the exuberance of Dickens or the dialect of William Barnes, might make him a Modern, but the intensity and sincerity of his Catholic belief and experiences ultimately set him off from the aesthetic and atheistic attitudes (often collapsed into a single expressive entity) of Modernist writers and critics. For Hopkins a poem must mean as well as be. After a brief consideration of who were Hopkins’s earliest readers,

this section looks at the critical explorations, often a grappling with meaning and technique, charted by Hopkins himself and responses during his lifetime. Attention is given to how Bridges prepared an audience for the 1918 publication and critical responses to that event. The embracing of Hopkins as a Modern is traced and the countercurrent of Hopkins as Victorian. But Hopkins has claims to be a poet beyond or apart from both those terms, as a poet of nature, as a religious poet, and as an exploiter of techniques and theories. Attention will be given to traditions of reading of particular poems and a conclusion, ‘Shaping the Reputation’, will attempt to ‘place’ Hopkins critically at the mid-twentieth century and into the twentyfirst century.