The literary achievement of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) was one of the most interesting, colourful writers of Victorian England. As an independent man of means, he led the tempestuous life of an aristocratic, Byronic rebel. His writing was intensely personal, a series of emotional experiences influenced his thinking on religion, politics and literature. He was a diplomat, a poet, a traveller, a diarist, a religious doubter, an amorist, a cultured artist of Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic tastes, a fashionable squire of the Elizabethan type, an amateur Orientalist with unconventional sympathies, a traditionalist promoting Mediaeval values, a modernist who championed several lost causes, playing many roles with a deep sense of mission. His paradoxical character reflects the noblest ideals and the most glaring weaknesses of his age. This thesis is an appreciative study of his creative works in prose and verse, and an attempt to assess his stature as a pioneer and a prophet. The method adopted is that of a close study of the texts. A comparative approach is developed in the analysis of Blunt's work as a poet and a translator. Historical events and biographical elements are used wherever they shed light on his writings. A brief survey of the Victorian interest in the Arab world and the Eastern question, with reference to the writings and attitudes of travellers/shows that the East came to mean different things to different people at the height of Britain's imperialist expansion. A comparison of these attitudes and their backgrounds in Chapter I concludes that Blunt's understanding of the East was unique in its accuracy. The impact of the East and its culture on Blunt's character and attitudes was permanent. These are (ii) (iii) studied in the writings of Blunt as a man of action, particularly in his Secret History series. Blunt's rendering of Arabic texts is studied in Chapter IV, in comparison to the translations of professional Orientalists like Edward Lane, William Jones, and A.J. Arberry. Blunt's success seen against the failure of a number of other English poets to reproduce Arabic poetry, makes his Moallakat a unique contribution to English literature. Although Blunt belongs to the Romantic tradition, he has assimilated other traditions, Elizabethan as well as Pre-Raphaelite, neo-classical as well as modern, Tennysonian as well as Arabic. Yet he remained independent and highly indiVidual. His experiments in the field of the sonnet and his assonance in rhyme are analysed and their sources traced in both Arabic and English precedents and traditions in Chapter II. For the first time, Chapter III offers a detailed contextual study of Blunt's three dramatic works, the anti-imperialist Extravaganza, The Bride of the Nile , the "social problem" play of Ideas, The Little Left Hand and the drama of passion, Fand. The influences of Shakespeare, Arabic and Islamic history, Shavian and Ibsenesque elements are traced. The plays are seen as an attempt by Blunt to propagate his own opinions in the fields of love, marriage, religious, social and political reform. Blunt's volumin diaries record his attitudes to the major issues of his time, his intimate knowledge of the key figures in both Europe and the East, his deep insight into their characters, and his now vindicated interpretation of events. Chapter V stresses the importance of this work as a mine of information, of perennial value to the student of Victorian and Edwardian times. Blunt's opinions and indiscretions are shown to be relevant in his capacity as a man of letters, a man of the world, or a political observer~ ·(iv) Blunt's interest in Islam made him write a book which influenced both Muslim reformers and English policy-makers. The development of his religious thought is charted in Chapter VI, where his beliefs are analysed in the light of his attitudes to culture, evolution and political revival, together with his streak of superstition. His agnostic materialism and his attack on religious hypocrisy are analysed; and Blunt, as an honest doubter, is shown to be the product of his age.