Introduction to the Poem

Arthur Hugh Clough's Amours de Voyage is a tragi-comic narrative poem structured as a series of letters from the major characters to sympathetic correspondents and set during the unsuccessful 1848-49 revolution in Italy. The verse-novelette tells the story of an aborted courtship, in which Claude, an intellectual English gentleman, meets and falls in love with Mary Trevellyn, a younger daughter in a bourgeois English family, but ultimately resigns himself to his own inability to pursue the relationship. Thus Clough intertwines parallel narratives of personal and political failures and explores several thematic subjects, through an ironic perspective--among them, political idealism and disillusionment, snobbery, and the hazards of intellectual labyrinths, such as the "juxtapositions" of theory and practice, independence and commitment.

The poem was written in the summer of 1849, while Clough was living in Europe, but published in 1858 (in The Atlantic Monthly) and then posthumously in Poems by Arthur Hugh Clough (1862). It was not well-received initially, and, like much of Clough's work, has suffered misunderstanding even from those who numbered themselves among the poet's friends and admirers. Even though Clough himself termed the poem a "tragi-comedy", many readers have taken the main character's confusions straight, without seeing them as ironic, and have consequently found the work itself to be confused and despairing. If, however, one realizes that the ironist in Clough delights in displaying the incommensurable nature of the discourses that make up his "hero's" mental wanderings, then the poem is a triumph of what Bakhtin terms "dialogism." It "juxtaposes" (to use Clough's term) the fragmented voices at issue in Claude's letters against the committed and relatively "unified" voice of Mary Trevellyn, who displays the ability Claude lacks to commit to a cause, to take a chance and survive the risk.

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