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Amours de Voyage

by Arthur Hugh Clough
Persephone book no:

81 82 83

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 1903155721 

Amours de Voyage (1849) is a novel in verse and is arranged in five cantos, or chapters, as a sequence of letters. It is about a group of English travellers in Italy: Claude, and the Trevellyn family, are caught up in the 1849 political turmoil. The poem mixes the political (‘Sweet it may be, and decorous, perhaps, for the country to die; but,/On the whole, we conclude the Romans won’t do it, and I sha’n’t’) and the personal (‘After all, do I know that I really cared so about her?/Do whatever I will, I cannot call up her image’). The political is important – hence the Persephone edition reproduces nine London Illustrated News drawings of the battlefront – but the personal dilemmas are the crucial ones.

Claude, about to declare himself, retreats, then regrets his failure to speak. It is this retreat, his scruples and fastidiousness, that, like a conventional novel, is the core of Amours de Voyage. The poem thus contributed something important to the modern sensibility; it is a portrait of an anti-hero; it is about love and marriage (the difficulties of); and it is about Italy. Clough wrote to his mother: ‘St Peter’s disappoints me: the stone of which it is made is a poor plastery material; and indeed, Rome in general might be called a rubbishy place… The weather has not been very brilliant.’ As Julian Barnes points out in his new Persephone Preface: ‘If you want a one-word introduction to the tone, sensibility and modernity of Arthur Hugh Clough, you have it in that single, italicised (by him, not me) word: rubbishy.’ Clough was unimpressed by Rome and so is his hero, Claude, ‘a very unGrand Tourist’.

‘What his friend Arnold perceived to be the weaknesses of Clough's poetry,’ continues Julian Barnes, ‘are precisely what over time have come to seem its strengths – a prosey colloquiality which at times verges on awkwardness, a preference for honesty and sarcasm over suavity and tact, a direct criticism of modern life, a naming of things as themselves. It is absolutely contemporary... It is also a highly contemplative and argumentative poem, about history, civilisation and the individual's duty to act. And it is, as the title tells us, a love story – or, this being Clough, a sort of modern, near-miss, almost-but-not-quite love story (“I am in love you say; I do not think so, exactly”) with mismatching, misunderstanding, tortuous self-searching, and a mad, hopeful, hopeless pursuit leading us to a kind of ending.’

Also available as a (free) e-book.


Endpapers taken from a woven dress silk by Campbell, Harrison and Lloyd, Spitalfields, c. 1850

Picture Caption

From the London Illustrated News June 1849

Read What Readers Say

Rupert Christiansen, ‘The Telegraph’

I am currently reading Clough’s wonderful narrative poem ‘Amours de Voyage’ in a charming edition. It has a soothing grey cover with a satin finish and warm blue and green endpapers. The paper is thick, creamy and sweet-smelling. I would happily give this lovely thing a smacking great kiss.

Categories: History Men (books about) Men (books by) Overseas Poetry Social Comedy Victoriana

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