English Literature

Edward FitzGerald and the Grammar of Ornament

Dr James Williams, University of York

Since its fourth edition of 1879, Edward FitzGerald’s translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám has come under the sway of a decorative tendency. FitzGerald’s publisher, Bernard Quaritch, chose to print the poems surrounded by an ornamental border—what the horrified FitzGerald called ‘Quaritch’s cockney ornament’—making the pages resemble framed pictures, or Persian carpets. This decision has been remarkably persistent into modern editions (even in comparatively scholarly series like Oxford World’s Classics). The idea that ornamental motifs can be ‘quoted’ to represent different cultures owes a great deal, in the nineteenth century, to Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament, published in 1856 a few years before Quaritch brought out the first edition of the Rubáiyát (1859). My talk will use the coincidence of this historical moment to think about the relationship of FitzGerald’s poem to matters of ornament and decoration. In particular I want to think about how questions about ornament (where substance ends and decoration begins) might speak to questions about translation and poetic idiom.

Biography

James Williams is Lecturer in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture at the University of York. Author of Writers and their Work: Edward Lear (Northcote House, forthcoming) and the introduction and notes to Alice Goodman’s History is Our Mother: Three Libretti (NYRB, 2017). Co-editor (with Matthew Bevis) of Edward Lear and the Play of Poetry (OUP, 2016) and (with Anna Barton) of The Edinburgh Companion to Nonsense (EUP, forthcoming). Other publications include articles and book chapters on Lewis Carroll, Alfred Tennyson, Charles Darwin, Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Dorothy Parker, Victorian comic verse and turn-of-the-century satire and parody.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
Dec 01 2017 -

Edward FitzGerald and the Grammar of Ornament

In this talk Dr James Williams (University of York) will use the coincidence of this historical moment to think about the relationship of FitzGerald’s poem to matters of ornament and decoration.

Project room (1.06)
50 George Square
Edinburgh
EH8 9LH