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Guy Vernon

A Novelette in Verse

2012
Author:

John Townsend Trowbridge

Guy Vernon

A lost classic of American literature—a narrative of race and sexual intrigue in antebellum America—rediscovered

Edited and extensively annotated by the renowned poet and critic William Logan, this edition of Guy Vernon incorporates revisions Trowbridge marked in his own copy of the anthology. Back in print for the first time since 1878, the long seriocomic work about race, racism, and sexual intrigue in antebellum America reemerges as a lost classic of American literature.

With disconcerting and exhilarating resonances of Twain and James, Hawthorne and Poe, Guy Vernon satirizes both the novel of matters and gothic conventions, but the humor enlarges as it undercuts. The strikingly contemporary narrative voice is a marvel: though clearly borrowed from the Byron of Don Juan, it is also unmistakably American. The discerning and welcome cynicism is sharp but at the same time oddly tolerant, even forgiving, of the human frailty it mocks. William Logan’s rediscovery of John Townsend Trowbridge’s masterpiece is going to force us to adjust our understanding of nineteenth-century American poetry.

Andrew Hudgins, Ohio State University

Many writers are deservedly forgotten, yet not every act of erasure is just. John Townsend Trowbridge (1827−1916) was a prolific American writer whose novels, plays, and poems, though critically acclaimed in his day, have with good reason not been remembered. He wrote one poem, however, that has been unfairly consigned to oblivion. Guy Vernon, a long seriocomic work about race, racism, and sexual intrigue in antebellum America, was first published in 1878 in A Masque of Poets, an anthology of anonymous poems featuring works by Louisa May Alcott, James Russell Lowell, Henry David Thoreau, and Emily Dickinson (whose contribution was her only poem to be published in book form during her life).

Guy Vernon is a novelette in verse portraying an unhappy marriage between North and South on the eve of the Civil War. Guy Vernon, a dashing plantation owner, takes as his wife a penniless young charmer named Florinda whom he meets at the Saratoga balls. Soon estranged, they are joined in their travels around New Orleans, Havana, and the abolitionist North by Vernon’s freed black manservant, Saturn, a “mulatto” dandy who exerts a mysterious power over his former master, and by Florinda’s previous suitor, Rob Lorne, a journalist and would-be poet.

Composed in rollicking rhyme royal stanzas, this verse−narrative is at once comic and gothic, recalling in its cynicism and rhythms Byron’s masterpiece, Don Juan. Edited and extensively annotated by the renowned poet and critic William Logan, this edition incorporates revisions Trowbridge marked in his own copy of the anthology. Back in print for the first time since 1878, Guy Vernon reemerges as a lost classic of American literature, one that both reflects and criticizes the social and literary conventions of its time.

Guy Vernon

John Townsend Trowbridge (1827–1916) was a novelist, poet, and pro-abolition polemicist. As a young man, he briefly served as editor of Benjamin Perley Poore’s newspaper The Sentinel. A friend of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Walt Whitman, he wrote hit plays and was a prolific author of children’s stories.

William Logan is the author of eight volumes of poetry and five books of essays and reviews, including The Undiscovered Country, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. He is the Alumni/ae Professor of English at the University of Florida.

Guy Vernon

With disconcerting and exhilarating resonances of Twain and James, Hawthorne and Poe, Guy Vernon satirizes both the novel of matters and gothic conventions, but the humor enlarges as it undercuts. The strikingly contemporary narrative voice is a marvel: though clearly borrowed from the Byron of Don Juan, it is also unmistakably American. The discerning and welcome cynicism is sharp but at the same time oddly tolerant, even forgiving, of the human frailty it mocks. William Logan’s rediscovery of John Townsend Trowbridge’s masterpiece is going to force us to adjust our understanding of nineteenth-century American poetry.

Andrew Hudgins, Ohio State University

Guy Vernon is thoroughly interesting and surprisingly charming. Logan’s clear affection for this novelette in verse is infectious and his introduction is a pleasure to read.

John Ernest, West Virginia University

One of the wittiest and most winning narrative poems since its great precursors, Pope's “Rape of the Lock” and Byron's “Don Juan. Guy Vernon really is what its champion William Logan claims: a forgotten — if minor — masterpiece.

Washington Post

Logan is surely justified in calling the novelette a forgotten masterpiece. Much more than a curiosity, it deserves to be read, and Logan has given it a superb new edition.

The Hopkins Review

[This poem] went virtually unnoticed before Logan at last pulled it from obscurity. Guy Vernon deserves the treatment he has given it, for its mastery of rhyme royal, and especially for what it has to say on women and race.

Essays in Criticism

Guy Vernon

Contents

Introduction: The Forgotten Masterpiece of John Townsend Trowbridge
Acknowledgments
Note on the Text

Guy Vernon
Dramatis Personae
1. The Wedding Journey
2. Homeward Voyage
3. The Forsaken Bride
4. The Lost Bridegroom
5. Husband and Lover
6. Saturn

Notes
Appendix: Trowbridge's Revisions