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Four approaches to Marvell's "Upon Appleton House": Poetic patterns, estate lands, retirement of a hero, and education of a young woman

Asheley Randolph Griffith, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Today Andrew Marvell's poetry is thought to offer a window onto mid-seventeenth-century English literature and culture, yet scholars find the poet's richly allusive early works puzzling: we often do not know what prompted these compositions, or how to interpret them. Marvell probably wrote much of his early verse in 1651-1652 while working as a tutor at the Fairfax family's Yorkshire estate, Nun Appleton. Four approaches to Marvell's major early work, the estate poem Upon Appleton House, help to clarify the poet's methodology, the Yorkshire cultural and landscape milieus of his 1651-1652 poems, the prominent family for which he worked, and the pedagogic content of the poem itself. In the first approach, textual analysis and pattern-tracing reveal that Marvell developed Upon Appleton House from short poetic studies in Latin and English, and reveal too some ways in which Marvell represented his employer, Thomas Fairfax; his student, Mary Fairfax; and himself, as tutor-poet persona. Next, research on central Yorkshire's historical geography and lore and especially on Fairfax family lands helps explicate Upon Appleton House and shows that Marvell himself was a researcher and close observer of the outdoors. Third, information about the career and retirement of Thomas Fairfax--who in 1650 was nominally Interregnum England's highest-ranking leader--partially demystifies both Fairfax's retirement motives and Marvell's poem. A final approach analyzes Upon Appleton House as a poem for the instruction of thirteen-year-old Mary Fairfax. Marvell apparently drew on ideas from advice-to-a-prince poems, education manuals, puritan theology, and other sources to prepare Mary Fairfax for her future roles as Protestant heiress, dynastic perpetuator, and "natural ruler." Moreover, Marvell lyrically transformed the lands she would inherit into a medium for learning. Each approach to Upon Appleton House includes attention to literary and visual arts' traditions and to Marvell's evolution as a poet. Together, the four approaches go far toward explaining Marvell's 1651-1652 compositional chronology and self-presentation, his descriptions of nature and Yorkshire landscapes, his praise and instruction of Fairfax family members, and his evocations of post-civil-war England.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Griffith, Asheley Randolph, "Four approaches to Marvell's "Upon Appleton House": Poetic patterns, estate lands, retirement of a hero, and education of a young woman" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709600.