Hopkins’s Confessional Notes and Desire: A Reconsideration
Since their publication in 1989, the confessional notes Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) kept as an undergraduate have been a major influence in shaping criticism of his work. The sexual indiscretions and longings the confessional notes record have been central to recent studies of eroticism in Hopkins’s poetry, corroborating the suggestion that his poems allowed for the homoerotic expression his religious vocation denied him. While not questioning the seriousness of Hopkins’s attraction to other men, this article seeks to establish the broader moral scrupulousness the confessional notes evidence. As well as recording lapses in sexual propriety, the notes reveal the startling range of what Hopkins considered to be failings in need of repentance. They are the product of a curious moral fastidiousness, which recorded the killing of insects or indulgence in eating biscuits with apparently the same concern as when registering sexual excitement at the crucifixion scene. One prominent aspect of the confessional notes is the frequency with which sinful behaviour is initiated by reading or writing. In this the notes provide early indications of Hopkins’s doubts over the legitimacy of writing poetry, which grew more explicit once he had joined the Jesuits. Any interpretations of his work which see Hopkins as displacing sexual desire into his writing should also recognise the very real qualms the confessional notes show him entertaining about poetry itself.
This is an Open Access journal. All material is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence, unless otherwise stated.
Please read our Open Access, Copyright and Permissions policies for more information.