Edward FitzGerald photograph

"I have been all my life apprentice to this heavy business of idleness."

Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883)

A selective list of online literary criticism for the English Victorian poet and translator Edward FitzGerald, favoring signed articles by recognized scholars and articles published in peer-reviewed sources

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Editions of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

The story of the rise to fame of Edward FitzGerald's very loose translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám is itself famous. It appeared, anonymously, in 1859, when FitzGerald arranged for it to be published at his own expense, by Bernard Quaritch, a bookseller and printer who sold the copies in his store. At first it was completely ignored, and in 1861 it was put on the remainder tables at the price of a penny, where it discovered by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Rossetti showed it to Charles Swinburne and William Morris, and with its distinctly un-Victorian philosophy of life, the poem became popular with the Pre-Raphaelites and Victorian aesthetes. In 1868 a second, expanded edition was printed that was a wild success in America; and after 1870 his friends in England gradually learned that FitzGerald was the author. He revised the work compulsively throughout his life. There were four very different editions published under his authority while he was living, and a fifth was published after his death, based on his final manuscript revisions: First edition, 1859; second edition, 1868; third edition, 1872; fourth edition, 1879; fifth edition, 1889. (Links are to page images of the original Quaritch editions, available through Google Books.) Quaritch's is still in business in London as a rare book store.

FitzGerald learned Persian from his friend, the great, self-taught nineteenth-century Sanskrit scholar Edward Byles Cowell. Cowell later became a professor in India, where he obtained two copies of the manuscript of Omar Khayyám belonging to the Asiatic Society at Calcutta and sent one to FitzGerald. FitzGerald was fascinated with the verse. He wrote to his friend the poet Alfred Tennyson about his early work on the translation: "I have really got hold of an old Epicurean so desperately impious in his recommendations to live only for Today that the good Mahometans have scarce dared to multiply MSS of him. He writes in little Quatrains, and has scarce any of the iteration and conceits to which his People are given. One of the last things I remember of him is that - "God gave me this turn for Drink, perhaps God was drunk when he made me" - which is not strictly pious. But he is very tender about his Roses and Wine, and making the most of this poor little Life" (F Ltrs 2: 291). See also, an exhibit of early manuscripts of Omar Khayyám at the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Literary Criticism

Albano, Giuseppe. "The benefits of reading the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám as pastoral." Victorian Poetry 46, 1 (Spring 2008) pp 55-67 [excerpt only].

Barton, Anna Jane. "Letters, scraps of manuscript, and printed poems: the correspondence of Edward FitzGerald and Alfred Tennyson." On FitzGerald's letters as among the greatest in the English language. Victorian Poetry 46, 1 (Spring 2008) [subscription service, questia].

Drury, Annmarie. "Accident, orientalism, and Edward FitzGerald as translator." Victorian Poetry 46, 1 (Spring 2008) pp 37-53 [excerpt only].

Karlin, Daniel. "Editing the Rubáiyát: two case-studies and a prospectus." Victorian Poetry 46, 1 (Spring 2008) [subscription service, questia].

Tucker, Herbert F. "Metaphor, translation, and autoekphrasis in FitzGerald's Rubáiyát." Victorian Poetry 46, 1 (Spring 2008) [excerpt only].

Lighter Reading

"The Persian Sensation: 'The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám' in the West." A web exhibition from the Harry Ransom Center, Univ. of Texas, Austin. Includes a brief history of Edward FitzGerald’s translation, displays of editions and more.

An appreciation of Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, by professor Anthony Briggs. Telegraph (UK), 18 April 2009.

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. "If only we could all learn the spirit of Edward FitzGerald's wonderfully unfaithful translation.” By poet Carol Rumens, in Guardian (UK) Blog, December 29, 2008.

"Appendix: two early reviews of the Rubáiyát." Victorian Poetry 46, 1 (Spring 2008) pp 105-25 [excerpt].

Article in the Tehran Times (Iran) about the exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center, "The Persian Sensation: 'The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám' in the West." 15 January 2009.

Celebrating the life of Omar Khayyám and Edward FitzGerald at the Iran Heritage Foundation.


"Victorianism." The Victorian Web. Prof. George Landow, ed. Essays topics include Victorianism as a Fusion of Neoclassical and Romantic Ideas; The Complex Realities of Victorianism; Main Currents in Victorian Intellectual History; The fundamental conflicts of Victorian poetry; Density and Elaborate Interconnectedness of High and Late Victorian culture; The Difficulties of Victorian Poetry; Victorian Doubt and Victorian Architecture; Victorian taste; Victorian Design; Race in Thought and Science; Victorian Earnestness; The Seaside in the Victorian Literary Imagination; Tennyson and Victorianism; The Victorian Gentleman; Crisis of Organized Religion; Queen Victoria.

"Monuments and Dust." Eds. Michael Levenson, David Trotter, Anthony Wohl. IATH, U of Va. A project by an international group of scholars who are creating a complex visual, textual, and statistical representation of Victorian London.

Jackson, L. "A Dictionary of Victorian London." Victorian social history through a "dictionary" of Victorian institutions.

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