Rochester – The Poems in Context (paperback)
The 1999 Oxford University Press edition by Harold Love of the works of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, praises Marianne Thormählen’s Rochester: The Poems in Context (Cambridge University Press, 1993; a paperback edition appeared in 2006) as the most up-to-date book on Rochester’s poetry, a “fresh, personal, and profoundly learned” study (pp. xlvi-xlvii). Other scholars have called it “splendid” (The Yearbook of English Studies), “intelligent and careful” (The Review of English Studies), “judicious” (Times Literary Supplement), and “smart and useful … a treasure trove of information [for which] readers of Rochester will be indebted to Ms Thormählen for years to come” (The Scriblerian).
Marianne Thormählen regards Rochester as a serious poet who devoted much time and care to his verse and aimed for the highest standards in his writing. This view runs counter to the traditional idea of Rochester as the “wicked earl” who wrote with ease; but she bolsters it with convincing evidence of painstaking literary desk-work, deliberate exploitation and subversion of poetical conventions, and subtly crafted references to people and events in Charles II’s and Louis XIV’s Europe. Rochester’s much-talked-about obscenities are shown to belong within a sombre framework of dissatisfaction with sensual pursuits and distrust of male sexual ability. The book ends with a consideration of Rochester’s famous deathbed conversion. A select bibliography directs the reader to every notable work on Rochester up to 1990.