Study Guide

A Life of Matthew Arnold

by Nicholas Murray

A Life of Matthew Arnold Essay - Critical Essays

A Life of Matthew Arnold

While a number of life studies about Matthew Arnold have been published since his death in 1888, Nicholas Murray’s account stands out among them because of the biographer’s ability to relate the public and private domains in which Arnold moved. Believing Arnold was a fine poet who turned to criticism when his talent for versification failed him, Murray explores the events of Arnold’s life to explain how the writer gradually shifted his medium while continuing to deal with issues of importance to his Victorian contemporaries. Although he demonstrates that he is quite familiar with earlier biographies and the significant body of criticism written about Arnold, Murray relies most heavily on primary source documents—letters, diaries, notebooks, and of course Arnold’s poetry and prose—to construct his portrait. Arnold is seen emerging from the shadow of his father Thomas, legendary Headmaster of Rugby; falling in love, first with the mysterious French belle Marguerite, then with the diminutive, proper Lucy Wightman, whom he married and with whom he lived happily for nearly half a century; and dealing with the travails of being a Schools Inspector for Her Majesty’s government. Concurrently, Arnold squeezes out time to write the works which express his concern for a culture where individuals are increasingly alienated from each other and where materialism has become a dominant social and personal value.

Seen from these varying perspectives, Arnold...

(The entire section is 403 words.)