This article investigates how A. Mary F. Robinson, a rising poetic star in 1884 at the center of aestheticist literary circles, attempted to establish an ethical aesthetics in The New Arcadia, her collection of poems about rural poverty. Robinson's poetics disrupts her readers' expectations for mellifluous verse, aiming to elicit their sympathy with strained, discordant lyrics, both for the poet as an observer of suffering as well as for the hardships of poverty. The New Arcadia is dedicated to and responds to Robinson's intimate friend Vernon Lee, whose collection of essays Belcaro (1881) argues that the production of aesthetic pleasure is a moral good in itself. Jointly, Lee and Robinson aimed to establish an alternative to the sort of Paterian aestheticism that was often accused of solipsism. For Robinson, however, this approach was not enough, and she sought to question how poetry might engender a sympathy that required the fullest possible understanding of the other and that avoided the often paternalistic, controlling attitudes that underwrote many attempts to bring beauty to the people.
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