Reading Rhythm: Exploring Auditory Possibilities in Clough’s Amours de Voyage

Alex Anderson, Allyn Pearson, and Marybeth Perdomo 

One of the major benefits to working with digital spaces is the ability to engage the senses. For example, the digital space of COVE allows for more freedom when it comes to including visual elements. Digital spaces also allow for interactive elements like our map and timeline features; readers can scroll and click through links that are more interactive and user friendly than flipping back and forth between appendices, timelines, and maps in a codex book. As we contemplated how such digital projects appeal to senses such as sight (reading and viewing images) and touch (scrolling and clicking), we began to ask ourselves: but what about sound?


The Sound of Genre

We decided to analyze the performance of The Online Stage’s 2017 audio recording of Amours de Voyage. The audio is linked in our edition of Amours de Voyage at the beginning of each canto so readers can simply listen or listen while they read. As we worked with the audio performance, we began to pay special attention to how the sound of each recited line relates to, or at times does not relate to, the content and themes of Amours de Voyage. The genre of Amours de Voyage, epistolary verse-novel, is worth considering when discussing the significance of an audio recording. Writing and the act of writing frame the text, not recitation; the opening lines of stanza 1 in Canto I read, “Dear Eustatio, I write that you may write me an answer” (Canto I, 11). This verse-novel has an audience: the recipients and readers of the letters that comprise the entire text. We imagine that these audience members, for example Eustace in this example, would have read the letters silently to themselves. The lack of dialogue might initially suggest that the genre of Amours de Voyage does not lend itself to being read aloud or performed because of the lack of explicitly spoken sound within the text.

However, the meter of the verse-novel illustrates that this is a text that does, in fact, demand to be performed. Upon closer analysis of the form of Amours de Voyage, specifically the meter in which it is written, we discover that the novel is full of contradictions. We argue that the fact that the verse-novel is in dactylic hexameter is one of the strongest indicators that this text should be listened to and/or performed. Dactylic hexameter is, after all, the meter of the Homeric epics, poetry that descends from an oral tradition. The opening lines of Amours de Voyage even evoke a sense of classical epics: “Come, let us go,—to a land wherein gods of the old time wandered” (Canto I, 3). Such an allusion emphasizes the Homeric elements of the text; as readers or listeners, we are made aware of the fact that this text is steeped in traditions of antiquity and, in turn, of an oral tradition. 

The sound of poetry was clearly important to Clough and his writing. During a time when several of Clough’s contemporaries were trying to establish hexameter as an English meter, Clough experimented with the capabilities of the form, even to the extent that he created his own understanding or interpretation of how the meter should sound. In the biographical preface of The Poems and Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough, Clough’s friend, John Conington, recounts a conversation in which Clough had explained his approach to meter: “He repeated, in his melodious way, several lines, intended to show how a verse might be read so that one syllable should take up the time of two, or, conversely, two of one” (32). The account we have from Conington demonstrates Clough’s philosophy when approaching English hexameter. Joseph Phelan describes such an approach to reading one syllable as two and vice versa as a “move towards the fundamental axiom of musical prosody, the rule of isochronous intervals between stresses” (73). Clough may have had his own musical approach to hexameter, but his approach is one that, as Conington demonstrates, requires explanation.

Knowing how Clough, or any poet, intended for a piece to sound takes specific research and investigation. But this dilemma also indicates some of the benefits from examining the sound of poetry being performed and read aloud. Of course, we have to acknowledge the limitations of written English to convey specific intonation. When discussing the process of translating written English into spoken English, Eric Griffiths states: “It is impossible to notate speech unambiguously in writing, in any system of writing” (17). Furthermore, “[i]ntonation patterns are neither purely individual nor wholly systematic, and the same is true of most other prosodic features of language” (Griffiths 21). The ambiguity of authorial intent regarding sound means that any oral performance is going to be highly interpretive. When we listen to the performance of Amours de Voyage by The Open Stage, we can identify moments when the actors naturally follow the meter of the verse and moments when they add extra stresses to the lines to emphasize certain words. Just because an audio recording is one interpretation of a text, however, does not mean we should shy away from making audio performances and audiobooks more accessible, and by extension, more a part of the critical discourse in literary studies.


The Sound of Gender

Hearing the poem aloud for example makes clear how Claude’s voice dominates the verse-novel. The letters from the women therefore stand out for their shift in narrative voice. In the first Canto, for instance, Claude sets the tone as he discusses how Rome disappoints him and why it was not everything he had hoped it could be (Canto 1, 13). Readers are exposed to the interiority of Claude’s feelings and experiences as he examines the world around him, a world that is in a state of political instability. Claude’s surroundings mirror the same instability that he is experiencing within himself as his expectation of Rome is not met. Claude’s letters make up the majority of the narration of the verse-novel; however, each Canto also has letters by other characters, specifically two sisters, Georgina and Mary Trevellyn, who are from an English family touring Italy at the same time as Claude. Hearing the male and female voices performed contributes to our ability to understand the gender politics of Clough’s work.

Of course, audiences are given a limited perspective on these women and their travel experience since many of their letters are concerned largely with domestic issues. Tamara S. Wagner discusses the different types of Victorian women travelers and places them into two categories: those who are eccentric explorers and those who carefully cultivate an image of proper femininity as they travel (Wagner 175). While she gives no specific term for the latter type of women travelers, we propose the term “domestic female traveler” to describe women who are concerned with social etiquette and familial matters as they travel outside of England.[1] For instance, Georgina is clearly just such a “domestic female traveler.” Claude often uses philosophy, theology, and history to reflect upon where he is and how he feels. Unlike Georgina, he shows little interest in keeping his narrative voice simple and contained. As he writes in his second letter to Eustace, “Rome disappoints me still; but I shrink and adapt myself to it” (Canto 1, 35). Claude uses metaphor and thematic language to narrate the disappointing experience he is currently experiencing while in Rome. Claude continues, “[s]omehow a tyrannous sense of superincumbent oppression / Still, wherever I go, accompanies ever, and makes me / Feel like a tree” (Canto l, 36-38). Claude’s language correlates with the revolution that is taking place around him. He describes himself as feeling “oppressed” and experiencing “tyranny” but not because this is something that is done to him, but rather because his own inner thought process takes over. Georgina never employs the language of revolution to describe herself or her situation in such a manner, nor does she show any feelings at first. The difference between the two of them demonstrates the narratological struggle that Clough tackled as he tried to incorporate a feminine perspective into his work, only to limit what the reader is given of that perspective.

The narrative difference between Claude and Georgina shows how Clough has taken different approaches to these characters. According to Robyn Warhol, who has written on the differences between men and women in Victorian narratives, “[i]f the dominant cultural stereotype of middle-class femininity in the nineteenth century dictated that women should be more fastidious, more prudish, and less visceral in their relation to the body than men” (Warhol 91), there was also an active resistance by women writers to break out of the stereotype. Refusing to give their characters the same level of interiority as Claude, Clough could be said to demonstrate a lack of concern for women and their experiences.


The Online Stage Recording

As of May 2021, there is only one publicly available (that is, free access) audio recording of Amours de Voyage. On 15 June 2017, The Online Stage, an audio production company with more than seventy voice-acting members (“Welcome”), uploaded a recording of Amours de Voyage to the Internet Archive.[2] The audio recording included in our annotations is performed by an accomplished cast of voice actors whose projects have appeared on several popular audiobook sites, including Audible, Librivox, and Legamus.

In addition to The Online Stage recording’s excellent production quality, the voice actors’ ability to effectively vocalize their respective characters’ personalities, particularly in Cantos IV and V, makes their project a largely successful one. Because The Online Stage’s cast is composed of professional voice actors, they privilege the text’s performative possibilities over Clough’s nuances of dactylic hexameter. These voice actors are more invested in accessing and constructively portraying the emotive elements of Clough’s narrative than exploring the technicalities of his metrical design. Many of the performative choices that the cast members make work well because they reveal elements of Clough’s characters and emphasize the pacing of the letters. For example, the quick(er) pacing of much of Cantos IV and V effectively conveys Claude’s frantic energy as he travels in search of Mary.

As mentioned earlier, the genre constraints of Amours de Voyage complicate how the text can be effectively performed. The text’s epistolary nature, in particular, reveals select characters’ thoughts, conversations, and actions while it withholds those of other characters. For example, when they are presented with back-to-back letters from Claude, the reader (as well as the voice actor reading for Claude) is implicitly being asked to fill in those narratorial gaps in order to form a more cohesive storyline. While this expectation of an active engagement might confuse or even frustrate some readers, a recorded performance of Amours de Voyage relieves the reader of some of these narratorial responsibilities. Similarly, while this expectation might deter some more contemporary readers from engaging with Clough’s work, these interpretative uncertainties provide Clough and—more importantly for the purposes of this essay—future voice actors with opportunities to emphasize certain textual elements of Amours de Voyage that might otherwise go unnoticed by a less engaged audience.[3]

For example, future recordings (as well as other kinds of adaptations) could more explicitly reveal the comedic elements of Clough’s work, which are primarily revealed through the juxtaposition of certain letters. For example, in Canto II, Claude writes to Eustace in order to describe the violence he has witnessed during the revolution in Rome (Canto II, 198-9). Claude insists that he can only reveal these details to Eustace because to discuss them with Georgina or Mary (or with any British woman, for that matter) would be an affront to their femininity (Canto II, 198-9). In the following stanza, however, Georgina subverts Claude’s expectations by writing to Louisa—in surprising detail—about the “fearful scenes [the Trevellyn party has] witnessed” (Canto II, 217). She writes, for example, how a man “throws [the lasso] on the heads of the enemy’s men in a battle, / Pulls them into his reach, and then most cruelly kills them” (Canto II, 223-4). Although Georgina’s language conveys that she is concerned by the violence surrounding her, this description implies fascination alongside that fear. The juxtaposition of these two particular letters is, of course, important for Claude’s and Georgina’s characterizations; however, one can also imagine how their stark contrast could be humorous to the reader: Claude, in an attempt the play the romantic hero and protect the womenfolk from the ugly realities of revolution, refuses to discuss bloodshed with his female companions; immediately following this refusal, Georgina demonstrates an ‘unladylike’ eagerness to discuss them.

Through Clough’s use of juxtaposition, the reader is also able to identify where and how characters expose their true feelings or otherwise contradict themselves through their various correspondence. Because Claude’s voice dominates the text and because he is arguably the least self-aware character in Amours de Voyage, his letters contain the most contradictory content, particularly when he discusses his feelings for Mary. For instance, Claude begins one letter to Eustace: “I am in love, meantime, you think; no doubt you would think so. / I am in love, you say; with those letters, of course, you would say so. / I am in love, you declare. I think not so” (Canto II, 250-2). For a man who is genuinely not in love, the repetition of the phrase “I am in love” seems an odd authorial choice, and, as such, the inclusion of this phrase presents a variety of interpretive and performative possibilities. Is the writing of this letter, for example, the first time Claude has paused to consider whether or not he is in love with Mary? Does he take Eustace’s observation seriously, or is the idea of his loving Mary comical to him? Is he incredulous, even offended, that Eustace would suggest such a thing? Do these remarks contain some combination of these emotions?

The following lines, however, complicate Claude’s denial and perhaps suggest the most compelling interpretation of Claude’s letter. After denying Eustace’s accusation, Claude admits, “yet I grant you / It is a pleasure, indeed, to converse with [Mary]” (Canto II, 252-3), and he describes their conversations as a “rare gift, / Rare felicity, this!” (Canto II, 253-4). Eustace and the reader-audience will, of course, be able to read Claude’s unconvincing ‘rejection’ for the confirmation that it is, and an effective auditory performance of these lines could make Claude’s inner conflict even more apparent. Here, it should be mentioned that, although Claude believes he is complimenting Mary in this particular letter, the traits he claims to admire about Mary are veiled in hyper-feminine and idealized platitudes concerning the cerebral “simplicity” of women (Canto II, 256). He describes, for example, how Mary “can talk in a rational way” (Canto II, 254) and “[s]peak upon subjects that really are matters of mind and of thinking, / Yet in perfection retain her simplicity” (Canto II, 255-6). Claude’s remarks are indicative of his misogynistic beliefs concerning the intellectual capabilities of and societal expectations commonly prescribed to white, upper-class British women in the mid-nineteenth century. While these beliefs are highly problematic, the fact that Claude relies on these generalizations to describe his affection has performative comedic potential. If a voice actor were to, for example, adopt a hyperbolically infatuated tone while ‘praising’ Mary’s ability to effectively vocalize her intellectual opinions, the performance could more obviously expose Claude’s arrogant attitudes regarding women.

Claude maps many of his opinions about women onto Mary, specifically. The reader is granted direct access to Mary’s voice only ten times throughout the text. Although Mary is mentioned other times in both Georgina’s letters to Louisa and Claude’s letters to Eustace, her voice is filtered through these other speakers and, as a result, is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of her thoughts, opinions, or attitudes. Because the reader is provided with few(er) opportunities to hear Mary’s voice, it is crucial that a voice actor playing Mary conduct a close reading of the words she is allotted so that they can portray her character as engagingly as possible.

Similar to the voice actor reading for Claude in The Online Stage’s production, the auditory performance of Mary’s characterization is most effective in Cantos IV and V. Throughout these cantos, Mary’s voice actor reads her lines in order to represent Mary’s growing investment in the idea of Claude’s catching up to her. It is this building sense of anticipation that makes Mary’s final letter to Miss Roper (as well as the ending of Amours de Voyage) particularly gutting. The reader can hear the disappointment in Mary’s voice when she realizes that Claude has most likely decided to stop pursuing her (Canto V, stanza XIV). “Only too often,” Mary admits, “have [I] looked for the little lake-steamer to bring him. / But it is only fancy,—I do not really expect it” (Canto V, 171-2). As if to resolve herself of her presumed loss and to put Claude out of her mind, Mary ends her correspondence by abruptly changing the subject. Her last words in the text implore Miss Roper to come meet her party: “Can you not really come? We go very shortly to England” (Canto V, 179). In this last line, Mary’s voice actor performs her character’s change in attitude by attempting a slightly brighter, more casual tone. Although the shift is slight, it conveys Mary’s pain quite effectively, so much so that the reader sympathizes with her pain.  

After the romantic optimism presented in much of Cantos IV and V, Mary’s final letter to Miss Roper shatters the reader-audience’s expectation that Amours de Voyage will conclude with the sound of wedding bells for Claude and Mary. In order for Clough’s ending to be more cohesive, however, future audio recordings or adaptations of the text might consider conducting close readings of Cantos I-III in order to determine when characters are being (in)sincere through their correspondence. This attention to detail in the earlier cantos can help future voice actors to better understand their respective characters’ interiorities and, consequently, to inform their performative choices. For example, when are Claude and Mary being honest about their feelings, and when are they not being entirely truthful, either with themselves or with others? An exploration of this question and others like it could improve a reader’s understanding of the characters and their relationship. One of the ways that audiobooks or audio performances can put the human back in the digital humanities is through the sense of community that the act of listening engenders. D. E. Wittkower postulates that the act of listening to an audiobook is indeed a social act: “the listener is [...] part of a real but nonlocal community, at minimum a community formed by the work itself: the author, the performer, the listener, and all the other unknown listeners” (229). Even if a listener listens to an audiobook in isolation, they are hearing the voice of another living, breathing person. As we have witnessed with the rise of text-to-speech programs and digital assistants, recreating the human voice, especially recreating it so it sounds “human” and not “robotic,” is a difficult task for a computer. The human voice, despite being recorded and thus remaining, in a sense, static, is still a human voice that exists in a temporal pocket to be replayed. We argue that the presence of the physical human who reads and performs the piece is integral to the humanity and full complexity of the performance.   


Works Cited

“About the Internet Archive.” The Internet Archive, Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.

Anderson, Monica. Women and the Politics of Travel, 1870-1914. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006.

Altschuler, Sari, and David Weimer. “Texturing the Digital Humanities: A Manifesto.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 135, no. 1, 2020, pp. 74-91. Accessed 27 Feb. 2021.

Clough, Arthur Hugh. Amours de Voyage. Narrated by Peter Tucker et al., The Online Stage, 2017. Internet Archive,

---. The Poems and Prose Remains of Arthur Hugh Clough, edited by Blanche Smith Clough, London, Macmillan and Co., 1869.

Griffiths, Eric. The Printed Voice of Victorian Poetry. Clarendon Press, 1989.

Phelan, Joseph. The Music of Verse: Metrical Experiment in Nineteenth-Century Poetry, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2012.

Wagner, Tamara S. "Introduction: The Nineteenth-Century Pacific Rim: Victorian Transoceanic

Studies Beyond the Postcolonial Matrix." Victorian Literature and Culture 43, no. 2 (2015): 223-34.

Warhol, Robyn R. "Narrating the Unnarratable: Gender and Metonymy in the Victorian Novel." Style 28, no. 1 (1994): 74-94.

“Welcome to The Online Stage.” The Online Stage,,dramatic%20works%20in%20audio%20format. Accessed 16 Feb. 2021.

Wittkower, D. E. “A Preliminary Phenomenology of the Audiobook.” Audiobooks, Literature, and Sound Studies, edited by Matthew Rubery, Taylor & Francis Group, 2011, 216-231.



[1]  According to Monica Anderson, traveling women experienced a significant increase in the late nineteenth century as many of them, mainly from well off families, traveled through the expanded British Empire and the Continent (Anderson 14).

[2] The Internet Archive is a self-described “digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form” (“About”). This project has been committed to “[providing] free access to researchers, historians, scholars, the print disabled, and the general public” since 1996 and has archived billions of web pages and millions of audio recordings, texts, videos, images, and software programs (“About”). 

[3] This acknowledgment of the more overtly humorous (that is, the less satirical) elements of Clough’s work is not to argue, by any means, that Amours de Voyage should be reconsidered as a comedy. Rather, this acknowledgement is intended to emphasize the importance of the juxtaposition of certain letters throughout the piece because they result in humorous moments that help alleviate Clough’s heavier themes and ideas.