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Victorian Poetry 40.3 (2002) 333-340

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Guide to the Year's Work

The Pre-Raphaelites

Florence S. Boos

The year brought worthwhile articles and scholarly editions to compensate for its scarcity of single-author monographs. Two recent articles on Dante Gabriel Rossetti's poetry offer contrasting psychological and historical approaches. Joseph Bristow's "'He and I': Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Other Man" (VP 39, no. 3) sidesteps more familiar aspects of Rossetti's images of heterosexual frustration to focus on the male personae in poems such as "He and I" (sonnet XCVIII in "The House of Life") who preempt speakers' authority and identity and "solicit, only to betray, the poet-speaker's trust"—figures such as "Willowwood"'s allegorical image of "Love," for example, who weighs down the speaker's "neck with moan of pity and grace" and encircles both lovers' heads in his aureole. Bristow finds other analogous patterns in the looming imagery of "The Burden of Nineveh," "Love"'s denial of fulfilled love in "Love's Nocturne," and the dying speaker's confessions to his priest in "A Last Confession." Readers may find his analysis of Rossetti's figural displacements and processional narcissism convincing enough to warrant searches for unmediated female figures in Rossetti's work (Beatrice sans Virgil? Venus sans Cupid?).

In "Punch on Nineveh, Catholics and the P. R. B." (JPRS, fall), Andrew Stauffer finds unexpectedly complex contemporary responses to Henry Layard's Assyrian bull and Pre-Raphaelite art in Rossetti's two versions of "The Burden of Nineveh"—art-student debates about "whether Punch / Is right about the P. R. B." in the first version, for example, to associations of Assyrian bull statues with aestheticism, Pre-Raphaelitism, and papal "bulls" (!) in Punch and other periodicals. The Pre-Raphaelites outlived those assaults, and Punch later portrayed the Ninevan excavator Layard as an M. P. in agonistic struggle against "John Bull," but Stauffer argues that Rossetti's poem reflected these glints of cultural history in its "moves between mockery and wonder, ironically exposing imperial pridefulness while negotiating [Rossetti's] own conflicted attitudes towards Catholicism in the 1850s." Quaint illustrations (among them a Punch cartoon of a British lion atop a frowning Assyrian bull adorned with papal crown) support Stauffer's points, and his close historical study clarifies an unexpectedly whimsical aspect of Rossetti's icon of brute imperial force.

Betty S. Flowers has newly introduced and annotated an inexpensive paperback edition of R. W. Crump's Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems, originally published in three hardcover volumes from 1978 to 1990, and argues in its introduction that Rossetti's "iconic rather than psychological" art requires "readings that pay attention to the interplay between [End Page 333] allusions and emotion." Her edition of this compact (1221 page) paperback reproduces William Michael Rossetti's earlier notes for critical comparison, and supplements them with hundreds of helpful biblical, literary, and biographical notes of her own. It would be a great pleasure to see comparably inexpensive reprints or republications of other Pre-Raphaelite works—Jan Marsh's edition of the works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for example, and some of William Morris' longer poems.

In "Lisa Wilson: 'A Friend of Christina Rossetti'" (JPRS, fall), Diane D'Amico sets out what she has discovered about Mary Louisa Wilson (1850-1934), who appears in two photographs as a handsome and austerely dressed middle-aged woman. Wilson was an independently prosperous single woman who devoted herself to her older friend in her final illness, cherished Rossetti as poetic model as well as religious exemplar, and dedicated to her her own Verses (1896). D'Amico comments on Wilson's intricate emulations of Rossetti's poetry and the symbolism of Rossetti's poetic tribute "To My Fior-di-Lisa," as well as Wilson's personal recollections in the margins of Mary Sandar's 1930 biography of Rossetti, and the influence on both women of religious writers such as Rossetti's spiritual advisor, the Rev. Frederick Littledale, who wrote that "to get to know God's friends is a very good way of 'having' Him." In keeping with this ideal, D'Amico...


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