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Reviews Alison Chapman. TheAfterlife of ChristinaRossetti. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. 213 pp. Alison Chapman's TheAfterlife of Christina Rossetti argues that the author is the central problem of representation and that Christina Rossetti is an effect, or more appropriately, an after-effect of literary and biographical life writing. Examined as a semiotic structure, the literary signature becomes a trope of ambivalence, signifying the poet's presence as absence and the poetry's meaning as inaccessible. Yet Chapman's analysis of the author as a process and product of representation is also a solid historical study, offering a subtle and sophisticated consideration of figures of loss and death that figure prominently in the reception history of Rossetti's work in relation to the afterlife as a trope in Rossetti's own writing and public selfimage . Chapman thus draws a significant connection between the biographical history and the poetry by noting that "subjectivities in Rossetti's poetry repeat the vacillation [found in the biographies] between presence and absence, accessibility and inaccessibility, which offers a figure for reading the signature Christina Rossetti" (6). Rossetti emerges here not only as a signature and cultural artefact but also as a model for a different kind of poetic subjectivity. Chapman's study of the representation of the life aims at a reconfiguration of reading practices that would allow access to the referent "without either reifying its presence or insisting on its absence." This would be, she argues, "reading in other ways, other wise"(27). One of the merits of this book thus lies in Chapman's ability to detect mutually constitutive structures of figuration and to explore their larger significance. For in approaching Rossetti from the perspective of the history of authorial representation, Chapman situates her study within the larger question of the relation between history and literature. Moreover, she insists that the relation between history and literature is all the more acute in the study of Victorian women's poetry, as that body of writing emphasizes tensions between feminism and new historicism . Chapman not only outlines and analyzes the methodological and critical complications arising from excavation of dead authors as 1 08volume 28 number 2 Reviews personality and individual presence, but shows how Rossetti's own subversions of the sentimental tradition, which defines the proper mode of expression for women poets as confessional and personal and thereby inherently autobiographical, raise questions about the project of recovery. Chapman thus seeks to break the cycle of nineteenth-century autobiographical readings of women's poetry, which, she argues, "in a self-sustaining circularity, produce the life as evidence for textual interpretation and the text as evidence for biography" (66). Consequently , she spends some time in the early chapters of the book questioning central premises of the project of recovery and new historicist methodologies for understanding authorship and demonstrating how they reproduce the very ideology that the poetry critiques. Rossetti herself self-consciously resists the ideology of self-representation, Chapman observes, and thus her poetry severely complicates historicist acts of interpretation. Chapters one and two address historical methodologies in terms of the gaze and the voice respectively. Chapman insightfully offers photography as a visual analogy to the process by which historically oriented approaches search for an authentic biographical subject. Both biography and photography, according to Chapman, are predicated upon an illusion of the presence of the referent "out there" and their focus on the object makes the referent into a fetish. Later in the book, Chapman will return to the analogy between photography and biography to parallelJulia Margaret Cameron's "out of focus" photography with Rossetti's poetic commentary on her brother's aesthetics of the feminine. In their shared interest in the spectral quality of their feminine subjects, representing them as excessively feminine, fleeting and posthumous, female poet and photographer alike unsettle the male gaze and return the look. Voice similarly functions as guarantor of presence. In lyric poetry such as Rossetti's, voice works as a metonymy in the nineteenth century, and persists today, collapsing woman into experience into text, enabling the lyric voice to be taken as the ultimate indicator of the historical personage. Chapman acknowledges that voice is heavily invested with the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 108-112
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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