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Victorian Poetry 41.3 (2003) 424-435

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The Pre-Raphaelites

Florence S. Boos

I will begin this year's review with three brief general studies of Pre-Raphaelitism.

David Riede's overview of "The Pre-Raphaelite School," in the Blackwell Companion to Victorian Poetry edited by Richard Cronin, Alison Chapman, and Antony H. Harrison, allots most of his sixteen pages to discussion of early works, such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Art Catholic poems, Christina Rossetti's verses for The Germ, Morris' "The Defence of Guenevere," and finally Swinburne's "Laus Veneris," in which Riede finds a common programmatic effort to indite "poetry about poetry [or] poetic 'mystery' in aesthetic beauty" (p. 311). He also considers Swinburne "arguably the greatest poet among the Pre-Raphaelites" (p. 317), and interprets the longer-term reactions to Robert Buchanan's attack in The Fleshly School of Poetry as an unequivocal "victory for aestheticism and . . . the most important legacy of Pre-Raphaelitism, a widespread acceptance of artistic freedom as a counter-cultural challenge to cultural orthodoxy" (p. 319).

In Pre-Raphaelitism in the Nineteenth-Century Press: A Bibliography (English Literary Studies, University of Victoria), Thomas Tobin cites hundreds of hitherto undiscovered works, assesses some of the movement's many preoccupations with art, class, and religion, and clarifies the eddies and cross-currents of contemporary responses to its putatively "radical" features. In an unusual cross-cultural study of "The Pre-Raphaelite Craze in Nineteenth-Century Japanese Periodicals" (JPRS), Tobin also surveys [End Page 424] ways in which late-nineteenth-century Japanese critics in journals such as Bungakukai, Shigarami Zoshi, Myojo, and Waseda Bungaku coopted Pre-Raphaelite medievalism in service to nativist and reactionary aims.

An event of particular Rossettian interest this year was the publication of the first two volumes of the late William Fredeman's The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (D. S. Brewer, 2000). Of the nearly 5800 letters projected for the finished work in nine volumes, approximately 2000 will never before have appeared in print, and their beautifully designed first installment, collectively titled The Formative Years, covers 1835-54 and 1855-62 respectively. The first entry in volume one is seven-year-old Gabriel's precocious communication that "I have been reading Shakespeare's Richard the 3rd for my amusement, and like it exceedingly. I, Maria, and William know several scenes by heart" (July 9, 1835). The last letters in volume two respond to the death of Elizabeth Siddal and describe Rossetti's subsequent move to his final home at 16 Cheyne Walk.

In his introduction, Fredeman reminisces about the contributions of Rossetti's collateral descendants Helen Angeli, Imogen Dennis, and others to his edition. He also likens his own public persona to that of Mack the Knife, and Pre-Raphaelite scholars may hear echoes of A. S. Byatt's "Mortimer Cropper" in Fredeman's comments about the editorial practices of Rossetti's confidant and caretaker Hall Caine:

The manuscripts of [the letters in Caine's possession] were inaccessible until 1975, when, following the probate of the will of Caine's last surviving son, Sir Derwent Hall Caine, . . . I assisted in negotiating their release from a bank on the Isle of Man and their transfer to the Manx Museum in Douglas. Only at this point was it possible to recreate Caine's editorial bungling. From a total of 130 letters written between 1879 and 1882, Caine printed 77 excerpts from 58 letters, most of them conflations, sometimes from as many as six or seven different texts. (p. xix)

Fredeman's early volumes also document very strikingly the depths of Rossetti's ties with the male colleagues and companions of his youth. In a eulogy of his late friend Walter Deverell, he wrote that "I have none left whom I love better, and I doubt whether any who loves me so well" (February 3, 1854), and to Thomas Woolner, temporarily absent in Australia, he wrote that "every night, in lying down, I have thought of you and of our friends who are with you, and . . . the thought of you has been brought to me constantly from all sides, in...


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