- Pre-Raphaelite Masculinities: Constructions of Masculinity in Art and Literature ed. by Amelia Yeates and Serena Trowbridge
This excellent edited collection re-evaluates the art and literature of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes in the contexts not only of gender but also of intertextuality, reception, empire, and regionalism. Exploring unstable, contested, and fragmented masculinities from the 1860s onward, the authors range among paintings, illustrations, critical reviews, and literature, dissecting artists’ challenges to hegemonic masculinities. While the term “Pre-Raphaelite” is guaranteed to attract readers, the Brotherhood remains largely absent here. The authors focus on second-generation Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes (without clarifying either group’s aesthetic identities). There are three overarching themes: critical reception, internal contradictions in works in which artists or writers struggle with and against conventional masculinities, and the intertextual complexities of representing masculinity across literature and art.
Amelia Yeates and Eleanor Fraser Stansbie use reception to measure responses to conflicted masculinities. Yeates examines critics’ pathologizing of Edward Burne-Jones’s androgynous males; she also reads style through a moral and religious “manliness” discourse that was tied to health. Attacking Burne-Jones’s figures as unhealthy, critics questioned the artist’s own mental health. Such pathologizing echoed attacks on early Brotherhood images of females who defied conventional femininity. “Queer” was Henry James’s term for Burne-Jones’s art, but James also found his figures’ androgyny enchanting.
Stansbie explores the contexts of two of William Holman Hunt’s three versions of The Light of the World (1851–53, Keble College, Oxford; 1851–56, Manchester Art Gallery; 1900–04, St. Paul’s, London). Stansbie contextualizes these paintings in relation to muscular Christianity and Hunt’s other masculinized depictions of Christ. The hostile reception of the first version’s androgynous, effeminate Christ, whose bejewelled robe seemed dangerously Catholic, was due to its exhibition’s coinciding with anti-Catholic hostility to the re-establishment of the hierarchy of bishops in Britain. The third version, sent to the “white colonies” of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Canada, with its manlier Christ, coincided with imperialist discourses. It was displayed in Tasmania alongside skulls of Tasmanian Aborigines and the skeleton of Truganini, mistakenly believed to have been the last Aborigine. In this context, the bejewelled robe seemed “redolent of the richness of colonial mineral spoils” (210).
Jay Sloan, Ingrid Hanson, and Rosemary Mitchell closely read texts or images for internal conflicts and oscillations between conventional and alternative masculinities. Examining two “modes” or “poetic ‘incarnations’” of manhood in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s early work (11), Sloan questions [End Page 193] earlier feminist assertions that women were mere signs for Pre-Raphaelite artists. Instead, he argues that “an undifferentiated notion of a universalized imperialist ‘male’ gaze obscures the very real differences that existed among Victorian male artists,” whose masculinities were sometimes transgressive (12–13). Attentive to subtle nuances in Rossetti’s “Jenny” (1870), Sloan also discusses Rossetti’s “Pilgrim of Love figure,” who blends human and religious love, as a type of alternative masculinity that runs through many poems. He concludes that Rossetti distanced himself from normative masculinity. He recommends reading Rossetti “intertextually and intermodally, as offering not one, but multiple masculinities which both inform and challenge one another within his work.” Sloan’s revisionism demonstrates that Rossetti blurred the boundaries between masculine and feminine spheres; Sloan thus upends the widely held view that Rossetti endorsed phallocentric “‘male’ power and privilege” (11).
Analyzing William Morris’s Sigurd the Volsung and the Fall of the Niblungs (1876), Hanson suggests some “cohesive characteristics” of the hegemonic masculinity that Morris resists: “courage, will and self-control, and an opposition to the bestial and the feminine or effeminate” (35). Morris presents a “communal masculinity” (35) that expands and re-examines these characteristics. Curiously, critics saw Morris’s dreamy, moody, and passionate males as manly, healthy, and virile. But Hanson insists that Morris undermines the political stability and imperialism associated with manliness and underscores the performativity of masculinity throughout the poem. He omits the saga’s long sections...