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  • Pre-Raphaelitism
  • Florence Boos (bio)

A section of this article was regrettably omitted. That entry is reprinted in its entirety in Victorian Poetry 54.4.

This past year brought many valuable contributions to the study of literary Pre-Raphaelitism, with detailed critical analyses often providing wider philosophic or cultural insights. I will begin this review by examining articles, book chapters, and a monograph that analyze the work of the Rossetti brothers, then turn to several articles and chapters on Christina Rossetti’s poetry. Since Elizabeth Helsinger’s Poetry and the Thought of Song in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Univ. of Virginia Press, 2015) includes chapters on several Pre-Raphaelite poets, among them Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti, these will be discussed separately under the relevant author headings.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Pre-Raphaelite Poetry

In “Poetry on Pre-Raphaelite Principles: Science, Nature, and Knowledge in William Michael Rossetti’s ‘Fancies at Leisure’ and ‘Mrs. Holmes Grey” (VP 53, no. 1 [2015]), John Holmes explores the relationship between the Pre-Raphaelites’ early respect for empirical science and the critique of its moral limitations embodied in their verse. Holmes is innovative in pointing out, in William Rossetti’s little-noticed “Fancies at Leisure,” the modernity, close observation, and appeal to the reader’s subjective perceptions that encourage “an enhanced appreciation of our common life within the ecologies that we share” (p. 30). He also finds Rossetti’s “Mrs. Holmes Grey” a sustained exposé of the limits of documentary testimony, as medical witnesses, a judge, jury, [End Page 387] newspaper report, and the recollections of husband and friend all fail to explain a deranged woman’s alleged death from frustrated adulterous passion. Although the proximate focus of this article is on William Rossetti, Holmes’s remarks on the ethos of early Pre-Raphaelitism provide a useful model for understanding other Pre-Raphaelite works as “writing poetry as science—that is, poems on scientific principles—rather than merely poetry of science” (p. 37).

Another exploration of the impetus behind early Pre-Raphaelite art appears in D. M. R. Bentley’s “Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘For an Annunciation, Early German’: Einfühlung, Inspiration, and Significance” (JPRS 24 [Fall 2015]). Examining the first of Rossetti’s sonnets on a painting, written in 1847 as a contribution to his initial collection “Songs of the Art Catholic,” Bentley notes the similarity of Rossetti’s practice with what would later be theorized by the German philosopher of aesthetics as Einfühlung—glossed by Bentley as “a temporary egress from the narrow confines of self and an opening of space within the self for the alterity that has been felt-into” (p. 37). After examining several plausible originals for the yet-unidentified “Early German” Annunciation painting memorialized in the poem, Bentley demonstrates ways in which the sonnet adduces details only apparent to the figures within the painting, which thus “work to absorb the reader further into it and to achieve an ‘inner standingpoint’” (p. 38).

In her chapter on “Listening: Dante Gabriel Rossetti” in Poetry and the Thought of Song, Elizabeth Helsinger traces the significance of listening, sound, and music in evoking altered states of consciousness throughout Rossetti’s paintings and poetry. After identifying ways in which his paintings convey the sense of listening, Helsinger explores the importance placed on older musical and ballad traditions by Rossetti and his friends and the influence of the latter on his watercolors and songs. Observing that his lyrics repeatedly explore “that perplexing transit from page to tones to music heard in the ear of the mind to expand the conception of what lyric poetry and painting might do” (pp. 81–82), she offers subtle readings of the effects of musical allusions within Rossetti’s actual “songs,” his sonnets on paintings, poems replete with musical metaphors such as “Love’s Nocturne,” and finally, the “Willowwood” and “Monochord” sonnets from The House of Life, which, in her words, offer “the feel of life to those who can no longer anticipate” (p. 116).

In “Speaking with the Dead: The Séance Diary of William Michael Rossetti, 1865–68,” JPRS 24 (Spring 2015), Andrew Stauffer provides a fascinating glimpse into an unexpected nook of...


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