- The Pre-Raphaelites
Changes abound: in the United Kingdom, Brexit; here, in the Pre-Raphaelite section of "The Year's Work," we bid farewell to Christina Rossetti, who has now joined her sisters in the women poets section. As partial compensation for this departure, 2016 witnessed several discussions of lesser-known Pre-Raphaelites and of Pre-Raphaelitism in general, as well as many articles on William Morris and an elegant monograph placing the latter's views in the context of the Paris Commune.
In "A 'World of Its Own Creation': Pre-Raphaelite Poetry and the New Paradigm for Art" (Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 25 [Spring 2016]), David Latham undertakes the difficult task of defining a Pre-Raphaelite literary sensibility. He cites William Morris's 1891 claim that art should be naturalistic, narrativized, and ornamental, observing that "[i]t is the jarring conflict of tensions among these three paradoxical principles—a literary subject within a [End Page 390] naturalistic setting with a decorative style—that gives Pre-Raphaelite art its power" (p. 7). Latham terms this fusion of unstable opposites the "literary grotesque," characterized by disruptive violence, a reaching "towards mysterious truths not yet entirely grasped" (p. 11), and "varying senses of degeneration from a paradise lost" (p. 25). These guidelines fit well with his examples from lesser-known as well as familiar works of Dante Rossetti, Lizzie Siddal, Morris, and W. B. Yeats. With its clear definitions, review of late nineteenth-century interpretations of Pre-Raphaelitism, and sympathetic close readings of such poems as Rossetti's "Downstream" and Siddal's "Love and Hate," Latham's article would serve well as assigned reading for a course on Victorian poetry or the Pre-Raphaelites.
In "Philip B. Marston's 'Prelude': Blindness, Form, and the Long Pre-Raphaelite Period" (Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 25 [Spring 2016]), Jordan Kistler argues that Marston's poetry provides an example of creative response to sensory loss as well as meriting renewed attention for its distinctive features. She finds that later reviewers buried Marston's previously well-received poetry by their assumption that a sightless poet must perforce lack original poetic capacity and even empathy. Kistler's acute analysis of the sounds and emotions conveyed in Marston's verse, especially his "Prelude," demonstrates the poet's continued ability to evoke visual detail, as well as his fashioning of expressive rhythms into a complementary aural Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic.
In "Women's Voices in the Pre-Raphaelite Space of Elizabeth Gaskell's Novels," in Place and Progress in the Work of Elizabeth Gaskell, ed. Lesa Scholl and Emily Morris (New York: Routledge, 2016), Sophia Andres explores the influence of Pre-Raphaelite paintings on Gaskell's writings, as her novels critique and undermine familiar Pre-Raphaelite representations of attractive but passive women. Noting Gaskell's friendship with Dante Rossetti and her commentaries on specific paintings by Rossetti, Hunt, and Millais, Andres contrasts Millais's "The Order of Release" and "Ophelia," Rossetti's "The Girlhood of Mary Virgin" and "Ancilla Mea Domina," and Hunt's "Valentine and Sylvia" and "The Light of the World" with specific scenes in Ruth and Sylvia's Lovers that depict the energetic responses of attractive young women when confronted with danger. Arguing that Gaskell would have seen Elizabeth Siddal's drawings when visiting Rossetti's studio, Andres observes that both Siddal and Gaskell revisit familiar narratives such as that of "The Lady of Shalott" in order to present alternate images of women's creative power.
In "Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Remarketing Desire," in Victorian Transformations: Genre, Nationalism and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Literature, ed. Bianca Tedennick (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2016), Julie Carr explores Rossetti's vexed relationship with the expectations of the Victorian marketplace. She [End Page 391] finds his preoccupation with the social constraints placed on artworks to reveal a "modernist self-reflexivity" (p. 134), as shown in his story "St. Agnes of Intercession," as well as biographically in his attempts to manipulate the public reception of his works. Carr argues that the protagonist of "The Blessed Damozel" resists the notion of a static heaven, as represented by his beloved, and concludes that in portraying desire as open-ended and unassuaged, Rossetti...