Dante G. Rossetti
An exception is the eighth and next-to-last volume of The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (D. S. Brewer with the Modern Humanities Association), originally edited by William Fredeman and completed by Anthony Harrison, Jane Cowan, Roger C. Lewis, and Christopher Newall. This installment records the correspondence of Rossetti's fiftieth and fifty-first years, a period in which his literary work consisted of four sonnets, "Fiammetta" and "To Philip Bourke Marston" in 1878, and "Ardour and Memory" (for "The House of Life") and "Soothsay" (unfinished) in 1879. He did comment in passing on others' works, however--John Payne's Lautrec, for example ("[It] might be called the Anatomy of Vampyrism.... What will the Bardic Faculty do next?" [November 27, 1878]), and the work of Agnes Mary Robinson, a younger poet who sent him her Handful of Honeysuckle (his response was to "suggest your taking up some subject which should deal with realities, & seeing what you could make of that" [May 31, 1878]).
As had been his wont for some years, Rossetti went out of his way to help impoverished and otherwise ill-fated fellow-artists such as James Smetham, a man afflicted by mental illness whose works he took great pains to sell, and James Allen, Smetham's nephew, whose silhouettes he bought and recommended to others. He also arranged for Theodore Watts Dunton to review (favorably) the poetry of "the Pitman Poet" Joseph Skipsey for the Athenaeum, and urged the editor of a volume devoted to the lives of artists to include Benjamin Haydon, for "every national move in art & in art-education since Haydon's time was first conceived & urged by him" (November 13, 1878). In one of his more anxious and less generous moments, he expressed reluctance to employ Simeon Solomon's indigent sister Rebecca Solomon as a copyist, fearing that her landlord might distrain one of his paintings to pay her debts. He sent many dinner invitations to friends and colleagues such as Frederic Shields and Theodore Watts Dunton, and negotiated tenaciously with patrons such as Leonard Valpy (whom he called "Valpy the Vampire") and the longsuffering William Graham, who bore up with his procrastinations, reluctance to exhibit new works, and resort to replicas and reproductions of old ones as sources of income.
In a different register, Rossetti continued to press his ardent attentions on Jane Morris, sending her drawings and specially bound books as well as assorted health "remedies" (he was forced to warn her in one case that a potion he had sent might "destroy the enamel of the teeth & so loosen them" [April 1, 1878]). When she expressed anxiety that that he might not wish to see her because illness had rendered her less attractive, he responded with a well-known declaration that "the supposition would be an outrage to my deep regard for you,--a feeling far deeper (though I know you never believed me) than I have entertained towards any other living creature at any time of my life" (May 31, 1878).
In one sequence of letters Rossetti also enjoined Jane Morris to send the items a long list of possessions he had left at Kelmscott (c. August 9, c. August 16 and 21, 1878), and enumerated the allegedly disabling flaws of the dwelling that Morris later leased in Hammersmith and named Kelmscott House (April 1, 1878). Writing before Jane left for a curative stay abroad, he remarked that "the damps of that sojourn may prepare you somewhat for [Kelmscott House], which I really do not think a wise choice, if you are a person to be at all considered in the matter" (April 19, 1878), and he later added "solicitously" that "it might really be a great gain if, instead of having so specially damp a country resort as Kelmscott [Manor] is, Top were to consider well what place wd be the driest & best, & try to find country quarters there ... now that he is making so mistaken a move towards a house in town even damper than the old one" (September 2, 1878).
As for Morris himself, the quondam friend of his youth, Rossetti deprecated his reluctance to contribute to a fund for Keats' sister "[though] he writes long epistles on every public event" (August 1, 1879), and he dismissed out of hand Morris' engagement with the Eastern Question Association, the country's first country-wide antiwar movement, ("Has Top perhaps thrown trade after poetry, & now executes none but wholesale orders in philanthropy--the retail trade being beneath a true humanitarian?" [April 1, 1878]). If Morris knew of these jibes, he responded to them with his usual stoic silence.
Some of the volume's more interesting passages include Rossetti's responses to the Ruskin-Whistler trial, since both men had once been his friends. To Frederic Shields, he marveled at "what a lark the Whistler case is! I must say, he shone in the box. The fool of an Attorney General was nowhere. I am glad to see that Ruskin is not to be hauled out" (Ruskin had been too ill to attend the trial; November 26, 1878), and he varied this expression of glee in a letter to Marie Stillman: "what a tremendous piece of fun is the Whistler-Ruskin case! ... An Arrangement in Black on White in the Bankruptcy Court must I fear be the result of the Arrangement in Black & Blue between the contending parties at Westminster. A Nocturne Andante would be the only means of avoiding it, and then one does not see well what haven could be reached or function fulfilled now that a Fire-King is no longer wanted at Cremorne" (November 27, 1878).
Yet another overdose of chloral led to more medical interventions and near-constant visits by Rossetti's brother and friends in October 1879, but according to William Michael, his health improved thereafter until the fall of 1881. As he recovered and turned away from the artistic assembly line, he also returned to poetry, writing to Watts-Dunton about a draft of "Soothsay" (December 23, 1879) and sending Jane Morris and William Davies copies of "Pleasure and Memory" (later "Ardour and Memory"), his first new sonnet for "The House of Life" in five years, which concluded with a quasi-autobiographical promise that "Even yet the rose-tree's verdure left alone / Will flush & ruddy when the rose is gone; / With ditties and with dirges infinite" (December 31, 1879).
In two chapters of her larger work, A Victorian Muse: The Afterlife of Dante's Beatrice in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Continuum), Julia Straub examines the close relationship of the Rossettis to Dantean allegory. Straub argues that the Beatrice-figure held a more general significance in popular as well as canonical nineteenth-century literature as a type for Victorian desires to discern spiritual meanings (broadly conceived) in individual biography and physical reality. In "Looking for the Real Beatrice: The Rossetti Family," for example, Straub gathers together the Dantean interests of Gabriele, Dante, Christina, Maria, and William, contrasts Gabriele's political readings with Maria's Shadow of Dante and William's translation of the Inferno, and finds that the latter concerned themselves with the Commedia's historical and linguistic details but suspended judgment about their allegorical significance.
In "Ideal Visions: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti," Straub argues that by contrast Christina forged a new and egalitarian Dantean/ Petrarchan persona in "Monna Innominata," which "manage[d] to move beyond the moments of stagnation ... which her brother face[d] and which render[d] the speaking subjects in his poetry more fragmentary and threatened by dissolution" (p. 59). Comparing Dante Rossetti's portrayal of his namesake in "Dante at Verona" with the 1859 diptych "The Salutation of Beatrice," in which he framed events from the Vita Nuova and the Commedia in a single narrative sequence, she concludes that he "elaborated his own idiosyncratic reading of Beatrice as a figure of personal and aesthetic relevance," as well as exemplifying "the intermedial nature of this aesthetic vision" (p. 67).
In her examination of "Dante's Dream," painted in 1856 and repainted between 1878 and 1880, Straub interprets two predellas which represent Alighieri's grief-stricken dreams of Beatrice's death and his narration of them to female auditors as emblems for "the impact of a dream on the poet, whose emotional and physical suffering leads to the production of poetry" (p. 71). Arguing that synaesthetic representations of similar motifs in the work of Marie Stillman, George Eliot, and Christina Rossetti critiqued male "idealizations" of the women they "idolize," she characterizes Tennyson's and Pater's reinscriptions of the original myth as attempts to "follow Dante's example by exalting individuals who are able to propel humanity towards perfection" (p. 133).
In "'A Soul of the Age': Rossetti's Words and Images, 1848-73" (Writing the Pre-Raphelites: Text, Context, Subtext, ed. Michaela Giebelhausen and Tim Barringer [Ashgate]), David Peters Corbett argues that Rossetti's aesthetic beliefs evolved over time as he sought to make his art personal and authentic as well as reflective of its age. Finding inadequate "Hand and Soul"'s admonition to "work from thine own heart, simply," Corbett argues, Rossetti sought in "St. Agnes of Intercession" (revised in 1870) to assert "the necessity of confronting and understanding the modern, and skepticism about the capacity of the painter's art to achieve it" (p. 92). In his conclusion, he suggests that Rossetti sought in late works such as "Lady Lilith" and "Bocca Baciata" to express alternate views of the interrelations between art and physical reality in which "the surfaces of 'Blue Bower' or 'The Beloved' enact the swarming, febrile, and sensuous character of somatic experience, provoke it, are it.... The paintings of the 1860s and 1870s ... assert the identity of representation and reality in the boldest way he can imagine" (pp. 95-96).
In "Reconstructing Pre-Raphaelitism: The Evolution of William Michael Rossetti's Critical Position" (Writing the Pre-Raphelites: Text, Context, Subtext), Julie L'Enfant canvasses Rossetti's critical views of art from early efforts for the Germ to his reviews in the Critic, the Spectator, the Academy, Fraser's Magazine, and the Edinburgh Weekly Review, and demonstrates that his first reviews already manifested an eclectic willingness to bend strict artistic "rules" and a measure of critical distance in his assessments of the works of his Pre-Raphaelitic allies. Arguing that artists who rejected such norms sought "a deep sincerity that invents a new idea" (p. 105) rather than "positive rules established by nature," for example, Rossetti began to shift his focus to aesthetic nuances of intensity and color: "What are those ideas [sought by the greatest artist] to be? We would answer--Ideas of form, colour, and expression" (p. 105).
L'Enfant also finds continued adherence to these principles in William Michael's reviews of the work of Edward Burne-Jones, Albert Moore, James McNeill Whistler, and Frederick Leighton in the 1860s, but argues that Rossetti's testimony on Whistler's behalf in his suit against Ruskin in 1878 signaled a more radical "conversion from 'truth to nature' to a thoroughly modern formalism" (p. 106), reflected in a remark in his 1906 autobiography that one should "be prepared to admit the merit of any & every sort of painting, provided only it is a good thing from its own point of view" (p. 111).
In "Exercitive Speech Acts in the Poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti" (VP 47, no. 2), Ernest Fontana argues that Rossetti employed Austinian "exercitives," in which a speaker's urgings and warnings "evoke a world of danger, threat, mystery, and existential uncertainty" (p. 449), and finds such "exercitive speech acts" (p. 451) in early poems such as "The Choice" and two "Church Porch" sonnets. He also argues that Rossetti's admiration for Fitzgerald's 1861 translation of the (exhortation-laden) Rubaiyat may have influenced later poems such as "Aspecta Medusa," "The Sea-Limits," "Hoarded Joy," and "A Superscription," and concludes that in "Soothsay" "Rossetti [was] able ... to perform a voice that is both authoritative in tone and skeptical in content" (p. 457).
In "Listening: Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Persistence of Song" (VS 51, no. 3), Elizabeth Helsinger examines the use of music in Rossetti's works, and argues that "scenes of attentive listening and imagined hearing haunt his early poems and pictures and gesture toward song as poetry's--and perhaps painting's--distant horizon" (p. 410). Noting that Georgiana Burne-Jones was the center of social gatherings in which the young Morris, Rossetti, and the Burne-Jones circle sang carols and ballads, she identifies sources for several Rossetti translations in song-compilations by William Chappell and J. B. Wekerlin, and argues that he used musical imagery in ways which which bear witness to the insight that "aesthetic perception-listening for and through the music of poetry--can grasp something otherwise elusive about the nature of time and space" (p. 418).
In three chapters of Poetics En Passant: Redefining the Relationship Between Victorian and Modern Poetry (Palgrave), Anne Jamison considers innovative aspects of Christina Rossetti's poems. In Chapter four, for example, "Passing Strange: Christina Rossetti's Unusual Dead," Jamison finds forms of stealth or "counter-discourse" in poems such as "At Home," "After Death," and "When I Am Dead, My Dearest." She also observes that Rossetti "tended to make available a reading that will comfort or even flatter the reader, only to undermine such reading by foregrounding the duplicitous nature of the medium" (p. 125), and argues that Rossetti's spectral presences--unlike the erotic revenants of Thomas Hood's "A Bridge of Sighs" or Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott"--proclaim that "it is not the dead who are 'rotting,' but the living" (p. 141).
In her fifth chapter, "Goblin Metrics," Jamison argues that Rossetti's rhythms reenact a blending or hybridity which harkens "back to Skelton[,] but also 'down' to popular, even animal forms ... the stuff of street cries, fairy tales, and the London Zoo[, and] the prosodic and thematic territory of Milton, Shakespeare, Keats, Coleridge, and Tennyson" (pp. 145-146). Supporting her argument with concrete diagrams, she construes this poem as a form of collage which overlaid a "low" Skeltonian tradition with oral and pan-European traditions, and created a "tale of bodily and spiritual permeability, of identities forged through difference rather than stability, apparent unities cobbled together from preexisting forms that as easily disintegrate into difference" (p. 175), which offers a "place of exchange, freedom, and dissimilation" (p. 176).
In chapter six, "'When I Am Dead, My Dearest ...': Modernism Remembers and Forgets Rossetti," Jamison traces the complex reception of Rossetti's poetry in the twentieth century. Interpreting poems such as "Winter: My Secret" and "Pause for Thought" as evidence that Rossetti sought to realize ideals of concision, abstraction, and impersonality, she argues that poets such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot were unwilling to acknowledge these modernist elements in Rossetti's verse--a prejudice which lingered in new-critical and early feminist readings of Rossetti's poetry. Jamison also identifies one modernist writer, Rossetti's nephew-in-law Ford Madox Ford, who was free of this prejudice. Ford praised Rossetti as "the greatest master of words--at least of English words--that the nineteenth century gave us" (p. 211), and anticipates Jamison's argument in his remark that "Christina ... [was] a figure very modern among all the generalizers who surrounded her, who overwhelmed her, who despised and outshouted her" (p. 212).
In "Tennyson by Ear" (Tennyson Among the Poets: Bicentenary Essays, ed. Robert Douglas-Fairhurst and Seamus Perry [Oxford Univ. Press]), Angela Leighton acknowledges Christina Rossetti's indebtedness to Tennyson's "repetition, echo and refrain" (p. 341), but argues that she modified his representations of enclosure and paralysis to create original aural and musical effects of her own, and developed a distinctive ability to "evok[e] in verse a listening attention to what has been lost. A poet of echoes, of language which constantly seconds itself, she [became] a poet who ma[de] a unique life's work of coming second" (p. 347). In her conclusion, Leighton suggests that what Rossetti (and Virginia Woolf after her) achieved was "not a[n] ... imitation of [Tennyson's] work, ... but a calling of it into play, a setting of it in the rhythms and repetitions of their own words" (p. 355).
In "Morris and Tennyson" (Journal of William Morris Studies 18, no. 2), Peter Faulkner considers the literary and personal interrelations between Morris and the eventual Poet Laureate twenty-five years his senior. At Oxford Morris admired Tennyson's early works such as "Oriana," but found (according to his friend R. W. Dixon) a "rowdy, or bullying, element" in "Locksley Hall." He later criticized Tennyson's alterations to the original Arthurian legends in his Idylls, and may have conceived Sigurd the Volsung (1876) as a more grittily authentic "medieval" epic.
Tennyson's poetic endorsements of British imperialism and reported remark that Morris' socialism was "crazy" no doubt widened the rift between the two men in the eighteen-eighties, when Morris composed Chants for Socialists, drafted Pilgrims of Hope for Commonweal, and gently parodied Tennyson in
The Tables Turned, or Nupkins Awakened ("I don't want to understand Socialism: it doesn't belong to my time" [p. 43]). But Faulkner correctly observes that Morris never lost his respect for Tennyson's powers of poetic expression and reprinted his personal favorite Maud at the Kelmscott Press (sans the original volume's "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and other patriotic effusions).
In "William Morris's Conditional Moment" (Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net 53 [February]), Megan Ward examines the view of history embodied in The Defence of Guenevere's title poem and argues that "The Defence" offered a highly conditional "constellation of moments, grounded in the senses" [para.2], and expressed through the "tortured, speculative language" of the persona of Guenevere" (para. 13). Comparing such narrative tensions with Walter Benjamin's definition of remembrance as the ability "to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger" ("Theses on the Philosophy of History" [para. 24]), Ward concludes with an appeal to the poem's open-ended resistance to "canonical" interpretation: "By writing the past as an experience of the tension between the fragmentary moment and the continuity of historicism, Morris suggests that the cost of writing a conditional history is uncertainty" (para. 28).
In "William Morris's 'A King's Lesson': A Hungarian Perspective," Eva Peteri grounds Morris' brief 1886 fable (in which a principled Hungarian king forces the realm's arrogant noblemen to join him in performing their serfs' manual labors) in a brief 1852 account of the life of Matthias Corvinus in Household Words. Offering internal evidence that Andreas Scheu, Ernest Belfort Bax. and/or other German-speaking members of the Socialist League may have acquainted Morris with details from the German translations of Janos Garay's Hungarian original "Matyas kiraly Gomorben" ["King Matthias in Gomor"], Peteri suggests that Morris seized this egalitarian Moralitat as an occasion to tell his comrades "that 'now the time has come, and I, although a capitalist, stand by you and tell you what should be done'" (p. 53).
In "The Landscapes of Nowhere" (Journal of William Morris Studies 18, no. 2), Beatrice Laurent examines Nowherean landscapes against a background of prior representations of the English countryside and its inhabitants. Tracing the history-laden nature of the remains of Hampton Court, Runnymede, and other sites viewed by Guest and his companions, she argues that personal and national history blended together in such liminal "Romantic" resonances, and compares Morris' idyllic portraits of rural life and its inhabitants with the tableaux of landscape artists such as Peter Breughel, eighteenth-century painters such as Richard Wilson and Thomas Gainsborough, and Victorian contemporaries of Morris such as Miles Birket Foster (p. 61).
In "News from Nowhere as Seance Fiction" (Journal of William Morris Studies 18, no. 3), Tony Pinkney confronts the utopian paradox of imagined communal societies viewed through the narrow lens of a single character and "narratively bound by the device of the individual subject" (p. 29). Asking what purposes Guest's visit serves for the new society, Pinkney assimilates his wanderings to an ambulatory spiritualist seance, suggests (a bit reductively) that two of Morris' Nowhereans represent "body without mind (Dick) and mind without body (Old Hammond)," and argues that Guest's essential roles in the seance are to offer historical insights to Guest's interlocutors and strengthen Ellen's resolve to leave her home and become a "fully adequate utopian personality" (p. 44). So viewed, Pinkney suggests, Nowhere better resembles the "idea[l] of the self-problematising (but in this case also self-correcting) 'critical utopia' of the 1970s than the classical instance of the genre we had formerly taken it to be" (p. 46).
In "The Resourceful Past: William Morris, Socialist Romanticism and the Early Fiction of H. G. Wells" (Wellsian 32), Tony Fitzpatrick praises Morris' commitments to freedom from compulsion, abandonment of social hierarchies, and ardent belief in the "universality of creativity," and argues that the twentieth-century British left warped these ideals into "productivist" models of "growth" and "progress" at the expense of egalitarian goals. Finding a sense of the unknowable and traces of Morrisian "skepticism towards scientism" (p. 47) in Wells' early works, Fitzgerald observes that Wells later cast his lot with anti-Morrisian "scientistic" planners of a socialism driven by evolutionary selection of individuals fit to "prevail and multiply" (p. 50).
In "William Morris: An Annotated Bibliography 2006-2007" (Journal of William Morris Studies 18, no. 3), David and Sheila Latham offer Morris scholars yet another generously annotated and carefully indexed list of relevant critical and historical works in a variety of languages. Forty of their one hundred forty-four entries are gathered under the rubric "Literature" (the rest fall under "Decorative Arts," Book Design," "Politics," and "General"), and anyone in search of a comprehensive canvass of recent Morris criticism will be grateful for this renewable resource.
The Morris Online Edition, finally, continues to grow. My edition for it of The Life and Death of Jason-accepted for inclusion in the NINES database in the spring of 2009--offers illustrations of the poem by Maxwell Armfield and others; maps of the Argonauts' alleged itinerary; a newly edited and annotated text of the work, as well as images of its first, second, and Kelmscott Press editions; and scanned images and transcript of "The Deeds of Jason," a flair-copy manuscript draft for the work's first five books.
Other supplements include an introduction, collations, contemporary reviews, scans of relevant critical articles from the Journal of William Morris Studies and other journals, and essays by the historian A.P.M. Wright on Argonautical geography and Morris' use of classical sources. Editions planned or in progress include The Defence of Guenevere (Margaret Lourie); A Dream of John Ball (Peter Preston); the Icelandic Diaries (Gary Aho); Unpublished Tales from the Earthly Paradise (David Latham); The Ordination of Knighthood (Yuri Cowan); Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair (Paul Annis); The Wood Beyond the World (Kathleen O'Neill Sims); and Gothic Architecture (Florence Boos).
Thus rounds the "intermedial" circle of the Pre-Raphaelitic year.