Dante Gabriel Rossetti
The Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, originally edited by William E. Fredeman, has now been completed eleven years after Fredeman's death with vol. 9, The Last Decade, 1873-1882, IV. 1880-1882, co-edited by Roger C. Lewis, Jane Cowan, and Anthony H. Harrison. This final volume's appendices include a description of Rossetti's death and burial, a chronology of his work on the 1881 Ballads and Sonnets and Poems and list of their reviews, and an account of his final contacts with his former model and mistress Fanny Cornforth, who visited him often in his last months.
During his final twenty-seven months of life, Rossetti finished "The Day-Dream," "La Pia de' Tolomei," and "Dante's Dream," and made progress on prior drafts of "Found" and "The Salutation of Beatrice." His greatest financial success was a long-delayed and intricately negotiated sale of "Dante's Dream" to the municipal council of Liverpool, whose members installed it with honors and praiseful remarks by Hall Caine. (For comparison, during the week in which he told his mother and sister about this 1650 [pounds sterling] sale, he engaged the services of a servant girl for 12 [pounds sterling] a year.)
Writing in the evenings when he could not paint, Rossetti also completed five sonnets on Romantic poets, made revisions to "Sister Helen" and "Rose Mary," completed "The King's Tragedy," and added a significant number of sonnets to "The House of Life," among them the work's well-known introit, "A Sonnet is a Moment's Monument." As he suffered from the final stages of kidney failure, he also revised and extended the comic ballad Jan Van Hunks, and in the last week of his life-when he could no longer write clearly--he dictated two sonnets on "The Sphinx" to be sent to Theodore Watts-Dunton (who later declined to permit William Michael Rossetti to print them in his 1903 edition of the Poetical Works, thus consigning two of Rossetti's finest poems to relative obscurity).
While he was still in better health, Rossetti circulated drafts and revisions of poems for his Poems and Ballads and Songs (both 1881), and recorded personal satisfaction with "The White Ship" ("a good 'un, I hope" [April 22, 1880]) and "The King's Tragedy" ("a ripper" [March 3, 1881]). He also wrote his fellow artist William Davies that he had "written two historical ballads which will certainly find a much wider field of appreciation than anything I have yet done" (March 16, 1881).
Interestingly, Rossetti reread and re-studied the Romantic poets in the last two years of his life, drew up lists of his preferences among the poems of his honored predecessors, and offered suggestions to H. Buxton Forman as the latter edited the works of Keats; to Theodore Watts-Dunton as he edited the poetry of Thomas Chatterton; and to Anne Gilchrist as she prepared the manuscript of her late husband William's two-volume Life of William Blake.
Rossetti was also faithfully attended throughout this period by the youthful Hall Caine, whose Sonnets of Three Centuries (1882) benefited from Rossetti's insights, blunt criticisms, and suggestions for sonnets to include. Rossetti admired Christopher Smart, dismissed Blake's "prophetic" poems and was particularly impressed by the poetry of Donne, whose "Flea" he described with amusement to Jane Morris (February 26, 1880). To his credit, he also befriended the working-class poet Joseph Skipsey, and the writer and friend of Ruskin, Thomas Dixon.
Even so, on occasion Rossetti's critical insights failed him. When Caine wrote that G. M. Hopkins' "Starlight" was "distinguished by marked originality both of thought and structure," Rossetti answered "I cannot in any degree tolerate Mr. Hopkins' sonnets" (March 31, 1881). As a result none of Hopkins' verse darkened the volume's pages, depriving Caine of the honor of introducing him more widely to the Victorian public decades before the appearance of Hopkins' Poems in 1918. Rossetti also wrote Jane Morris that Oscar Wilde's 1881 Poems was "wretched ... trash," and that Edward Burne-Jones's admiration of them was evidence that Jones (whom he perhaps now viewed as a rival) had "gone driveling" (October 4, 1881).
Rossetti had a remarkable ability to hold lines and entire poems in memory, a gift which sometimes gave rise to groundless charges of "plagiarism"--for example, that Wordsworth had borrowed passages in his sonnets from Spenser, an offense which prompted Rossetti to "consider whether a bard was likely to do this once & yet not to do it often" (September 10, 1880). He also charged Caine as well as Theodore Watts-Dunton with quasi-plagiarism of his own work, and complained to Lucy Rossetti that "a thing shown in MS. is actually liable to charges of plagiarism when it appears, owing to what it has already furnished to others" (December 30, 1880).
Some of Rossetti's remarks about composition and prosody were more quotable. When Caine sought to formulate strict rules "for the perfect sonnet," for example, he noted impatiently that "conception, my boy, Fundamental Brainwork, ... is what makes the difference in all art. Work your metal as much as you like, but first take care that it is gold & worth working" (March 8, 1881). And when Caine included "euphemeristic" and "anthropomorphism" in an essay on Shakespeare, Rossetti insisted that he did not "find life long enough to know in the least what they mean," and added that "simple English in prose writing and in all narrative poetry (however monumental language may become in abstract verse) seems to me a treasure not to be foregone" (March 12, 1880).
On the other hand, Rossetti disliked political allusions in literary work, characterizing them to Caine as "the momentary momentousness & eternal futility of many noisiest questions" (February 16, 1880). He responded to views Caine expressed in his essay "Politics and Art" with a table-thumping "veto against the absolute participation of artists in politics" (February 25, 1880), and welcomed Caine into his house on condition that he avoid "outside matters of any kind which I do not entertain at all" (April 12, 1881). He belittled Holman Hunt's, Burne-Jones's and Morris' attendance at a meeting in support of repeal of the Deceased Wife's Sister Act (which rendered illegal Hunt's current marriage), and praised Caine to Jane Morris as a good companion who "never talks Politics" (August 18, 1881).
More intrusively, when his brother William began to write a sonnet sequence in defense of the political uprisings of the day--his most original and sustained literary endeavor--Dante wrote him to decline the offer of a dedication, and enjoined his wife Lucy to block this "clear possibility of absolute ruin" (i. e., loss of employment [April 12, 1881]). William defended himself, but his Democratic Sonnets remained unpublished until 1907, when their immediate relevance had passed.
An interesting minor thread through the letters was the Rossetti family's community of book lenders and borrowers. Both Rossetti brothers had well-stocked libraries, and Dante was eager to loan his books and borrow others, among them Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, Thomas Hope's 1821 Costume of the Ancients, two volumes of a French dictionary, and two volumes of the Rime di Fra Guittone d'Arezzo.
Rossetti could scarcely be described as religious in the usual senses, but skepticism annoyed him, and when Ford Madox Brown questioned the hope, expressed in one of his sonnets, that Brown, his first wife, and their son would meet in an afterlife, Rossetti remonstrated against this "inconceivable craze of dogmatic Atheism" (August 10, 1880). In another, sadder register, he wrote Jane Morris of his fears of her death: "I had got to look on everything as an omen--seeing the drawing's frame ... stand empty over my mantelpiece. Then there was the accident to the other drawing of you,--a tree fell in the garden--& altogether things looked ominous" (January 7, 1880).
He also pressed dubious potions on ailing friends, consulted a mesmerist for possible help for a weak hand (January 13, 1880), and regaled Jane Morris with quasi-supernatural anecdotes (about a supposed encounter between William Holman Hunt and the Devil, for example [January 7, 1880]), and petty gossip (Agnes Jervis' desertion of her husband George Lewes, for example, was justified since "her husband was such a horrid fellow ... [but s]he took up with the only man to be found who was uglier than Lewes" [September 3, 1880]). He also could be demanding; at one point Jane Morris set aside a sitting for Rossetti to return with her family to Kelmscott Manor, and Rossetti petulantly responded:
The picture must thus be turned to the wall.... [W]ould a reclining posture while I draw your hands have affected it more than the same posture at home?--surely not more than a sudden journey and stoppage to see the water party [i. e., to greet her family after their summer boat trip to Kelmscott].... [I]f you withdraw [your consideration], it is the only one of many withdrawals which will go to my heart. (August 16, 1881)
In another letter, he ordered Jane not to "look up any one else on the same day [before a visit]. I don't like to be 'come on' to" (April 12, 1880).
On occasion Jane Morris seems to have echoed Rossetti's voluble self-pity. At one point Rossetti wrote her that "I am desolate enough, as you know" (March 3, 1880), for except for her "all else is withered and gone" (November 26, 1880); she replied that "life wd be unendurable now if it were not for those who are merely friends" (September 3, 1880), and Rossetti discerned a "sweet shadow of reproach which you permit yourself ... for all the sorrow which I know that my isolation brings to you" (September 3, 1880).
William Morris figured principally as the butt of less elegant jibes ("O for that final Cabinet Ministry which is to succeed the [c]abinet d'aisance of his early years" [July 18, 1881]). When Morris studied the tapestry techniques later employed at Merton Abbey, for example, Rossetti wrote William Bell Scott that "Top goes on with his enormous "Sampler" which promises no visible use or outlet for sale. He has already spent 2 years on it and has now established a complete school of embroidery in his coach-house" (July 14, 1880). When Caine was canvassing for sonnets to include in his volume, Rossetti--he of the exhaustive textual memory--claimed that he didn't "think Morris ever did a sonnet" (ignoring several published during the years of their acquaintance [September 23, 1880]), and he found the Morris family's trips upriver to Kelmscott ludicrous ("Morris & family have taken the funny freak of spending a week going up the river in a big boat.... [I]t sounds rheumatic though romantic" [August 10, 1880]).
At one point Rossetti's patron L. R. Valpy wrote him to ask if Morris could offer suggestions for a scheme of school decoration, and he "wrote a line to Top as to a bear notorious for the sorest of heads" (February 14, 1881). At another, a relative of the late Arthur O'Shaughnessy sent Morris a volume of Victor Hugo's poetry as a memorial, and Rossetti anticipated Morris' "volley of curses at [the dead poet's] ghost & hurling forth the book on the head of the passing stranger" (February 16, 1881). As it turned out, Morris offered to design the school decorations pro bono and courteously acknowledged the well-intended gift.
During this period Rossetti was pathologically reluctant to leave home or receive unfamiliar visitors, and he admitted to Thomas Dixon that "I ... am subject to nervous depression to a degree which often renders me unable to see others" (June 18, 1880). These "others" increasingly included his mother Frances, his sister Christina, his brother William and his sister-in-law Lucy, as well as their sons and daughters and the artistic friends of his youth (his relatives loyally came to him instead). Not surprisingly, he wrote plaintively to William Graham of his "very lonely existence" (December 24, 1880) and to Davies that "my ... life is a very uncheered one" (March 16, 1881). To Watts Dunton he remarked that "the amount of solitude I endure must really have an avoirdupois weight if it could be computated" (c. August 5, 1881), and he reproachfully asked Fanny Comforth (now Fanny Shotts) "Why did you not come yesterday evening? This is the third day that I am absolutely alone" (July 31, 1881).
Well aware of all this, William Michael Rossetti (whom Dante aptly described as the "truest of true brothers" [December 27, 1880]) visited weekly, and the artist Frederick Shields provided assorted painting services in return for tutelage. Hall Caine essentially became Rossetti's secretary and factotum, and attended to errands, inquiries, and the more important work of negotiating on Rossetti's behalf with the aforementioned Liverpool councilors. For his part, Watts-Dunton served as Rossetti's lawyer, accountant, and bill-payer, as well as confidant, companion, fellow-poet, ever-tactful critic, and in-house reviewer of Rossetti's poetry. Rossetti sought his advice about everything from the revision of a line to negotiations with his publisher and the sequence in which he should pay his bills. Watts was the quiet, stabilizing force of Rossetti's final years, and the latter's dedication of Ballads and Sonnets to "the friend whom my verse won for me" was amply well earned.
The nine-volume Correspondence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti has thus now accompanied its subject to the threshold of his death. More generally, the letters of William Morris, Christina Rossetti, and Dante Rossetti have swelled the ranks of these annual reviews for the better part of twenty-five years. They have offered troves of carefully annotated information about their subjects, as well as the social, artistic, and epistolary practices of a generation long past, and I will sincerely miss them.
In "D. G. Rossetti and Christina Rossetti as Sonnet Writers" (VP 48, no. 4: 461-473), Isobel Armstrong considers the Victorian sonnet against a background of the new technologies associated with photography, and observes that its "highly restricted focus parallels the greeting of experience that occurs in a photograph, mediated through the narrow aperture of the lens" (p. 462). Her readings of Dante Rossetti's "Willowwood 1" sonnet and Christina Rossetti's "We lack, but cannot fix upon the lack" from her Later Life sequence prompt Armstrong to conclude that Dante Rossetti "exploited the new technologies of seeing to ... meditate on the gap between the reflected body and the body itself," whereas Christina "evolved a language of depletion from the latent terminology of the lens" (p. 472).
In "Work, Lack, and Longing: Rossetti's 'The Blessed Damozel' and the Working Men's College" (Victorian Studies 52, no. 2: 219-248), Kristin Mahoney finds a correlation between Rossetti's experiences at the Working Men's College and patterns of labor and longing in his revisions of "The Blessed Damozel." Arguing that Rossetti's teaching work strengthened his own aesthetic practice, she suggests that he refined his aesthetic to emphasize the "perfection, rather than the satisfaction, of desire" (p. 243) as he came to understand that "only toil, true and extended labor ... open the artist's eyes to the overwhelming amount of detail in the natural world" (p. 227).
In "The House of Christina Rossetti: Domestic and Poetic Spaces" (JPRS 19: 31-54), Diane D'Amico examines Rossetti's London dwellings at 56 Euston Square and 30 Torrington Square. Aided by illustrations of Rossetti's Torrington Square home and a photograph of her drawing-room window, D'Amico finds a number of conjectural correlations between passages of Rossetti's poetry and her peaceful views of birds, rooftops, and urban gardens as she worked.
In "Limited Knowledge and the Tractarian Doctrine of Reserve in Christina Rossetti's The Face of the Deep" (VP 48, no. 2: 219-241), Andrew D. Armond argues that Rossetti's exegesis of the Book of Revelations was guided by the Tractarian doctrine of "reserve," an admission of human inability fully to understand God's ways, and conjectures that, as she struggled "with the harrowing, violent text of Revelation ... in light of the principle of Divine Love" (p. 240), she was following John Keble's and Isaac Williams's precepts that poetry should convey "the spontaneous outflow of intense emotion in the face of the Incommensurate" (p. 237).
In "Christina Rossetti and the Poetics of Tractarian Suffering" (Through a Glass Darkly: Suffering, the Sacred, and the Sublime in Literature and Theory [Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press], pp. 155-167), Esther T. Hu rejects Sandra Gilbert's and Susan Gubar's view that an "extraordinary, masochistic vision" infused Rossetti's poetry, and argues that Rossetti interpreted her struggles with the agonies of Graves' disease and terminal breast cancer "as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and hope," and expression of her conviction that such "suffering might restore and reorient the soul" (p. 166).
In "Christina Rossetti's 'Wounded Speech'" (Literature and Theology 24, no. 4: 345-359), Joel Westerholm rejects the claim that Rossetti practiced Tractarian "reserve," and instead suggests that Rossetti "sought to be as clear and explicit as she could" (p. 346), that she "wrote as a poet, not a [Tractarian] theologian" (p. 347), and that her poetic prayers revealed a pattern of "wounded speech" (a term borrowed from the twentieth-century theologian Jean-Louis Chretien), which upheld supplicants' "state of faithfulness," offered solace for their yearnings, and forgave them their many failures (pp. 345-346).
In "Christina Rossetti: An Unpublished Letter and An Unrecorded Copy of Verses" (Notes & Queries 57, no. 2: 221-223), William Baker describes a newly discovered letter from Christina Rossetti to Charles Howell found in a copy of her privately printed 1847 Verses, in which she thanked Howell for a gift of stamps and took exception to apparent anti-religious sentiments in a letter he enclosed. In "Christina Rossetti's 'The Prince's Progress' and Edward Bulwer Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii" (ANQ 23, no. 4: 227-230), Simon Humphries argues that the volcanic landscape, portrayal of an aged alchemist, and general apocalyptic tone of "The Prince's Progress" owed something to the denouement of Bulwer Lytton's novel.
I will begin with Anna Vaninskaya's William Morris and the Idea of Community: Romance, History, and Propaganda, 1880-1914 (Edinburgh Univ. Press), which offers a thorough and probing account of the intellectual context of Morris' socialist literary writings and their aftermath in the pre-World War I period. A first section on "Romance" outlines the many meanings of this term, traces the critical debates over the respective merits of "romance" and "realism," and places Morris and many of his fellow socialists firmly in the camp of literary romanticism--though she notes that it was European naturalism, not romanticism, which carried a message of support for oppressed peoples, and gained Morris' approval during debates over the morality of Zola's Germinal.
In her second section, "History," Vaninskaya offers a detailed analysis of nineteenth-century historical and political debates about the nature of historical cycles and socialist historiography, and their influence on Morris' A Dream of John Ball, The House of the Wolfings, The Roots of the Mountains and Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (coauthored with Ernest Belfort Bax). With respect to medieval gilds, artisanal organizations, agricultural cooperatives, and other communal undertakings, for example, she argues that Morris and Bax radicalized contemporary liberal views of "Teutonic" communities to conjecture that such communities had "yielded place to medieval fellowship, which was to await its own resurrection in the socialist Commonwealth" (p. 137). She notes, however, that in A Dream of John Ball Morris departed from contemporary historians' accounts of the Peasants' War, for example, in rejecting their claim that the egalitarian John Ball was probably a Lollard (member of a somewhat less pacificist fourteenth-century 'quaker'-like movement).
In "Propaganda," the book's third and final section, Vaninskaya examines some of the divergent early twentieth-century cultural strands which emerged from fin-de-siecle British socialism, among them Robert Blatchford's Clarion movement and the fictional accounts set forth in H. G. Wells's Anna Veronica and Robert Tressell's Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is a worthy undertaking, for later-twentieth century Marxists often derided Morris' views by association with such early twentieth century authors, and it is good to have a critical analysis of the divergences just mentioned.
In his new edition of The Wood Beyond the World (Broadview Press), Robert Boenig provides a text based on the work's first three editions (among them the edition in the Collected Works, which appeared after Morris' death), but does not list their corresponding variants, presumably because the volume is a reading edition for students. Boenig's introduction offers relevant information about Morris' life and use of archaisms, and addresses some of the political undercurrents in his romances. In a useful series of appendices, he also offers two of Morris' essays, excerpts from the Morte D'Arthur and Morris' own translations of Beowulf and the Volsunga Saga, and brief but apposite remarks by Marx, Ruskin, and May Morris, among others. Boenig's edition of this relatively short and accessible romance offers students a good first introduction to Morris' writings, and to Pre-Raphaelitism as a whole.
Several years ago, I compared a list of Morris' published socialist essays with two large volumes of his manuscripts in the British Library, and found that seven of the Library's manuscripts had never appeared in more than fragmentary (or at least heavily truncated) form. I have since shepherded six of these essays into print, of which three appeared this past year: "'Socialism' and 'What We Have to Look For': Two Unpublished Lectures by William Morris (Journal of William Morris Studies 19, no. 1: 9-51); and "William Morris's 'Commercial War': A Critical Edition" (Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies 19 [Fall 2010]: 45-65). In "Socialism," a critique of capitalism he drafted in 1885, Morris outlined a number of ways in which capitalists exploit corporate-feudal underclasses of workers who could not "be said to have more than a subsistence wage" and are protected from penury only until "their time, of industrial death so to say, comes on them" (p. 22). Even at this early stage Morris warned that a non-violent transformation of society would not be easy, but would require "the combination and organization of all that is most energetic, most orderly, most kindly, most aspiring among the working-classes" (p. 29).
In "What We Have to Look For," an essay Morris drafted a year before his death in 1896, he argued (as he had already done in News from Nowhere) that the underlying aim of sincere socialists should be to bring about an "end of all politics"; that even socialist political parties are makeshifts, as well as dubious means to untrustworthy parliamentary ends; and that no legislation in a capitalist society would bring about anything more than tenuous palliative changes in ordinary people's lives. He also observed that "it has become a common-place that there is little difference between the two parties except that of ins & outs" (p. 43). Or as Old Hammond had put it in Chapter XIV of News from Nowhere:
[The two 'major' parties] only PRETENDED to this serious difference of opinion; for if it had existed they could not have dealt together in the ordinary business of life; couldn't have eaten together, bought and sold together, gambled together, cheated other people together.... [T]he PRETENCE of serious difference of opinion [is] belied by every action of their lives.
In "'Commercial War'" (1885)--a single paragraph of which had been previously excerpted in print--Morris developed another structural attack on corporate capitalism: its enormous waste, the widespread destitution which followed in its wake, and its role as a willing abettor of rapacious imperial wars. He also expressed disgust with the corrupt media which undergirded such "commerce" ("our newspaper and periodical press are little more than puffing sheets" [p. 54]), and went so far as to argue that the Madhists who resisted English rule in the Sudan died in "much the same spirit as that which held the long-haired Greeks of Thermopolae" (p. 60).
Three independent studies of Morris' political writings appeared last year in a special issue of The Journal of William Morris Studies devoted to "Morris, Conflict and Historical Change." In "Riot, Romance and Revolution: William Morris and the Art of War" (JWMS 18, no. 4: 22-35), for example, Phillippa Bennett compares Morris' use of metaphors of struggle and violence with the writings of socialist contemporaries such as Friedrich Engels and Peter Kropotkin; notes a tension between Morris' stated "religious hatred towards all war and violence" and his "emphasis on the value of the heroic spirit" in political conflicts (p. 29); and argues that this tension was partially resolved toward the end of his life in egalitarian prose romances such as The Sundering Flood (p. 30).
In "William Morris: The Myth of the Fall" (JWMS 18, no. 4: 48-57), Anna Vaninskaya contests G. B. Shaw's claim that after 1887 Morris retreated from socialist activity and "practically" accepted Fabian incrementalist views of the ways in which social change must occur. Documenting Morris' continuing activity as a non-parliamentary stump speaker before physical illness overtook him in the mid-1890s, she offers a carefully reasoned account of Morris' critique of "(social) democratic machinery," and concludes that Morris never wavered from his view that political power "was not franchise in a representative system but 'direct control by the people of the whole administration of the community'" (p. 54).
In "Time and Utopia: The Gap Between Morris and Bax" (JWMS 18, no. 4: 36-47), Ruth Kinna examines divergent views held by Morris and Ernest Belfort Bax, his sometime collaborator in the composition of Socialism: Its Growth and Outcome (1893). Both men thought that history reenacted and transformed older practices in new forms; both advocated a "religion of socialism" based on an underlying belief in the equality of peoples; and both held that human agency as well as material circumstances conditioned social change. But Bax also believed that imperfections of transmission and reception made it impossible to formulate projections of future contingencies, whereas Morris "gave history content, and believed that ... history was a source of knowledge: the knowledge of what tomorrow should be" (p. 45).
In "The De fence of Guenevere: A Morrisean Critique of Medieval Violence" (JWMS 18, no. 4: 8-21), I offer another interpretation of the stylized and eroticized violence of The Defence of Guenevere. Drawing on Henri Lefebvre's view that good historical art vivifies "the vast emptiness which is everyday life," I claim that Morris' evocations of ruptured or fragmented forms of memory in The Defence--forgotten artworks, fragmentary refrains, untransmitted stories, and anonymous songs--were animated by his conviction that "the lesser arts" preserve a redemptive palimpsest of cultural memory.
In "'The Measured Music of Our Meeting Swords': William Morris's Early Romances and the Transformative Touch of Violence" (Review of English Studies, N. S. 61, no. 250: 435-454), Ingrid Hanson interprets violent episodes in Morris' prose romances as expression of his rejection of "middle-class economic values of capitalism [and] the spiritual values of a dualistic Christianity" (p. 437), in favor of "simpler, blunter and more direct interactions of medieval times and tales" (p. 437). She argues, for example, that "the truth of the universe" for the knights in "Gertha's Lovers" is "discovered through manly physical passion, which shows itself in thwarted caresses, accomplished killing and gruesome death" (p. 445), and that "the form of ["The Hollow Land"] as well as its content, suggests the necessity of furious disorder--both mental and physical--in the creation of a new identity" (p. 443). The nature of this "new identity" seems to me open to question, as does the essay's conflation of "violence" with "bodily contact." Less problematic may be her assertion that Morris' "stories create[d] a world whose centre is neither symbolic religious acts nor strategic economic ones, but rather tactile interactions which locate meaning and truth in the body and its relation to the world" (p. 449).
In "Aesthetic Effects and Their Implications in 'Rapunzel,' 'The Wind,' and other poems from William Morris's The Defence of Guenevere" (JWMS 19, no. 1:52-65), Alexander Wong assesses the "strange" qualities of these poems and their "ambiguous treatment of social themes" (p. 54). For him the ending of "Rapunzel" fails to give "satisfaction to either the hero's anxieties or the heroine's [fears] regarding the 'dreams' which cloud their experiences" (p. 60), and he interprets "The Wind" as an expression of the protagonist's "dysfunctional relationship with nature" (p. 63). The poems' use of vivid colors serves as a protest against etiolated social conventions, as well as a manifestation of "social and sexual tensions and disturbed emotions" (p. 55).
In "The Kelmscott Chaucer and The Golden Cockerel Canterbury Tales" (JWMS 19, no. 1: 66-80), Peter Faulkner contrasts Morris' ideals for the Kelmscott Chaucer with its crowded realizations on the physical page. Arguing that Burne-Jones's intricately detailed illustrations and the small typeface needed to compress all Chaucer's works into a single volume made the text and illustrations theoretically beautiful but difficult to read, he suggests that the more open Golden Cockerell text of The Canterbury Tales is less iconic but more pleasing to the eye, and therefore a better realization of Morris' ideal of "a stimulus to the free spirit of man" (p. 69).
Six relevant essays appear in Morris in the Twenty-First Century (Lang), edited by Phillippa Bennett and Rosie Miles. In the first, "Versions of Ecotopia in News from Nowhere" (pp. 93-106), Tony Pinkney argues that "Pure Air, [Pure] Water, and Earth," are present in News' opening pages, but not "Fire," which he interprets as "energetic modernity" (p. 94). He suggests that Ellen and Old Hammond will have to bestir themselves if Nowhere is to be more than an "epoch of rest," for "new ... dynamism, challenge, and discovery, both political and technological" is needed (p. 103). Within the "largely preindustrial ecotopia of Morris' News from Nowhere there is a more adequate, more modernist, more fiery ecotopia struggling to get out" (p. 106), as exemplified in late twentieth-century utopias such as Kim Staley Robinson's Pacific Edge, Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia, and Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed.
In "William Morris, Human Nature and the Biology of Utopia" (pp. 107-128), Piers J. Hale recalls nineteenth-century Darwinian and Lamarckian views of evolution, argues that inheritance of temperamental traits a la Lamarck had buttressed the hopes of Morris and other reformists for revolutionary social change within a few generations, and concludes that "our own skepticism about the possibility of a radically different future is no less culturally contingent than was Morris's optimism" (p. 127).
In "William Morris's Germania: The Roots of Revolution" (pp. 169-192), Anna Vaninskaya reconstructs the political landscape of nineteenth century Germanic historiography as an antecedent of Morris' representation of village communities in the medieval past as a basis of socialist hopes for the future. She observes that the "Barbarian society of the Wolfings and socialist society of Nowhere were the beginning and end terms of a single historical sequence" (p. 188), and concludes that theorists of utopia should "heed the philological lesson and keep in mind the written word's susceptibility to ideological interpretation" (p. 191).
In "Between Hell and England: Finding Ourselves in the Present Text" (pp. 193-207), David Latham offers an assessment of the importance of metaphor and of liminal states in Morris' thought. Comparing John Bali's assertion that "that earth and heaven are not two but one" with Ellen's gently contingent exhortation at the end of News from Nowhere, he concludes that Morris' ideal of "art is [or should be] not merely the revelatory dream of 'a glimpsed alternative'; it is the full embrace of a revolutionary commitment to the potential of each individual life" (p. 206).
In "Rejuvenating Our Sense of Wonder: The Last Romances of William Morris" (pp. 209-228), Phillippa Bennett adduces scenes in The Well at the World's End, The Wood Beyond the World, and other romances to argue that "rejuvenation of our sense of wonder is the most significant achievement of [these] last romances" (p. 211), and indeed that all of Morris' literary works are animated to some degree by "pursuit of and receptivity to wonder" (p. 212). Such epiphanies, for Morris, might be found "in the natural world, [and] on a social as well as personal level" (p. 217), and "in his final narratives [a] cottage [could], in its own way, be as wondrous as the cathedral" (p. 223). She notes that most of us, sadly, are "more interested in novelty than in wonder [, and] more attracted to the sensational than to the wondrous" (p. 228).
In "Virtual Paradise: Editing Morris for the Twenty-First Century" (pp. 231-253), Rosie Miles, who first conceived the notion of a virtual edition of Morris' literary works, reviews some of the motivations for such an undertaking. One of them was Morris' own interest in "the technologies of the book" (p. 232), and another the "ability of the digital medium to reinstate the visual alongside the verbal in ways that go beyond the limitations of either the facsimile or critical edition in book form" (p. 242). Adducing Poems by the Way as an ideal case for electronic reproduction, Miles construes the Morris Online Edition (http://morrisedition.lib.uiowa.edu) "as an attempt to restore awareness of the visual and material facets of Morris's works for the twenty-first century, so that they might be read ... with fresh eyes" (pp. 248-249).
Next year's works for review will include a collected edition of Jane Morris' Letters; a Census of copies of the Kelmscott Chaucer; Morris' brief but pointed appeal for "Equality"; and an academically "transgressive" work which bears the title Pleasure Bound: Victorian Sex Rebels and the New Eroticism.
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|Title Annotation:||Guide to the Year's Work; William Morris, Christina Rossetti, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti|
|Author:||Boos, Florence S.|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2011|