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The articulate heart : Christina Rossetti, William Morris, D.G. Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelite poetry of love

posted on 2023-05-27, 15:46 authored by O'Reilly, Shelley
This thesis concerns silence and confession; the warring impulse in the poetry of Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and D. G. Rossetti between the necessity of concealing love and the desire to confess it. Lovers have always been torn between the desire to keep silent and the desire to express love and poets have long veered between guardedness and effusion. Yet in the work of the three poets with whom this study is concerned we find a reticence mixed with an avowal of love which is peculiarly their own and peculiarly informative about how these poets regarded the relationship o~ poetry to love and the relationship of poet to text. The tension . between silence and confession is evident in both the public and personal lyric sequences of the Pre-Raphaelite poets which are 'told' by the poet-singer and their ballads and longer narratives in which the protagonists, usually women, are given their own voices. These women confess much in words but their bodily signs are sometimes even more important than their speech in conveying the sexual and sociopolitical quandaries in which they find themselves. In their covert manipulations of the traditional forms, structures and techniques of the ballad, romance and epic, the Pre-Raphaelites found a freedom to transgress the accepted boundaries of what could be said about relationships between men and women and in doing so produced radically suggestive poetry. In the first part of this thesis entitled 'Elegies' I examine first-person lyric seq':lences. Two of these are well known sonnet s_equences: Christina Rossetti's Monna Innominata and D. G. Rossetti's The House of Life. The other sequences have for various reasons long remained hidden from scrutiny. William Morris's 'Seasonal Lyrics' (verses for the months) are hidden within the morass of The Earthly Paradise. Christina Rossetti's 'By Way of Remembrance' quartet is a long overlooked, starker and darker precursor to both Monna Innominata and her striking sequence of Italian poems posthumously published in Italian by William Michael Rossetti as II Rosseggiar dell' Oriente (the first complete English translation of which is included as Appendix A of this thesis) which is perhaps the most personal and obscure of all the poems treated in this thesis. These sequences along with a body of nominally public lyrics such as those which I have designated Christina Rossetti's 'It' poems, and Morris's fugitive personal lyrics, elegise the death of love whilst celebrating it as the prime human and poetic experience. All three poets experiment with poetry as 'love's last gift'. Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and D. G. Rossetti explore the interconnections between the poetlover and the love poem. The love poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites is a sometimes voluble, sometimes 'silent' discourse about the impact of love and the loss of love on the identity. The lyric sequences rehearse the story of love's loss alternating bursts of agonised protest with announcements of stoical acceptance; whilst the riddling personal lyrics probe the causes of the disintegration of self and at the same time try to reintegrate that self through the 'self' protection of silence and privacy. The second part of this thesis is entitled 'Narratives'. I examine how the male Pre-Raphaelite poet constructs the female lover as a legendary character. In Pre-Raphaelite painting the ideal beloved is a silent, beautiful woman 'subtly of herself contemplative'. In Pre-Raphaelite narrative poetry, particularly balladry, the woman is the lover as well as the beloved and she often articulates her love with passionate precision. In Chapter Four I analyse the psychological studies of women in love found in William Morris's tales of Cupid and Psyche and The Lovers of Gudrun, and I compare the characters of Guenevere as created by William Morris and Alfred Tennyson and Iseult as created by A. C. Swinburne, Tennyson, and Matthew Arnold. In the last chapter of this thesis I deal with Pre-Raphaelite sexual fantasy and gender politics in ballads and longer narrative poems. The Pre-Raphaelites gave themselves great poetic latitude by setting their ballads in faery lands forlorn; using the conventions of fantasy, dream and medievalism they wrote poems concerning nuns and maidens, knights and ladies, and sirens and sorcerers which deliver a rare erotic charge. These poems combine a strangled cry of desire with a sometimes brutal modernity of overt symbol- another type of silence and confession at the heart of the articulation of love in Pre-Raphaelite love poetry.


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Copyright 1995 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1995. Includes bibliographical references

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