Harrison commentary on C. Rossetti

November 1, 2006 at 4:35 pm (General)

Tony Harrison has kindly sent me an as-yet unpublished essay of his on Christina Rossetti and illness, which you can read for tomorrow’s class if you have time; I’ve e-mailed it to you. Key sentences from the article:

The fear and sublimation of female sexual desire and insistence upon the dangerous, if not fatal, effects of its indulgence emerges often–metaphorically, if not literally–in much of Rossetti’s poetry.

I have here begun to argue that such extreme sexual Puritanism as we find evidenced in Christina Rossetti’s life and work–the insistence on sublimating sexual passion in the hope of experiencing religious ecstasy–might be understood to emerge from her own experience of adolescent desire, which in the inhospitable climate of mid-Victorian England, surfaced in symptoms doubtless diagnosed by her doctors as ‘hysteria.’

Also, here are some interesting comments on Monna Innominata from Tony’s 1988 work Christina Rossetti in Context (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1988):

The thematic structure of the Monna Innominata is at first difficult to discern, and once perceived, it includes a good deal of repetition and variation. However, like her brother’s House of Life, the structure of this sequence echoes that of the Petrarchan sonnet itself. Four discrete thematic units appear within this ‘sonnet of sonnets,’ or macrosonnet. These roughly correspond to the first and second quatrains of the octave within a Petrarchan sonnet and the two triplets of the sestet. (153)

I haven’t included Tony’s summary of these thematic units: can you take a stab at identifying what these units might be?

As a final gesture, she [Rossetti] abjures even the [sonnet]. Her sequence thus serves to expose the corrupt and fraudulent ideology the form itself has come to represent. … Unlike Rossetti’s sequence, [E. B.] Browning’s [Sonnets from the Portuguese] surrenders entirely to tradition. As all readers of her sonnets are aware, Browning’s speaker repeatedly embraces her subordinate role in the relationship with her beloved. (156)

… Rossetti–the poet behind the fictitious “poetess” of the sonnet sequence–represents herself obliquely as a cultural critic whose special concern is with presently corrupt relations, not only between men and women, but also between love and religion, especially as those relations are expressed in a particular artistic tradition. [Paragraph break] Within the projected action of the sonnets themselves, however, any direct cultural criticism is elided. (157)



  1. Holly Ellern said,

    What are some responses from religious readers to the speaker’s rejection of God in “Laus Veneris?”

  2. Eric G said,

    Does Swinburne’s imagery of the elevated female stem from a lack of a mother, sister, or lover, or is it simply a tribute to women?

  3. Daniela Newland said,

    My question is related to Eric’s: what is known about Swinburne’s marital life, if any?

  4. Laura R. said,

    What was Swinburne’s religious background from his childhood, and/or did any one event lead to his rejection of faith?

  5. Laura R. said,

    I’ll take Daniela’s question…

  6. Laura R. said,

    I’ll take Daniela’s question.

  7. Aaron Bobick said,

    I would like to know what the deal is with Swinburne’s foam and froth imagery. Maybe there’s an article on imagery in “Dolores” that answers this. It’s not something you see a lot of, and it pops up a lot right at the beginning of the poem.

  8. Meredith Willis said,

    It is clear that John Morley took issue with Swinburne’s choice of topics and subjects in his poetry. What were some other responces to Swinburne’s poetry by other critics, poets, etc. and did any Victorian publicily praise Swinburne’s poetry and find his subjects appropriate?

  9. Holly Ellern said,

    I’ll take Laura’s question.

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