Dinah Roe is a writer and a lecturer in nineteenth-century English literature. Her latest book is a biography of the Rossetti family, The Rossettis In Wonderland. Born and raised in New York State, she was educated at Vassar College, Oxford (St. Edmund Hall) and University College London. She has been living in London for the past 14 years and has recently moved to Oxford with her husband. She enjoys teaching, writing and strolling the banks of the Isis while moodily misquoting 'Binsey Poplars'. Living abroad has taught her to pay attention to the importance of place. She believes that where we live, and move, and have our being shapes who we are and who we will become.
I grew up in a small town in the Hudson Valley. Both my parents are professional educators, and so I spent my youth being frog-marched around museums and being read to long past the pleasure threshold. Naturally, I loved every minute. I determined to be a writer shortly after getting through Dick and Jane on my own for the first time.
Luckily, at school I came across some excellent teachers who encouraged my delusions of grandeur, and I've been holding forth on literature ever since. After attending Vassar College in Poughkeepsie NY, I decided to go farther afield for post-graduate work. In 1998, I moved to the UK in order to write my PhD on Christina Rossetti's devotional work. While studying, I was also teaching, which I found I enjoyed. There is nothing like a captive audience! I have since taught at various UK universities, including the University of Hertfordshire and Brunel University. I am currently a senior lecturer in nineteenth-century literature at Oxford Brookes University.
After I was awarded my PhD, I felt I hadn't quite finished with the Rossetti family. I published Christina Rossetti's Faithful Imagination, where I challenged the persistent myth that religious faith dulled the edge of Rossetti's creativity, arguing instead that religion sharpened her wits. I went on to edit a selection of Christina's poetry for Penguin Classics, and then a selection of Pre-Raphaelite poetry, all the while researching Rossetti's family and friends.
It was fascinating to me that a woman who was essentially a first-generation child of a refugee (her political activist father Gabriele had fled Italy under a death sentence) rose to become one of the greatest poets of her age. The Rossetti family's dual heritage (English and Italian) influenced not only their own work, but their father's adopted culture as well. My new biography (and my first), The Rossettis In Wonderland: A Victorian Family History, is the result of years of research into this very special and close family. I re-examine the events of their lives in a family context, arguing that family relationships were their greatest, and most consistent, influence and inspiration.
Writing my biography of the Rossetti family got me interested in Pre-Raphaelitism: specifically in the Pre-Raphaelite enthusiasm for combining the disciplines of art, poetry and design. In Pre-Raphaelite work, these different disciplines enrich and supplement each other. Think, for example, of Edward Burne-Jones decorating a wardrobe with scenes from Chaucer's poetry, or Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting a picture inspired by William Morris's poem, The Tune of the Seven Towers.
Editing a selection of Pre-Raphaelite poetry was both rewarding and frustrating, because the poems cried out for visual accompaniments: illustrations, tapestries, stained glass, furniture and paintings. A blog on the Pre-Raphaelites is the perfect medium to explore Pre-Raphaelitism; it is an infinitely expandable space, which can include verbal, visual and interactive elements. If the Pre-Raphaelites were alive today, I think their medium would be the internet, where the visual and the verbal quite happily (and searchably!) co-exist.
Forgive me; I have become so carried away with explaining my Pre-Raphaelite and Rossetti research that I nearly forgot to mention another development in my international career. I'm afraid my reasons for remaining in the UK for so long after I finished my PhD were not all scholarly; reader, I married a British man.
Which brings me to my guiltiest pleasure: Anglophilia, including (but not limited to):
- Box sets of television series such as: Brideshead Revisited; The House of Eliot; Jeeves and Wooster; Black Books, Absolutely Fabulous; Prime Suspect; Are You Being Served?; Blackadder; Fawlty Towers; House of Cards
- London Walks. I recently went on a mudlarking expedition on the banks of the Thames, where I became absurdly competitive about finding Elizabethan pipe stems and pieces of Victorian flatware.
- Museum Gift Shops, particularly those at: The Dundee Art Gallery; the Tate Britain; the Tate Modern; the Victoria and Albert Museum; the Geffrye Museum; The Birmingham Art Gallery; The Ashmolean Museum
- Museum Cafés, particularly the Pre-Raphaelite one at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which gets five stars for being designed by Morris and Co., with stained glass by Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Webb.
- Pre-Raphaelite Tat. Star finds include: a Lady of Shalott floaty pen; a Gilbert and Sullivan Patience tea towel; a set of William Morris coasters; a fridge magnet depicting Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting, Dante's Dream.
- Upmarket Cocktails, particularly at the Savoy and the St. Pancras Hotel.
- Downmarket English Breakfasts, anywhere.
- Marmite, on almost anything savoury
- Radio, particularly The Archers and Count Arthur Strong's Radio Show.
I am also a fan of American literature and culture, and look forward to somehow incorporating these in my next book project. More to come on this front ...