Pre-Raphaelites in The City

Dinah Roe

Poetry Analysis: ‘Christmas Eve’ by Christina Rossetti

It is a well-known fact that Christina Rossetti is very good at writing about Christmas (see ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’). Like her contemporary Charles Dickens, she realises that the power of the season does not come from jolly elves and the purchasing of shiny objects.

For the devout Rossetti, the true appeal of Christmas lies in the acknowledgement of its darkness, both material and spiritual. After all, the birth of Jesus Christ contains the seed of his horrific demise. What Rossetti understands is that the dark heart of Christmas makes Christ’s sacrifice and mankind’s salvation shine even brighter.

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The Usual Suspects: Reviewing the Reviews of A Victorian Obsession The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum

Victorian Obsession, the new exhibition at Leighton House, has once again turned modern critics into Victorian ones. As I have banged on about elsewhere, (HERE and HERE) today’s critics uncannily (and perhaps unconsciously) echo the opinions of their nineteenth-century Royal-Academy-loving forebears in expressing their distaste for the childishness, vulgarity and escapism which they see as characteristic of Pre-Raphaelite artists and their followers.

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Poetry Analysis: ‘In the bleak midwinter’ [‘A Christmas Carol’] by Christina Rossetti

Publication History
A beloved staple of English carol services, Christina Rossetti’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ [‘In the bleak midwinter’] was originally published in an American magazine, Scribner’s Monthly in January 1872. The poem was commissioned by the magazine’s editor, William James Stillman, husband of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Marie Spartali. The composition date is uncertain, but it must have been written before November 1871, as her brother William Michael Rossetti records this as the date that Christina received a ‘liberal payment’ of £10 ‘for the little poem’.

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Elizabeth Siddal Comes Back To Life Lizzie Siddal - A New Play by Jeremy Green

Christmas has come early for those who feared that the rage for all things Pre-Rapahelite might be diminishing in the wake of Tate Britain’s Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde exhibition.

A new play about Eleanor Elizabeth Siddal, Pre-Raphaelitism’s most famous muse / artist / poet is coming to London’s Arcola Theatre this November. Playwright Jeremy Green has generously shared some of his thoughts with us on matters as diverse as: how deadlines are a writer’s friend; why he suspects that, of all the muses, ‘Lizzie’s story is a bigger emotional journey’; and why he is particularly keen that his play tells ‘Lizzie’s story’ and not the tale of ‘The Pre-Raphaelites and their Camp Followers’.

Although I confess I think the latter might make an excellent Christmas Panto …

Do you follow me (@preraphsrule) on Twitter? Read the interview with extra care - you may find that Jeremy has answered some of your specific questions about his play. Thanks to all who tweeted their questions.

Lizzie Siddal is written by Jeremy Green [photo above] and directed by Lotte Wakeham with design by David Woodhead and lighting design by Howard Hudson. It is produced by Copperhead Productions and Peter Huntley Productions.

It will run at the Arcola Theatre from Wednesday 20 November – Saturday 21 December 2013.

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New Book On Christina Rossetti! An Interview With the Author, Dr Serena Trowbridge

Those of you who are fans of Christina Rossetti will be as delighted as I am to learn that there is a brand new book exploring Christina Rossetti’s Gothic, an area of study that is screaming from a crumbling turret for the greater attention it deserves. Its author, Dr Serena Trowbridge, has very kindly agreed to be interviewed about Christina Rossetti’s place in her own writing life.

You can learn more about Serena and her work by reading her blog, Culture and Anarchy, which I highly recommend, as it often features the Pre-Raphaelites. She is a Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University. Her research interests include:poetry, particularly of the nineteenth century; women’s history and writing; Gothic literature; nineteenth-century Anglican theology; Ruskin; children’s literature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; Pre-Raphaelitism in art and literature; literary theory. She is also editor of the Review of the Pre-Raphaelite Society. You can follow her on twitter @serena_t.

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Pre-Raphaelite Furniture at the Geffrye Museum The Rossetti Chair

I am pretty sure you are not looking at the right thing in this photograph. Tear your eyes away from Ruskin’s menacing stick and bell-bottomed trousers (centre). Do not be distracted by Rossetti’s poor posture or the hanky peeping untidily from his waistcoat (right). What interests us here is the delicate-looking armchair being dwarfed by the bulk of William Bell Scott (left).

The photo above was taken by William A. Downey in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s garden on 29 June 1863. You can read more about this image on The Victorian Web. Scott must have developed a certain kinship with this chair. Here he is again, this time with one heavy leg dangerously propped on its delicate rush seat.

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‘A Dirge’, by Christina Rossetti Analysis Part 2

Health Warning: In part 2 of this analysis, we’re going to look at meter. No wait! Come back! I know you may have had painful experiences with scansion in the past, but this blog is not here to belittle or punish you for struggling with this sometimes difficult art. 

We’re simply going to look briefly at two different kinds of metrical feet: the dactyl and the trochee. Then we’re going to discover how they help contribute to the poem’s meaning. Easy peasy. There will be no pop quiz afterwards, and I assure you I have nothing up my sleeve except the wish to spread the joy of scansion. If such a thing can be contained in the sleeve of my moth-eaten cardigan.

Let’s begin.

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‘A Dirge’ by Christina Rossetti (Analysis Part 1) JK Rowling goes cuckoo for Rossetti poem

Some might imagine that JK Rowling publishing a crime novel under a pseudonym (Robert Galbraith) is the most important part of the story of the genesis of A Cuckoo’s Calling. But I say Galbraith, Schmalbraith. The real story here is that JK Rowling has borrowed her onomatopoetic, alliterative title from the Christina Rossetti poem, ‘A Dirge’ (1865).

She has also reproduced the complete poem as the novel’s epigraph. Taken together with the neo-gothic overtones of the Harry Potter series and the George Eliot-esque realism of The Casual Vacancy, Ms. Rowling’s acknowledgement of Rossetti bespeaks an acquaintance with nineteenth-century literature that makes this Victorian scholar’s heart beat faster under her sensible cardigan.

Without further ado, I would like to offer a close-reading of ‘A Dirge’ for those interested in following where JK Rowling is gently leading her more curious readers. And I do mean ‘curious’ in multiple senses of the word.

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‘Proserpina’, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: (Analysis Part 2) Poetry Workshop

Biographical Context
Critics have made much of this sonnet’s biographical context, and indeed, it is worth noting that Rossetti was in love with the picture’s model, Jane, wife of William Morris. It is not a stretch to imagine that Rossetti’s interest in a goddess who is sometimes permitted to escape the clutches of her underworld husband had its roots in the painter’s personal feelings. Rossetti was not the subtlest of artists, or of men, and it is right in character for him to mythologize his affair in this way. However, this picture continues to fascinate because it engages with themes of desire and distance suggestive of something more profound and less particular than a Kelmscott Manor ménage à trois. This analysis will therefore concentrate on the literary and pictorial aspects of this artwork. For more on this picture’s biographical background and production history, see the Rossetti Archive.

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Reviving ‘Patience’: An Interview with CESP Director Leon Berger Rufty-tufty Dragoons vs High-falutin’ Aesthetes

Walthamstow’s own Chapel End Savoy Players could not have chosen a better time to revive Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience. The public appetite for the 2012 Tate Exhibition Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde (now heading to Moscow via Washington DC), proves that modern audiences are not only receptive, but downright enthusiastic about exploring Pre-Raphaelitism and its legacy.

Sending up the poseurs who tried unsuccessfully to imitate the fashionable excesses of the ‘greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery’ crowd, Patience satirises the developing aestheticism of the late 1870s and early 1880s. This ‘ultra-poetical, super-aesthetical’ craze had its origins in what Robert Buchanan labelled Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Fleshly School’ of poetry, and in what was perceived as an unhealthy Pre-Raphaelite predilection for morbid, sensual and pseudo-medieval themes and motifs, or, as Patience puts it, ‘uttering platitudes in stained-glass attitudes’.

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‘Proserpina’, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Analysis Part I) Poetry Workshop: The Poem

When I posted a close analysis of Christina Rossetti’s ‘Winter: My Secret’, I imagined that the next poem I selected would be on the happy subject of springtime. However, it is currently 3 degrees in Oxford and it is snowing. The radio keeps insisting that spring has officially sprung, yet it is so cold in my house that I have to wear fingerless gloves to type.

Twiddling my fingers and humming, ‘Reviewing the Situation’ while imitating Ron Moody as Fagin in Oliver! has provided some small measure of comfort in these dark days, but enough is enough. Who do I speak to about bringing back spring?

In keeping with this lament, let’s look at a poem which grapples with the absence of spring: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Proserpina’ (1881). Inspired by the Roman myth of springtime and by, well, himself, Rossetti wrote this poem to accompany his painting ‘Proserpine’.

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Winter: My Secret (Analysis Part 2) Poetry Workshop

If I had to choose one poem that captures the spirit of Rossetti, it would be this one. A study in contradiction, ‘Winter: My Secret’ is simultaneously withholding and revealing; earnest and teasing; spontaneous and scheming; sincere and ironic, just like the great poet who made it. Here it is again. (The analysis continues after the poem).

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Call for Papers for Cross-disciplinary Conference on Pre-Raphaelitism Pre-Raphaelitism: Past, Present and Future

Pre-Raphaelitism: Past, Present and Future

13–14 September 2013, Ashmolean Museum and St John’s College, Oxford

Click HERE to download CFP

Click HERE for conference website

Keynote speakers

  Dr Alison Smith (Tate Britain)
  Professor Isobel Armstrong (Birkbeck)

Context and aims

In the wake of recent major exhibitions and publications such as Tate Britain’s Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde and The Cambridge Companion to Pre-Raphaelitism, this two-day conference will present new and innovative approaches to the study of Pre-Raphaelitism by bringing together established academics, museum curators and research students. This conference also seeks to examine Pre-Raphaelitism as a bridge between Romanticism and Aestheticism, and to engage with current critical work regarding its relationship to Modernism in literature.

The breadth and diversity of Pre-Raphaelite art, literature and design will be drawn on in order to consider major questions such as: What is Pre-Raphaelitism? Where does the movement begin and end? Who should be included or excluded? What are its major influences, and to what extent has it influenced other artists and movements? How have perceptions of Pre-Raphaelitism changed or remained the same since its nineteenth-century beginnings?

We invite proposals for papers on all aspects of Pre-Raphaelite work, especially with a cross-disciplinary focus.

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‘Winter: My Secret’ (Analysis Part 1) Poetry Workshop

Winter: My Secret
(by Christina Rossetti) 

I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows, and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.

Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.

Poetry Analysis: Getting Started

As Maria Von Trapp might remind us, we should start at the very beginning, because it is a very good place to start. Some people will tell you that a poem begins with its first line. This is not, generally speaking, true. A poem begins with its title. ‘But what about untitled poems?’ I hear the swot at the back objecting. To which I reply, a poet’s decision NOT to include a title is still an omission worth thinking about.

Christina Rossetti and Titles: Not a Love Story
In the case of today’s poem, we should remind ourselves that Christina Rossetti was not always at her most inspired when making up titles. For instance, the actual title of poem we know as ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ is ‘A Christmas Carol’, while ‘My heart is like a singing bird’ is rather forgettably called, ‘A Birthday’. Dante Gabriel Rossetti despaired of his sister’s attraction to generic titles; he tactfully suggested that his sister rechristen ‘The Last Hope’ and ‘Anne of Warwick’ as ‘Death’s Chill Between’ and ‘Heart’s Chill Between’ for the poems’ publication in The Athenaeum in 1848.

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‘Winter: My Secret’ (Poetry Analysis) Poetry Workshop: The Poem

After consulting the statistics for this blog, I am delighted to report that my faith in the reading public’s enthusiasm for poetry has been repaid. The most frequently visited entries are my close interpretations of poems. So a big nanny nanny boo boo followed by a hearty nyuk-nyuk to those who discouraged me from starting a blog on the grounds that no one cares about poetry these days. People do care, and I can use google analytics to prove it. A very big thank you to readers who have written in about (or simply quietly enjoyed) close-reading poetry along with me.

In gratitude, my Christmas offering to you is a seasonally appropriate Christina Rossetti poem called ‘Winter: My Secret’. I hope you will join me in reading, thinking about, and delighting in this poem.

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Bros With Mos Celebrate Movember With a Tribute to the Pre-Raphaelite Moustache

As some of you may be aware, it is officially Movember, the month during which men grow moustaches to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancer, and of men’s health in general. You can support and find out more about this great cause HERE. ‘Pre-Raphaelites In the City’ applauds this movement’s effort, both on the grounds of compassion and aesthetics. Victorian facial hair was a wonder to behold, and we will probably never see its like again. In a spirit of tribute, I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate the noble Pre-Raphaelite soup-strainer.

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Preraphsrule On LitBits Podcast In Which I Discuss Art, Literature and the Pre-Raphaelites With Most Distinguished Podcasters

The erudite and irreverent folks at LitBits, a podcast billing itself as ‘somewhere between the pub and the seminar room’, recently invited me on to discuss the topic ‘Literature and Art.’ As you’ve probably guessed, I talk at some length about Pre-Raphaelitism. The podcast’s delightful hosts not only made me feel very welcome, they also made me think about art and literature in new ways. And I hope you’ll have the same experience. Click HERE to listen. You can also download this podcast as an MP3. And while you’re on their site, why not listen to them discussing literature ‘from odd and surprising angles’ with a fantastic lineup of guests, including an advertiser, a chef and a poet (among many others)!

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The Pre-Raphaelites at Tate Britain: Victorian Avant-Garde? A Reviews Round-Up

When I recently tweeted the question: ‘Why do people hate the Pre-Raphaelites?’, the first reply I received was: ‘Because Andrew Lloyd Webber likes them.’ This is Pre-Raphaelitism’s problem (and the new exhibition’s) in a nutshell. How can Pre-Raphaelitism challenge its image as an insular, conservative, retrogressive, stereotypically ‘Victorian’ movement which appeals solely to the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Margaret Thatcher and ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’?

Tate Britain’s answer is to recast the movement as avant-garde, putting the works in their historical context in order to (the catalogue explains) present the artists as a ‘self-conscious’ ‘radical’ group interested in ‘overturning current orthodoxies in art’ and being ‘directly engaged with the contemporary world’. Whether critics and viewers will be convinced by this approach remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Pre-Raphaelitism has succeeded in exciting debate. It seems everyone (curators, academics and the public) has his or her own very personal and passionately-defended ‘vision’ or version of the Pre-Raphaelite story. 

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Pre-Raphaelite Haters Then and Now A Critical Heritage

If the Pre-Raphaelites were still around today, they would no doubt be thrilled to find that they are still causing a stir. A quick peek at the ‘Comments’ inspired by the recent Observer online article about the upcoming Tate Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition reveals that viewers are as divided as ever about the significance of Pre-Raphaelitism.

The debate the young upstart Brothers intentionally started about contemporary art in 1848 still rages today. Then as now, while some people enjoy the unsettling beauty of the bright Pre-Raphaelite colour palette, others are put off by the movement’s eroticised depiction of women and heavy-handed symbolism. Still more are unhappy with them for not being French Impressionists.

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Sass’s Drawing Academy: A Pre-Raphaelite Prep School (Another London Venue In Which Rossetti Misbehaved)

If ever there was a London building crying out for a blue plaque, it is number 10 Bloomsbury Street, former headquarters of Sass’s Drawing Academy, a feeder school for the Royal Academy. It was here that aspiring painters John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Walter Howell Deverell took their early training. Rossetti and Deverell met at Sass’s, but child prodigy Millais had already entered the Royal Academy Schools by the time they began their studies. Other distinguished graduates include Augustus Egg, Edward Lear, Charles West Cope, Henry Hugh Armstead and William Powell Frith, most famous for his work Derby Day (1858).

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Which Highgate Grave Was Once Owned by Holman Hunt?

During my recent talk on the Rossettis at Highgate Cemetery Chapel, Andrew Yeo (Cemetery guide,  volunteer and IT expert) rescued me from certain technical failure. He also shared with me a Pre-Raphaelite connection to Highgate Cemetery which I’d like to pass on to you. The Blount monument, located on the way up to the Egyptian Avenue, was once owned by original Pre-Raphaelite Brother William Holman Hunt.

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Pre-Raphaelite Perspectives for the Jubilee Weekend Morris and Swinburne on Queen Victoria's Jubilee

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is dominating the weekend news in Britain, and no doubt in the United States as well, where there is an insatiable appetite for the British Royal Family and its doings.

Of course we twenty-first century citizens are not the only people to have witnessed lavish celebrations to commemorate a long-standing British monarch. George III was the first to have his Golden Jubilee commemorated in 1809, but Queen Victoria saw Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Her reign (1837 – 1901) is still the longest in the history of Great Britain, though admittedly Elizabeth II is catching up fast.

Victoria, whose portrait hung in the family home when the Rossettis were children, was on the throne long before and long after the Pre-Raphaelite movement. During her reign, the Crown awarded a baronetcy to John Everett Millais (1885) and Edward Burne-Jones (1894). Though Burne-Jones said of his honor, ‘I half like it and half don’t care tuppence’, the half that liked it won the day. He accepted the baronetcy, despite his own reservations, and those of his wife Georgiana and fellow-artists George Frederick Watts (who twice turned down a baronetcy) and William Morris.

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‘Spring Quiet’ Christina Rossetti poem inspires my sister-in-law!

My sister-in-law Alyse recently told me that Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Spring Quiet’ moved her to produce a lovely drawing which she has entitled ‘Spring Inspiration’, and I wanted to share it with you. Alyse is a young American artist who is just beginning her career. Having grown up in New York State’s Hudson Valley, she takes her inspiration from the natural world. She is also starting to become inspired by poetry.

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Pre-Raphaelite News Roundup April-May 2012

At 180 years old this month (b. 12 May, 1828) Dante Gabriel Rossetti is still hogging the headlines. There was the previously unknown portrait of Jane Morris which recently came to light in a private collection in Scotland, but it was the strange tale of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent Jeffrey Meehan’s recovery of a stolen picture of Alexa Wilding during a sting in Alaska that really got my attention. In a case that involves surnames right out of a detective novel (Leboeuf, Sternback, Weshenfelder) with a storyline reminiscent of ‘Northern Exposure’ in its heydey, Rossetti’s picture was recovered alongside a haul of illegal walrus tusks.

But the US Fish and Wildlife Service is not the first to suggest a connection between Pre-Raphaelitism and the noble walrus. That honour goes to John Lucas Tupper. His 1850 essay for the Pre-Raphaelite magazine, The Germ, described the intoxicating odour of ‘camphor’ emanating from a stuffed walrus at the British Museum, which ‘permeated the whole collection’. It was ‘a literary smell’. Incredibly perhaps, he regarded this as a good thing, associating the scent of camphor with artistic integrity and imagination: ‘Now let a poem, a painting, or sculpture, smell ever so little of antiquity, and every intelligent reader will be full of delightful imaginations.’ Click HERE for the full essay.

As always, the Pre-Raphaelites trump any twenty-first century pretenders to weirdness, even tusk smugglers in Alaska.

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The Rossetti Watch, Part II: Geoffrey Munn Needs Your Help!

Readers, this is your chance to help make Pre-Raphaelite history!

As a long-standing fan of the Antiques Roadshow, I am thrilled to inform you that Geoffrey Munn has contacted me about his ongoing search for the beautiful watch that Dante Gabriel Rossetti designed as a memorial to Elizabeth Siddal.

For those of you unaccountably unfamiliar with his regular appearances on this great British television programme, jewellery expert Munn (FSA, FRSA) specialises in nineteenth-century metalwork and Fabergé, and is managing director of London jewellers, Wartski. Click HERE to see him in action at the British Museum on the Antiques Roadshow.

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Pre-Raphaelite News Round-Up

Recent articles and items on the Pre-Raphaelites range from the predictable (Florence Welch described as ‘Pre-Raphaelite’) to the wildly original (Dimbola Museum’s ‘Best Bohemian Beard’ awards).

What emerges from these disparate approaches is the sense that its kaleidoscopic nature has helped keep Pre-Raphaelitism vital. Its refusal to remain in one category (fine arts, literature, music, decorative arts) means Pre-Raphaelitism continues to appeal to film-makers and fashion designers as much as art gallery visitors and poetry lovers.

And beard-fanciers. 


In the News
11 Feb 2012
The Times chooses Christina Rossetti sonnet for ‘Love Poems Everyone Should Know.’
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/poetrycompetition/article3312184.ece

15 Feb 2012
Jan Marsh: ‘Did Rossetti Really Need to Exhume His Wife?’ In TLS
http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article872671.ece

20 Feb 2012
MarketWatch
Pre-Raphaelite Works from 7 Liverpool art museums newly available on the ‘Your Paintings’ website. Get tagging!
http://www.marketwatch.com/story/3000-oil-paintings-from-national-museums-liverpool-join-the-your-paintings-website-2012-02-20

9 March 2012
Islington Tribune appeals for funds to preserve Ford Madox Brown’s grave
http://www.islingtontribune.com/news/2012/mar/artist-ford-maddox-brown%E2%80%99s-overgrown-grave-sparks-appeal

 

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A Pre-Raphaelite Monument in Brompton Cemetery

When I went to see Maria Rossetti’s grave in Brompton Cemetery, I was pleasantly surprised to come across the grave of Frederick Richard Leyland, one of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s best-known patrons. 

A Liverpool ship-owner and canny businessman, Leyland represented a new breed of art buyer. Like other rich industrialists of the era, he was as interested in cultivating a reputation as a tastemaker as he was in accruing capital. The art market changed as the culture of aristocratic patronage was replaced by the acquisitive ambitions of self-made men with money to burn. In 1891, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine noted that Leyland’s home, cluttered with Italian Renaissance painting alongside Pre-Raphaelite works, embodied his ‘dream of living the life of an old Venetian merchant in modern London’. 

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Pre-Raphaelites in Birmingham

I first came to visit Birmingham to celebrate the beginning of my postgraduate studies in 1998. I walked around the city all day, backpack slung over my shoulders, revelling in the city’s startling combination of old and new. I had come up from London to see the Edward Burne-Jones exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. I remember buying a small exhibition poster and putting it up in the tiny bedroom at my halls of residence, and wondering when I would return.

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Pre-Raphaelite News Round-Up

Pre-Raphaelite News Round-up

Perhaps the proliferation of articles on the Pre-Raphaelites is an indication of the growing excitement around the 2012 Tate Britain Exhibition, but whatever the reason, it’s hard not to notice the sudden explosion of news about the Pre-Raphaelites this winter. Below is a small round-up of several items of interest. Enjoy!

If I’ve missed anything, please get in touch and let me know.

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Maria Rossetti and Chelsea FC An Unlikely Connection

In searching for Maria Rossetti’s grave I learned two important lessons:

1. The Friends of Brompton Cemetery are amazingly helpful and deserve an award of some kind. But until that day comes, you can help support their work HERE.

2. When a grave of historical importance and great personal meaning is near a football ground, one should consider leaving one’s husband at home.

When I decided to make the treck to Brompton Cemetery to visit the grave of Maria Rossetti, I knew my husband (henceforth ‘the chap’) would be particularly useful. The Friends of Brompton Cemetery had kindly provided me with a map and a photograph of the Maria’s grave, but I knew from bitter experience that my navigational skills might lead me astray. Frankly, if the Friends of Brompton Cemetery had painted a line of yellow footprints from the Cemetery entrance to Maria Rossetti’s grave, I’d probably have taken a wrong turn and ended up blinking in confusion under the traffic lights on the Fulham Road.

Brompton Cemetery

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Pre-Raphaelites in Paris

In Paris recently, I was delighted to discover that the Musée d’Orsay was playing host to the Victoria & Albert Exhibition, ‘The Cult Of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement, 1860 – 1900.’ I’d already gotten my Pre-Raphaelite jollies from seeing the exhibition in London, but I was curious to see what the French would do differently. Famous Pre-Raphaelite haters, the French were bound to emphasize different aspects of Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism. While the face of Frederick Leighton’s flirtatious Pavonia graced the poster for the English exhibition, Waterhouse’s full-length, drowsy Saint Cecile strained at her girdle in the Musée d’Orsay’s version. The stereotype-reinforcing French exhibition title made me chuckle. ‘Beauté, Morale, Volupté: dans l’Angleterre d’Oscar Wilde’ saw off the polite ‘Cult of Beauty’. The title also made it clear that this was more Oscar Wilde’s nineteenth century than Queen Victoria’s.

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Florence + The Machine + The Pre-Raphaelites

The media enjoys describing Florence Welch of ‘Florence + The Machine’ as ‘Pre-Raphaelite’, probably because of her red hair, pale skin and tendency to brandish odd props. But for the release of her second album, Ceremonials, she told Rolling Stone that she was changing her image, seeking ‘a new type of romanticism … As opposed to the Pre-Raphaelite look of the last record.’

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Missing: Elizabeth Siddal Memorial Watch Can You Help Find It?

The Antiques Roadshow have issued a call for help finding a very special object; a pocket watch designed by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as a memorial to his wife, Elizabeth Siddal. In you watch the segment at the end the show (at about 58.38) you can see his original design for this beautiful gold watch, as well as a photograph of the finished object. Sadly, it has gone missing, but Antiques Roadshow have determined to try to find it.

I had never heard of this watch myself, and was quite surprised to learn of it. I wonder if it is the one he is wearing in the series of Rossetti family photographs taken by Lewis Carroll. Has anyonoe else heard of it before? Do you have any guesses as to its possible whereabouts? The hunt is on!

This CLIP will be available to view for the next three days. The Rossetti watch appears in the final segment of the program.

Thanks very much to my brilliant web designer, David Knight, for alerting me to the programme!

 

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‘The Last Pre-Raphaelite’ Exceeds Expectations at Christie’s Frank Cadogan Cowper's Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth

While the Christie’s New York auction of Liz Taylor’s jewellery grabbed all of last week’s headlines, I was more interested in some of the Pre-Raphaelite gems on show at the Christie’s London auction of ‘Victorian and British Impressionist Art’. One artist who inspired some furious competition was Northamptonshire’s own Frank Cadogan Cowper. Estimated at £150,000 - £250,000, his Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth (1917, above) went for £469,250, a record-breaking price for Cowper’s work. In a complex, efficient choreography, assistants ferried most of the paintings in and out for display. But throughout the auction, Cowper’s work remained on the wall above a phalanx of smartly attired men and women taking phone bids. The painting was beautifully lit, showing off its bright colours and ornate frame to full advantage.

Perhaps it was to this work that Peter Brown (Director in Victorian Pictures) was referring when he breezily told me that some items had done ‘better than expected.’ British understatement at its finest, I suspect.

Cowper is sometimes referred to as the ‘Last Pre-Raphaelite’. The painter is clearly borrowing from a Pre-Raphaelite colour palette, but what other Pre-Raphaelite influences are detectable?

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Happy Birthday Thomas Woolner The Story of a Pre-Raphaelite Gold-Digger

When the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848, Thomas Woolner had the distinction of being one of its older members at the grand age of 22. He was born in Suffolk on 17th December 1825. He studied sculpture under the tutelage of William Behnes and exhibited at London’s Royal Academy, where he caught the attention of William Holman Hunt. Woolner was a poet as well as a sculptor, contributing verses to the Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ, and publishing volumes of original poetry, including: My Beautiful Lady (1863) Pygmalion (1881) and Silenus (1884).

A chain-smoker with gingery hair and a stocky build, Woolner was an artist in the muscular Victorian mode. Eager to publicly critique the flaws in competing sculptors’ work, he aggressively promoted his own, with the help of important friends like Tennyson and FT Palgrave. But his butch posturing took a hit in the gold fields of Australia, where Woolner was shocked to discover, not gold, but the death, violence and disease that awaited many on the fringes of the expanding British empire. He had set out in July 1852 to make his fortune. The PRB saw him off; witnessing Woolner’s departure inspired Ford Madox Brown’s iconic painting The Last of England. Dante Gabriel Rossetti recorded that his friend was ‘plentifully stocked with corduroys, sou’westers, jerseys, firearms and belts full of little bags to hold the expected nuggets.’

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Happy Birthday Emily Dickinson Here's to being deep, concentrated and reckless.

Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on 10 December, 1830, only five days after Christina Rossetti. But these two poets share more than a birth month. Both poets are known as virtual recluses whose sedate daily routines concealed fierce interior lives. Neglected for much of the twentieth century by academics and literary critics, they retained a loyal readership nonetheless, and were respected among poets. See, for example, Edith Sitwell’s backhanded compliment: ‘Women’s poetry, with the expection of Sappho … Goblin Market and a few deep, concentrated but fearfully incomplete poems of Emily Dickinson, is simply awful ...’.

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‘In An Artist’s Studio: Analysis Part 3

In An Artist’s Studio
(by Christina Rossetti)

One face looks out from all his canvasses,
    One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;
    We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
    A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
    A saint, an angel; – every canvass means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
    And she with true kind eyes looks back on him
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
    Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
    Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Speaker and Tone
This is a pretty cynical tour of an artist’s studio, which brings us to another important point for analysis. Who is the speaker of this poem? Who is telling us this story? The only clue is in line 3: ‘We found her’. So the speaker is also in the artist’s studio, is not alone, and he or she is feeling pretty sceptical about the artistic process. This brings us to an irony of this poem: the speaker is criticising the artist for portraying the model ‘not as she is’, but isn’t the poet falling into the very same trap? Isn’t writing a poem about someone roughly equivalent to painting a picture of her? Is it possible for poet or painter to portray any model ‘as she is’?  This is an irony Rossetti wants us to notice, and this irony is the poem’s true subject. In seeking to capture the essence of another person, artists tread a fine line between interpretation and objectification. Can an artist ever portray a subject ‘as she is’? Or will that portrayal always be, in some sense, the artist’s ‘dream’? 

 

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‘In An Artist’s Studio’ Analysis Part 2 Poetry Workshop

In An Artist’s Studio
(by Christina Rossetti)

One face looks out from all his canvasses,
    One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;
    We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
    A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
    A saint, an angel; – every canvass means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
    And she with true kind eyes looks back on him
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
    Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
    Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

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‘In An Artist’s Studio’: Analysis Part 1 Poetry Workshop

In An Artist’s Studio
(by Christina Rossetti)

One face looks out from all his canvasses,
    One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans;
    We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
    A nameless girl in freshest summer greens,
    A saint, an angel; – every canvass means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
    And she with true kind eyes looks back on him
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
    Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
    Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

When coming to a poem for the first time, it’s tempting just to plunge in and start reading. The trouble with this approach is that you risk overlooking a major part of the poem: its title. Consider Rossetti’s title here: ‘In An Artist’s Studio.’ Without looking at the poem, what can we immediately gather from the title? Let’s close read it word for word and find out.

 

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In An Artist’s Studio: Poetry Analysis Poetry Workshop: The Poem

When I was a university freshman (long ago, when mastodons bellowed to each other across primeval swamps), a professor of mine once remarked that people are often afraid of poetry because they haven’t really been taught how to read it. This makes sense to me; unlike the Victorians, we are not bombarded with popular periodicals and annuals containing classic and contemporary poems. We are not taught to recite poetry at school, and rarely do we read it in any great depth. But I don’t want people to be scared of poetry anymore. I want people to love it! And if they can’t love it, then at least I want folks to be able to face it down.

So in order to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem, I’m going to experiment with a ‘Poetry Workshop’, in which I will closely analyse a Pre-Raphaelite poem.

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Christina Rossetti and the Leveson Inquiry The Unusual Suspect

‘Christina Rossetti became a brief star of the Leveson inquiry this morning’, the article began. When I saw a story about Christina Rossetti in my Evening Standard ‘Londoner’s Diary’ for 28 November, I thought I was hallucinating. I am not accustomed to seeing one of England’s greatest poets featuring next to photos of Lily Cole and ‘Mollie King, of girl group “The Saturdays”’. At first I reasoned that writing, teaching and blogging about Christina Rossetti had finally brought on some sort of nerdy breakdown. But then I read on, and realised that in fact Christina Rossetti was part of the collective consciousness today. 

Once again, the media have delighted in pointing out the spurious connection between Christina Rossetti’s poetry and suspected murder. Innocent landlord and English teacher Chris Jeffries was originally under suspicion for the murder of Jo Yeates, basically because he had an unfashionable haircut and enjoyed reading Rossetti. If you think I’m exaggerating, google ‘Rossetti and Chris Jefferies’ and see for yourself.

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Christina Rossetti on the Radio! Thursday 1 Dec, In Our Time, Radio 4

This coming Thursday’s broadcast of ‘In Our Time’ promises to feature ‘the life and work of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti.’ I’m not sure who Melvyn Bragg’s guests will be, but let’s hope they give full credit to her technical skill and sophisticated metaphysics, rather than going down the well-trodden route of dismissing her religious commitment as dogmatic, self-hating and detrimental to her creativity. The blurb mentions that she was ‘best known for her ballads and religious poetry’. I do hope the programme will give full credit to her as a writer of sonnets. In my opinion, there is no superior Victorian master of the form. There is also the matter of Goblin Market, a poem which defies easy classification …

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Top 5 Pre-Raphaelite ‘Waterlogged Maidens’ Which one tickled Joe Queenan?

Humorist and Pre-Raphaelite hater Joe Queenan recently wrote an article about the benefits of laughing at paintings in museums. Leaving aside the merits and demerits of his argument, I was interested by his singling-out of ‘Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s waterlogged maidens’ for ridicule. What struck me was that I was unable to identify which paintings Queenan meant, and after a brief search, it became clear that Rossetti didn’t paint any waterlogged maidens. Unless I am very much mistaken, which I’m willing to admit.

Aside from Burne-Jones, I couldn’t think of many Pre-Raphaelite painters who were consistently interested in watery scenes. But I did come up with these top 5 paintings. Which one do you think Queenan was thinking of / laughing at?

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Virginia Woolf and Holman Hunt go To The Lighthouse St. Ives Guestbook Up for Auction at Bonhams

Get out your chequebooks: on Tuesday 22 November, a guestbook from Godrevy Lighthouse in St. Ives goes on sale at Bonhams in London’s New Bond Street. The guestbook boasts not only the childhood signature of Virginia Woolf, but also the signature of William Holman Hunt, who was one of her family’s party during their visit on 12 September 1892. Hunt was an old suitor of Woolf’s mother, Julia Jackson, a great beauty. Virginia Woolf’s father Leslie Stephen cattily noted that Holman Hunt married his second wife because of her resemblance to Julia. Hunt was well-known to Woolf’s family: he sat alongside Stephen on the original Committee for The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

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Pre-Raphaelite Murder at the Geffrye Museum Witness the death of the Victorian Best Parlour

Arthur Lasenby Liberty, founder of Liberty & Co. on Regent Street, was memorialised as ‘The Man Who Killed the Best Parlour’ by introducing a whole new aesthetic to his aspirational middle-class customer. Liberty was inspired by London’s Pre-Raphaelite artists, who were not only his customers, but also part of his brand identity. Tapping into the market that Morris & Co had created, he offered unique luxury goods in an age of mass-production. Eclecticism became the watchword for drawing room decoration as the middle classes tried to outdo each other is displaying their newly-acquired ‘artistic’ taste.

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Mary Wollstonecraft: Vindicated

London commuters were surprised during yesterday’s evening rush hour to see an image of Mary Wollstonecraft projected onto the Houses of Parliament. The author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and mother of Mary Shelley, Wollstonecraft was far ahead of her time in promoting women’s civil and political rights, espousing radical ideas such as: ‘Women ought to have representatives, instead of being arbitrarily governed without any direct share allowed them in the deliberations of government.’ Her appearance on the Houses of Parliament on 16th November 2011 is a timely reminder, both of how far women have come, and how far they have to go to achieve true equality.

William Rossetti would have been thrilled to see this display, and almost certainly would have contributed to the Mary on the Green campaign to raise funds for a statue of the Mother of British Feminism. As a tribute both to William Rossetti and to Wollstonecraft, I’m making a donation, and I hope you will too. Click here to donate.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti: The Man Who Sold the World? David Bowie credits Rossetti with inspiring drag-queen cult

I was surprised to discover a reference to Gabriel Rossetti in a 1976 issue of Playboy Magazine (which I was only reading for the articles). When interviewer Cameron Crowe asked David Bowie about the inspiration for the eye-catching English cover art for The Man Who Sold the World, David Bowie replied: ‘Funnily enough, and you’ll never believe me, it was a parody of Gabriel Rossetti. Slightly askew, obviously. So when they told me that a drag-queen cult was forming behind me, I said, “Fine, don’t try to explain it; nobody is going to bother to try to understand it.”’

Click here to read the full article. (This is only a link to Cameron Crowe’s website, not Playboy Magazine. To which I would never provide a link in a million years! Because ‘yuck’, basically).

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A Pre-Raphaelite Dream Factory Holman Hunt's Urban Childhood

The Victorian era is remembered for its soul-deadening factories, where men, women and children worked long, gruelling hours in hazardous conditions for little pay. But for one Pre-Raphaelite Brother, a Cheapside factory proved an unlikely inspiration; when future painter William Holman Hunt was growing up, a cotton winding factory was his playground. His father was the manager of a warehouse in Dyer’s Court, Aldermanbury, on whose upper floors female ‘winders’ operated noisy hand machines which wound cotton and thread into balls and on reels.

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Rossetti Attempts to Lead Tennyson Astray Come Into the Casino, Maud

In the autumn of 1855, the forty six year-old Alfred Tennyson read his new poem Maud outloud to a small literary audience at Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s London home. Listeners included the Rossetti brothers. Gabriel produced a spontaneous pen and ink sketch which showed the poet seated on a couch, reading from a small book in his right hand. The affectionate yet irreverent sketch reveals Rossetti’s feelings toward the Poet Laureate, which were a mixture of envy and admiration.

After this recital, Tennyson recklessly allowed himself to be escorted home by the twenty seven year-old Gabriel Rossetti. The age gap began to show around High Holborn, when Tennyson remarked on the abundance of cabs crowded round the Casino de Venice. What, he wondered, was going on inside?

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‘Wishiwasha’: Longfellow’s Adventures in Pre-Raphaelite London

In 1868, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow visited England, where he was feted by the great and the good. America’s premiere poet received honourary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge and even called on Queen Victoria. Julia Margaret Cameron (close friend to the Pre-Raphaelites) took his portrait, portraying him as every inch the poet-sage. The dramatic profile portrait, with its emphasis on his flowing white beard and veritable mane of hair, presents him as the embodiment of a literary lion.

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Christina Rossetti Spotted in Atlantic City ‘What Does the Bee Do?’ in Season 2 Episode 4 of ‘Boardwalk Empire’

Christina Rossetti’s children’s poem was recently recited in an October episode of the hit TV series, ‘Boardwalk Empire’ (Season 2, Episode 4). The episode’s title comes from her poem ‘What Does the Bee Do?’, published in her collection of children’s verse, ‘Sing-Song’. You may recall Margaret’s daughter Emily reciting it in the kitchen at the top of the TV program. Christina’s poem presents a traditional portrait of Victorian domestic economy, where Father brings home the money and Mother manages the household expenses:

What does the bee do?
  Bring home honey.
And what does Father do?
  Bring home money.
And what does Mother do?
  Lay out the money.
And what does baby do?
  Eat up the honey.

Click here to see Arthur Hughes’s original illustration for this poem.

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American Gothic: Part II

William Rossetti noted that Boston-born Edgar Allan Poe’s work continued to provide ‘a deep well of delight’ to his brother Gabriel all his life. Throughout his career, Gabriel Rossetti was drawn to the disturbing notion in Poe’s essay ‘The Philosophy of Composition’ that ‘The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.’ During 1846-47, Gabriel decided to write a sequal to Poe’s ‘The Raven’, and ended up producing his most famous poem, ‘The Blessed Damozel’.

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American Gothic: Part I

Gabriel Rossetti was a poet and a painter. Perhaps surprisingly, his work (as well as that of his Pre-Raphaelite ‘Brothers’) was inspired by contemporary American writing. When the young Pre-Raphaelite Brothers drew up their mock-serious list of the greatest artists of all time,  Americans writers were included: Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

But the Rossettis’ appreciation of American writing had its roots in childhood. When Maria, Gabriel, William and Christina were children, they resisted their religious mother’s best efforts to push them towards the early Victorian era’s tiresome morality tales such as the despised Fairchild Family series, with its shiny-faced children eager to pitch in with the family chores. In fact, the young Rossettis went the other way entirely when they discovered an illustrated collection of horror stories called Legends of Terror in their uncle’s library. These ghoulish delights, entitled things like ‘The Legend of the Bloody Hand’ ‘A Night in the Grave’, ‘The Maniac’s Fate’, were entertaining and frightening in equal measure, and helped inspire Gabriel and Christina’s gothic imaginations

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Did Keats invent Pre-Raphaelitism? On This Day - 31 October 1795: Birth of John Keats in London

When he was a young man in the 1840s, William Holman Hunt discovered a cheap first edition of John Keats’s poems in a bargain bin labeled ‘this lot 4d.’ It seems unbelievable that the great Romantic poet who wrote ‘Ode To A Nightingale’ and ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ was so little esteemed, but until the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood came along, he was in danger of being forgotten.

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Unidentified Christina Rossetti Poem - Calling All Literary Detectives!

The Victorian era saw the rise of the private detective in both real life and in fiction. Long before Sherlock Holmes’s adventures in ‘The Strand Magazine’ kept London’s commuters on the edges of their seats, Ignatius Paul Pollaky’s real-life investigations caught the city’s imagination. Known as ‘Paddington’ Pollaky after his office at Paddington Green, the Hungarian-born detective became famous in the 1860s when he began to use the London Times ‘Agony’ column to publish cryptic communiqués such as ‘Marquise, have patience; 10 minutes after midnight – POLLAKY’. He was immortalised in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience in the lyric: ‘the keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky’.

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A Pre-Raphaelite Prescription

Unhappily, this week I found myself in my doctor’s surgery. The waiting room was decorated with pamphlets containing alarming line-drawings of unsightly illnesses. I was trying not to touch anything because the prospect of sickness is stressful for teachers. We worry that cancelling even one lesson will encourage a permanent Lord of the Flies atmosphere to reign in the classroom. Or perhaps that’s just me. So: Doctor’s appointment. Frightening reading material. Germophobia. You get the picture. And then a little yellow pamphlet entitled ‘Poems in the Waiting Room’ caught my eye. Inside I found a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti called, ‘Sudden Light’. It began:

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore …

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Pre-Raphaelite Childhood: Punch & Judy

When the Rossettis were children, their neighbourhood hosted regular Punch & Judy puppet shows. The fit-up was always positioned to face the houses opposite the Rossetti’s Charlotte Street (now Hallam Street) home, and so the children were forced to view the spectacle from backstage. They marvelled at the colourful curtains, flinched with each crack of the puppeteer’s slapstick, giggled as Punch delivered his immortal swazzle-voiced ‘punchline’: ‘That’s the way to do it!’ But what Punch was actually doing to Judy remained a mystery to the Rossetti children. Young Gabriel, unable to endure the torment any longer, once asked for permission to cross the street and view the action. His father Gabriele told him that this would be infra dig (beneath his dignity).

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The Pre-Raphaelite Marketplace

In 1876, The Galaxy Magazine drew its readers’ attention to a new trend overtaking the streets of the English capital:

We have now in London pre-Raphaelite painters, pre-Raphaelite poets, pre-Raphaelite novelists, pre-Raphaelite young ladies, pre-Raphaelite hair, eyes, complexion, dress, decorations, window curtains, chairs, tables, knives forks and coal-scuttles. We have pre-Raphaelite anatomy, we have pre-Raphaelite music…

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Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.