Rossetti's "Jenny": Aestheticizing the Whore

By Starzyk, Lawrence J. | Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Rossetti's "Jenny": Aestheticizing the Whore


Starzyk, Lawrence J., Papers on Language & Literature


I

The most famous aestheticized object of Victorian culture is Robert Browning's Duchess, a woman whose utility as a wife has been elided with the result that all who come upon her transformed condition must disinterestedly regard her as an artifact.[1] The iconoclastic ritual Browning's Duke engages in to break his living possession divorces the Duchess's property considerations as a husband's chattel only to reconstitute the woman as a new form of property--a painting that takes possession of its possessor. The Duke's displeasure with his Duchess and with her new role as his obsessive concern, of course, explains why this aestheticized object ordinarily hangs veiled by a curtain rarely put by.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Jenny is the Duchess's kindred. Of markedly different social and economic status than the recipient through marriage of a nine-hundred-year-old name, Jenny nevertheless undergoes the same transformative aestheticization the Duchess endures with some of the same obsessive consequences for Rossetti's speaker.

These obvious similarities nonetheless mask fundamental differences, other than the socio-economic ones, that explain Rossetti's technical development of the dramatic monologue Browning employed and the variations on ekphrastic practice with which Victorian poets were involved.[2] Examining the aestheticization of Jenny will highlight the differences in Browning's and Rossetti's ekphrastic experiments in these two poems and underscore how the painterly hand of Rossetti influenced the verbal articulation of the muted image of this Victorian whore.

Rossetti's speaker, "a thoughtful man of the world," monologizes from an "inner standing-point" to emphasize the artistic "motive power" of his ruminations (484). To identify him as the "speaker" of the poem apparently contradicts Rossetti's insistence on the interior orientation.[3] Speech has a social dimension that implies someone's attending to articulated words, a situation that Jenny's sleeping state precludes. Not until the virtual mid-point of the monologue, however, is Jenny "asleep at last"(171), the speaker prior to that moment encouraging Jenny to "sit up"(89) and "take this glass"(96) in an effort to diminish the "weariness"(95) preceding the complete inattentiveness of sleep. Whether the poem is a dramatic monologue, a narrative, an interior monologue, a soliloquy, or a dialogue of the mind with itself obscures the more significant issue of the function of the multiplicity of interpretations permitted by the text.[4] This critical confusion regarding the nature of the poem's discourse, I suggest, discloses a necessary ingredient for the aestheticization the poem dramatizes, namely the protagonist's confusion.

As the speaker attempts to encourage Jenny to ward off weariness and so revive the "merry"(96) spirit she displayed during their night of dancing, he comments, "do not let me think of you, / Lest shame of yours suffice for two"(91-92). The complete silencing that is sleep endangers the protagonist by forcing him to engage in the dialogue of the self with its own mind and, in the process, to assume the shame he associates with Jenny. The power to animate and manipulate that the narrator assumes as the result of Jenny's sleeping state is, as Amanda Anderson argues, ultimately undermined by the loss of personal identity he suffers in the process.[5] One of the protagonist's concluding remarks admits to his being "Ashamed of my own shame"(384). The dilemma posed by speaking to an awakened Jenny or thinking silently about the sleeping "thoughtless queen"(7) informs the opening lines of the poem in which the speaker superimposes conflicting images of the woman resting on his knee. The woman "Fond of a kiss"(2), laughing and dancing, is "languid Jenny"(1). The "Fresh flower" "scarce[ly] touched" sexually is the "Poor flower" "bare" of leaves (12, 14, 15). The madonna "full of grace" is apostrophized as a bankrupt whore, "Poor shameful Jenny"(18).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rossetti's "Jenny": Aestheticizing the Whore
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.