The Pre-Raphaelite Poets

The Pre-Raphaelite Poets

The Pre-Raphaelite Poets

The Pre-Raphaelite Poets

Synopsis

Many books have been written about the Pre-Raphaelite movement in painting, but its manisfestation in poetry has been relatively ignored. These exemplary essays offer lively judgments on the themes and relationships of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and Algernon Charles Swinburne and provide fresh insights on their imagery and prosody. A portmanteau chapter evaluates the work of twelve other poets who were associated with the periphery of the movement.

Originally published in 1972.

Excerpt

The primary significance of the Pre-Raphaelite poets is that they stood at the epicenter of an upheaval that shattered literary placidity in the middle years of the nineteenth century. First of all, they served as the shock troops in the assault on bourgeois complacency. Carlyle, the unrepentant peasant, brandishing the weapons of romantic primitivism, had introduced from German the pejorative sense of the word "philistine," and had condemned every manifestation of middle-class prosperity, commercial vulgarity, materialistic greed. His earliest recruit was Ruskin, who transformed Carlyle's moral austerity into a cult of beauty; and later came Arnold to proclaim the need for disinterested detachment. To some degree, however, both Ruskin and Arnold were of philistine origins themselves, and their aestheticism was uncomfortably yoked with moralistic doctrines.

The Pre-Raphaelites suffered from no such inhibitions. Rossetti, a dissolute foreigner; his sister Christina, a cloistered devotee in an era of rationalistic doubt; Morris, a fugitive from the middle class who dressed like a laborer and swore like a trooper; Swinburne, a renegade aristocrat proclaiming himself a republican and a pagan; Meredith, a sardonic intellectual gadfly—to all these the keenest pleasure in life was épater les bourgeois. When they pub-

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