P ERHAPS no Victorian critical term has been more analyzed and debated in recent years than Pre-Raphaelite. Critics have argued that it is an essentially meaningless literary designation, yet have gone on to defend it as necessary--whether as an art-historical concept that offers a convenient way of grouping literary figures (in Cecil Lang's view) or as a signifier of overt Romantics among the Victorians (according to Harold Bloom). In art-historical circles there is more agreement about the meaning of the term, although recent feminist and cultural materialist commentators have sensibily argued that Pre-Raphaelitism, like other tendencies in art, cannot be separated from the society which engendered it or from that society's politics, economics, and history. Moreover, they have suggested that there is none of the monolithic and unifying linkage of style and purpose which generally characterizes a "movement."
But if there are general tendencies that connect a group of Victorian painters ranging from William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Coley Burne-Jones, it must be asked what relations these figures and their works bear to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William Morris, and Algernon Charles Swinburne as poets. Is there something that links these poets to each other, that gives their work a special flavor--one different in kind or degree from that of their contemporaries?
The Victorians, at least, thought they could identify one. For them, the term Pre-Raphaelite referred initially to a group of young painters who in 1848, reacting against what they perceived as the dictates of Sir