Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Foil or Foe?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, is frequently referenced and alluded to in Some Do Not. Although Ford grew up within Pre-Raphaelite circles, as his grandfather, Ford Madox Brown was an intimate friend of the Rossetti family; Gabriel Rossetti finds himself the object of much criticism from Tietjans. However, whether this criticism is truly a rejection of Rossetti’s subject matter or suggestive of the larger contradictions that exist within Tietjan’s morality is ambiguous.

Gabriel Rossetti happens to be the subject of Macmaster’s monograph and the two share many parallels. Rossetti was known for his erotic and highly idealized portrayals of women, while Macmaster is prone to sentimentalize “girls of the most giggling, behind-the-counter order, big-bosomed, scarlet cheeked.”(13) In fact, the narrator’s criticism of Macmaster foreshadows his relationship with Mrs. Duchemin. Macmaster canonizes Mrs. Duchemin almost instantaneously, a characterization that certainly does not mesh with the power-hungry and vengeful woman she reveals herself to be. However, by suggesting that Macmaster’s judgment of Mrs. Duchemin is questionable, it seems as though Ford is also questioning the efficacy of Rossetti’s portrayal of women. If Macmaster is Rossetti’s manifestation and supporter in the novel, his elevation of a flawed woman to the status of sainthood seems to suggest a similar criticism of Rossetti. Rossetti in fact, used both his wife(the model for the famous painting Beata Beatrix pictured top left) and his mistress (who also happened to be the wife of his business partner) as models for many of his paintings. Therefore, by using women he knew as the basis for representations of the ideal of feminine beauty, it seems as though Rossetti exaggerating these woman’s qualities.

Tietjans also explicitly suggests that Macmaster has fallen into the same trap as Rossetti. Ford writes, “you can write it on his card that a young man tacked on to a paulo-post pre-Raphaelite prostitute.”(105) As Dr. Ogden discussed in class, the phrase “paulo-post pre-Raphaelite” is a play on the very name pre-Raphaelite and a parody of the pre-Raphaelites self-appointment as representatives of a certain period of history. However, the phrase also makes an allusion to one of Rossetti’s more famous poems, “Jenny”. The poem itself is a young man’s evaluation of prostitution and offers a very sympathetic view of the women engaged in the proffession. In this sense, Tietjans implies that Mrs. Duchemin is a pre-Raphaelite prostitute – a woman undeserving of Macmaster’s exaggerated praise.

Another point on which Tietjans and Rossetti differ is in their standards of propriety. Rossetti was severely criticized in his day for being overly erotic and sexually suggestive in his content. Many of Rossetti’s poems imply lovemaking and the poem referenced in Some Do Not suggests surrender to adultery:

“Lest thy sad eyes meeting mine,
Tempt my soul away!” (16)

Tietjans, on the other hand, “stand[s] for monogamy and chastity. And for no talking about it.”(18) In this sense, Tietjan’s country gentleman morality stands in stark contrast to Rossetti’s pre-Raphaelite ideas. Tietjans believes that sexuality is not a topic that should be openly discussed and, therefore, criticizes Rossetti’s work as a mere justification for the seduction of common-place women.

Nevertheless, Tietjans reproach of Rossetti is also somewhat inconsistent with Tietjan’s views. Although Tietjans rarely displays emotion, he is at heart a sentimentalist. He idealizes both the English countryside, as well as Valentine’s altruism in working as a domestic. Therefore, the image he portrays is incongruous with his deeper feeling and his criticism may amount to a projection of his own undesired qualities.

In fact, Tietjan's feelings toward Rossetti are further complicated when he is debating whether or not to commit adultery with Valentine. A line from one of Rossetti's poems is one of the voices debating his internal dillemma: "Since when we stand side by side, only hands may meet." In this sense, the lines represent the sentamentalization of adulterous desire. While this conflicts with Tietjans ideas about monogamy and chastity, it seems as though the subject matter of Rossetti's work touches him in the deeper recesses of his conciousness. He might not detest Rossetti an artist, but the light that Rossetti sheds on his own repressed feelings.

- Taylor Buis

Passage From Rossetti's Jenny:

So pure,--so fall'n! How dare to think
Of the first common kindred link?
Yet, Jenny, till the world shall burn
It seems that all things take their turn;
And who shall say but this fair tree
May need, in changes that may be,
Your children's children's charity?
Scorned then, no doubt, as you are scorn'd!
Shall no man hold his pride forewarn'd
Till in the end, the Day of Days,
At Judgment, one of his own race,
As frail and lost as you, shall rise,--
His daughter, with his mother's eyes?

Kathy Alexis Psomiades "Rossetti, Dante Gabriel" The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature. David Scott Kastan. Oxford University Press 2005. Simon Fraser University. 16March2007

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