Shining a light on a neglected 19th century poetic movement

Thursday, 02 February 2017

William Morris style design

Emerging in 1848, Pre-Raphaelitism brought together artists and writers whose aim was to challenge artistic and literary conventions.

Though it is known today primarily for its visual art, the movement was also strongly literary, and included poets such as Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Algernron Charles Swinburne and George Meredith.

Dr Dinah Roe, Senior Lecturer in 19th century literature at Oxford Brookes University is one of the recipients of the University’s Research Excellence Awards. The Awards were launched last year as part of Oxford Brookes’ commitment to supporting research-active academics and in supporting the aims of the recently revised Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy 2016-2020.

The funding is providing Dr Roe with greater research time to work on a new monograph which will be the first, full-length critical account of literary Pre-Raphaelitism.

Today (2 February) she is giving a lecture about her research entitled Inside Out: The Enclosed Garden in Pre-Raphaelite Painting and Poetry at Royal Holloway University of London, Centre for Victorian Studies.

Dr Roe talks about this exciting project.

The aims of my planned monograph, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Poetics of Liminality, are: to offer a critical appreciation of Pre-Raphaelite poetics; to challenge the dismissal of Pre-Raphaelite writing as reactionary; to demonstrate the poets’ deep engagement with contemporary thought and to reveal the formal and ideological innovation of the poetry.

Inspired by the cross-disciplinary practice of Pre-Raphaelitism itself and drawing on art historical, literary and anthropological criticism, my study will argue that the poets’ fascination with liminal space demonstrates their deep involvement with the transitional nature of Victorian society and culture.

Dr Dinah Roe, Oxford Brookes University

Interdisciplinary research is at the heart of my work as a literary scholar and will form a key part of this project.

Inspired by the cross-disciplinary practice of Pre-Raphaelitism itself and drawing on art historical, literary and anthropological criticism, my study will argue that the poets’ fascination with liminal space demonstrates their deep involvement with the transitional nature of Victorian society and culture.

For this study, I will be drawing on the works of some of the major poets of that time. For example, I will explore how architectural spaces of transition - doorways, corridors and windows - embody the dilemma of progress in poems such as Rapunzel by William Morris and Modern Love by George Meredith.

The use of materials by the Pre-Raphaelite poets - picture frames, book jackets and typefaces - to draw attention to the borders that separate word and image will be the subject of one of my chapters, with a particular focus on the poems inscribed in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s picture frames.

REA logo 2016

I also want to look into the ‘in-between’ states of consciousness - dreaming, hallucinating and sleep-walking - prevalent in William Morris’s’ The Wind and Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s Ode, which suggest that Pre-Raphaelite poets explore these states not simply to escape reality, but to expose and resist its limitations.

Overall, I intend to demonstrate how the poets’ exploration of ‘in-between’ spaces and states challenges the utilitarian values of the Victorian age by allowing and to some extent celebrating spontaneous events, disorder and ambiguity.

Keep reading the University’s  news pages for further information on the recipients of the Research Excellence Awards.

Image: William Morris inspired design