Submerging the Subersive Pagan in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King – Handout

Jeremiah Alexander Henry | | twitter: @jhenry0302 |

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Common Mythopoeic Features: Movement from Chaos (Primordial) to Order | Ambiguous, Anomalous, or Unknown Creators

Selected Passages from Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction

Atum-Ra “acted as both father and mother by giving himself an erection, taking his ‘seed’ into his mouth, and spitting out the first divine couple, Shu and Tefnut. . . . The androgynous nature of the creator was sometimes made clearer by personifying the hand of Atum as a goddess who united with his penis to create life” (Pinch 48-49).

Selected Passages from Metamorphoses (Book 1, “The Shaping of Changes”)

“Before the seas and lands had been created / . . . / Nature displayed a single aspect only / throughout the cosmos; Chaos was its name” (6-9).

“Some god (or kinder nature) settled this / dispute by separating earth from heaven, / and then by separating sea from earth . . . “ (26-28).

Selected Passages from The Popol Vuh

“Whatever there is that might be is simply not there: only the pooled water, only the calm sea, only it alone is pooled” (Tedlock 64).

“Only the Maker, Modeler alone, Sovereign Plumed Serpent, the Bearers, Begetters are in the water, a glittering light. . . . and then humanity was clear, when they concedived the growth, the generation of trees, of bushes, and the growth of life, of humankind, in the blackness, in the early dawn, all because of the Heart of Sky, named Hurricane. Thunderbolt Hurricane comes first, the second is Newborn Thunderbolt, and the third is Sudden Thunderbolt. So there were three of them, as Heart of Sky, who came to the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, when the dawn of life was conceived” (Tedlock 65).

Selected Passages from The Prose Edda

“’Niflheim was made many ages before the earth was created, and at its center is the spring called Hvergelmir. . . . First, however, there was that world in the southern region which is called Muspell. It is bright and hot. That region flames and burns and is impassable for foreigners and those who cannot claim it as their native land. . . . Just as coldness and all things grim came from Niflheim, the regions bordering on Muspell were warm and bright, and Ginnungagap was as mild as a windless sky” (Sturluson 12-13).

Selected Passages from Idylls of the King, “The Coming of Arthur”

“For many a petty king ere Arthur came / Ruled in this isle, and ever waging war / Each upon other, wasted all the land; / And still from time to time the heathen host / Swarm’d overseas, and harried what was left. / And so there grew great tracts of wilderness, / Wherein the beast was ever more and more, / But man was less and less, till Arthur came” (5-12).

“I know not whether of himself [Arthur] came, / Or brought by Merlin, who they say, can walk / Unseen at pleasure” (345-47).

“And Arthur and his knighthood for a space / Were all one will, and thro’ that strength the King / Drew in the petty princedoms under him, / Fought, and in twelve great battles overcame / The Heathen hordes, and made a realm and reign’d” (514-18).

“. . .he heard of Arthur newly crown’d, / Tho’ not without an uproar made by those / Who cried, ‘He is not Uther’s son’ . . .” (41-43)

“. . .‘Who is he / That he should rule us? Who hath proven him / King Uther’s son? For lo! we look at him, / And find nor face nor bearing, limbs nor voice, / Are like to those of Uther whom we knew” (67-71).

Then from the castle gateway by the chasm
Descending thro’ the dismal night – a night
In which the bounds of heaven and earth were lost –
Beheld, so high upon the drery deeps
It seem’d in heaven, a ship, a shape thereof
A dragon wing’d, and all from stem to stern
Bright with a shining people on the decks,
And gone as soon as seen. And then the two
Dropt to the cove, and watch’d the great sea fall,
Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
‘Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in flame:
And down the wave and in the flame was borne
A naked babe, and rode to Merlin’s feet,
Who stoopt and caught the babe, and cried “The King!
Here is an heir for Uther!” And the fringe
Of that great breaker, sweeping up the strand,
Lash’d at the wizard as he spake the word,
And all at once all round him rose in fire,
So that the child and he were clothed in fire (369-89).
‘And there I saw mage Merlin, whose vast wit
And hundred winters are but as the hands
Of loyal vassals toiling for their liege.
‘And near him stood the Lady of the Lake,
Who knows a subtler magic than his own –
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful.
She gave the King is huge cross-hilted sword,
Whereby to drive the heathen out: a mist
Of incense curl’d about her, and her face
Wellnigh was hidden in the minster gloom;
But there was heard among the holy hymns
A voice as of the waters, for she dwells
Down in a deep; calm, whatsoever storms
May shake the world, and when the surface rolls,
Hath the power to walk the waters like our Lord (279-293).‘There likewise I beheld Excalibur / . . . / rich / With jewels, elfin Urim, on the hilt, / Bewildering heart and eye . . . / . . . / Graven in the oldest tongue of all this world, / “Take me,” but turn the blade and ye shall see, / And written in the speech ye speak yourself, / “Cast me away!” And sad was Arthur’s face / Taking it, but old Merlin Counsell’d him, / “Take thou and strike! The time to cast away / Is yet far-off.” So this great brand the king / Took, and by this will beat his foemen down’ (296-308).

Works Cited

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Martin, Charles. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print.

Pinch, Geraldine. Egyptian Myth: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print

Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology. Trans. Byock, Jesse L. London: Penguin, 2005. Print.

Tedlock, Dennis. Popol Vuh : The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Idylls of the King. New York, New York: Penguin Putman Inc, 1983. Print.

A Brief Primer to Victorian Poetry

A Brief Primer to Victorian Poetry

The vast and unprecedented volume of change during the long nineteenth century is what, in my eyes, drives Victorian literature, including its poetry, to explore new directions with both content and form. These changes force poets to move in new directions with content and form in order to reflect on and cope with a world whose undercurrent is that of increasing doubt and uncertainty. Unlike the Romantics that preceded them—who often used snapshots from natural landscapes to trigger philosophical reflection—Victorian poets like Tennyson, Arnold, and the Brownings attempt to elucidate the social, cultural, and theological problems of the present (at times using the past to do so). Though certainly not an exhaustive list by any means, following are some of the major shifts that drive the spiritual undertow leading to feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and fin de siècle fear along with how some poets have attempted to illuminate and respond to these shifts.

One of the markers that some critics and historians use to distinguish the Victorian period from that which precedes it is the First Reform Bill of 1832 which, among other things, substantially increased voting rights and participation in Parliament to those who were outside of the elite aristocracy (the other marker, of course, is the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837). This creates a cultural climate where a vastly larger number of people have a stake in the nation’s growing pains, and the added political and cultural power from non-noble-born and non-aristocratic people challenges the once prevailing sense of the divine’s appointment for certain people to be gentlemen and certain people to work in the service of the gentry. The British Industrial Revolution enables texts to be reproduced extremely cheaply, so anyone who was literate had easy access to all of the poetry being produced, and this wider audience certainly had reciprocal effects on the writers producing the poetry. Poetry was no longer only for the educated elite but for the educated masses. The Industrial Revolution also creates the strongest sense of a “middle class” that Britain had ever seen —along with a separation between workers and factory owners where the problems and horrors of the former, including child labor, were virtually invisible to the latter. Elizabeth Barrett Browning attempts to speak for these invisible children in her poem “The Cry of the Children” when she writes of “their pale and sunken faces” with looks that are “dread to see,” asking “‘How long, O cruel nation / Will you stand, to move the world, on a child’s heart” (149-50, 153-54).

Furthering the problems on the shores of Victorian England’s spiritual side, Charles Darwin published his seminal work On the Origin of Species in 1859, challenging Wordsworth’s sense of how “Nature never did betray / The heart that loved her” with nature’s indifference toward man (“Tintern Abbey” 122-23). Tennyson, in one of his most widely quoted passages, best anticipates this shift in one’s position relative to nature in 1849 when he writes in In Memoriam: “Who trusted God was love indeed / And love Creation’s final law / Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw / With ravine, shriek’d against his creed” (56.13-16). Matthew Arnold also reflects on the spiritual waning of the Victorians in his poem “Dover Beach” in 1851 when he writes, “The Sea of Faith / Was once, too, at the full… / But now I only hear / Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (21-22, 24-25). While Tennyson’s poem is strict tetrameter quatrains with an ABBA rhyme scheme, Dover’s poem is lyrical and blank verse whose stanzas vary in length. It is also an early example of what becomes known as the dramatic monologue, a type of poem I would characterize as one that with an implied or explicit audience attempts to capture a single moment in time along with the psychological resonances that lead up the moment being captured. Of course the true forerunner to the dramatic monologue poetc form is Robert Browning. Through the dramatic monologue form in his poem “Porphyria’s Lover,” he similarly reflects on the waning sense of the divine that Tennyson and Dover explore. He writes—after having strangled his lover with her own hair in an attempt to freeze and immortalize her present state of what the narrator considers female perfection—“And thus we sit together now, / And all night long we have not stirred, / And yet God has not said a word!” (58-60). So while exploring the psychology and logic of a character on the margins of sanity, Browning is able to explore a fresh form of poetry that also anticipates Victorian conversations of spiritual doubt and crisis.

Though my particular focus hitherto has been on the spiritual side of Victorian culture, I would be mistaken to say that spiritual crisis is the only wave that runs through the literature. A variety of poets also attempt to illuminate issues of social class along constructs of femininity, gender, and “The Woman Question,” all issues which are strikingly relevant to our own time. A surprising amount of problems that are the present challenges of our own time were born in the age of Queen Victoria’s reign. This makes the study of Victorian literature and its poetry all the more intriguing, revealing, and poignant.

Tennyson’s Paganism in the Middle-Idylls

Tennyson’s Paganism in the Middle-Idylls

Heathen Malevolence or Pagan Benevolence?

I believe there are two fundamental questions that drive my reflection to the middle-idylls of Idylls of the King.

  • Why does Tennyson allow Merlin to be subdued by Vivien, a temptress and trickster?
  • The middle-idylls being primarily relationship-driven, why do the denizens of Camelot and the surrounding area continue to pursue matches they know are impossible while at the same time ignore what appear to be good matches?

Unlike my previous reflection, I feel like the Pagan undertones in the middle-idylls are subdued to the point of being virtually nonexistent. This puzzled me at first: perhaps this was a line of thinking that Tennyson only by hap wrote in to The Coming of Arthur. At first glance, there are only minor references to the Pagan under-culture surrounding Camelot, and they tend to manifest as malevolent forces that threaten Camelot. For example, when we’re first introduced to Vivien toward the end of Balin and Balan, she says to her squire, “This fire of Heaven, / This old sun-worship, boy, will rise again, / And beat the cross to earth, and break the King, / And all his Table” (450-53, emphasis added). Here Vivien presents old sun-worship—Paganism in a phrase—as a force to overtake Christianity by “beat[ing] the cross to earth” which threatens to destroy Camelot. This alone gives me pause because I personally do not like to think of Paganism as a malevolent, destructive force—whether it’s directly present or an obscure undertone; however, the malevolent presentation by Vivien can be a matter of perspective. After all, Vivien has a point: Camelot is ideal in theory but is being slowly but surely corrupted in reality, perhaps deserving to be exposed for what it is becoming and consequently re-shaped. In this way, I see eye-to-eye with Vivien, especially when she says to Merlin, “In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours, / Faith and unfaith can ne’er be equal powers: / Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all” (152). Camelot’s façade failing (with the façade of Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship coming to light), Vivien’s actions may not be altogether malevolent—she’s pointing out the differences between what we see and what’s really going on. But that makes her seduction and subjugation of Merlin all the more complicated.

It may or may not be self-evident, but I take Merlin as the strongest Pagan presence in the Arthur narratives (along with Morgan le Fey and the Lady of the Lake in other narratives). It is so in Idylls of the King as well. At the beginning of Merlin and Vivien, Tennyson describes the setting:

A storm was coming, but the winds were still,
And in the wild woods of Broceliande,
Before an oak, so hollow, huge and old
It look’d a tower of ivied masonwork,
At Merlin’s feet the wily Vivien lay. (1-5)
The Beguiling of Merlin
“The Beguiling of Merlin” – Sir Edward Burne-Jones

The “wild woods” and “huge and old” oak tree invoke a sense of the ancient, the Pagan, while at the same time paralleling the appearance of ancient Merlin himself. “A storm was coming,” aptly foreshadows the dark age of Camelot, too. Yet the strongest pagan symbol in the narrative, one who is the master of his art, the seer, the sage, has his charm worked against him by the force in the narrative that wants paganism to destroy Camelot. How can a mere trickster overpower Merlin? This makes me think of a scenario where Shakespeare would have allowed Caliban to subdue Prospero. Preposterous! Perhaps. Might this because Merlin advocated a balance between the Pagan and the Christian, a balance that is failing? As the idylls reflect, the presence of the pagan in Arthur’s court seems to be vanishing (along with the ideals of knighthood and courtly love), so it makes sense that Merlin’s power would be waning as well, allowing him to be subdued by a stronger, more domineering pagan force like Vivien. Interesting that threats seem to be coming from outside of Camelot because the inside of Camelot is undoing itself.

Camelot seems to be possessed with the habit of chasing after ideals that are, in reality, impossible. One of the thick threads causing Camelot’s implosion is the failure of ideally matched relationships and the refusal of potential and realistic relationships. Arthur and Guinevere’s relationship is clearly the flagship failure. According to cultural codes, they are a good match both in terms of intellect and class. Guinevere refuses—for lack of a better word—that relationship because she has fallen for Lancelot, and Arthur turns a blind eye to this. Lancelot essentially has his pick of any woman, including the well-suited Elaine (but perhaps for her youth as he claims, yet an older man paired with a younger woman was by no means out of the ordinary for both antiquity and the Victorians); however, Lancelot refuses Elaine and all others, preferring to pine away for the one woman he knows he cannot be with. Elaine also passes on a good match, Gawain being a good match her for. Like Lancelot, she holds out for someone who she knows she cannot be with and, like Camelot is doomed to follow, dies of a broken and lonely heart. In this, the ideal begins to destroy itself through a deconstruction of its own ideal nature, just like questing for the Holy Grail, another ideal in the space of symbols, contributes to Camelot’s destruction as well.

Spiritual Crisis in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King: The Coming of Arthur

Having read closely only Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Lanval, I feel my background in primary texts in the Arthurian Tradition is very weak, but I have read (and watched) a wide range of contemporary retellings of the Arthur legends. I’m also aware in how high a regard the figure of Arthur is kept in British culture (including its literary tradition). To the British, there are two seats of ideals higher than all others: the ideals of Christ and the ideals of Arthur. From this mindset, I make an immediate distinction between Christ and Arthur—not that Arthur is the Christ particularly of British legend per se but rather a Christ-like figure who serves as a sort of middle-ground between Christianity (re: Rome) and Celtic Paganism (re: Heathens). The majority of contemporary retellings of the Arthur legend position Arthur this way. Some pseudo-scholarly work even suggests that Merlyn [to adopt the Celtic spelling] was a member of the Order of Druids whose task was to teach Arthur to balance the values of the old with the new so the realm would not destroy itself. I say pseudo-scholarly because 1) I take anything published by Llewellyn Publications with a grain of salt—such that I would be, at this point, skeptical about citing The 21 Lessons of Merlyn and The Lost Books of Merlyn in any formal research project—and 2) Douglas Monroe’s books listed above are really works of fiction that attempt to pass themselves off as non-fiction, causing huge credibility issues for any scholarly purposes. Still, all of this is to take inventory of the things I think I know about Arthur and Merlyn and reflect upon them so I can have a better understanding of my initial perspectives in reading Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. I am also happy to give a nod to the fact that Tennyson apparently visited Cornwall and Ireland in 1848, “taking up again the idea of writing a long poem on the Arthurian legend” (7). Not surprisingly then, Tennyson’s take on The Coming of Arthur seems to be in alignment with the idea of Arthur being a middle-ground or a negotiation between Christianity and Celtic Paganism.

Arthur and Merlin
“Arthur and Merlin” – Gustave Doré

I see Tennyson immediately invoking this perspective on the Arthur legend throughout the first (full) poem, The Coming of Arthur , placing Arthur as a clear and present middle-ground between the old and the new. He writes, “And still from time to time the heathen host / Swarm’d overseas, and harried what was left. / And so there grew great tracts of wilderness, / Wherein the beast was ever more and more” (8-11). The beasts, the wild, and the untamed are frequently used to refer to the pagan, so while Tennyson may literally be invoking a sense of untamed land full of wild stags and boars, he’s symbolically pulling in that pagan resonance (another example of this is the popular legend of St. Pádraigh having banished the serpents from Ireland, a metaphor for his bringing of Christianity to Ireland). Tennyson presents Arthur further as a Christ-like figure through his mysterious and miraculous birth, but Merlyn’s hand in this miracle mixes the Judeo-Christian narrative with a pagan narrative. Later when Arthur receives Excalibur from The Lady of the Lake, Tennyson describes the sword as being “cross-hilted,” which invokes one of the most important symbols in Christianity (285)—but it is the Lady of the Lake, a pagan figure who “Hath power to walk the waters like our Lord” who gives it to him (293). Finally, there also seems to be a value system that attempts to reconcile Christianity and secular beliefs, done so in a way that is in and of itself a middle-ground. Perhaps one of the most famous features of the Arthur legend are the Knights of the Round Table. The “petty” kings before Arthur, we might assume, placed themselves always at the “head” of a rectangular table in order to highlight their role as leader, as authoritarian. Arthur’s round table is different though: just like when Guinevere cannot distinguish Arthur from the rest of his knights when she first sees him, the round table allows Arthur to be one among his council, to be one of the “people” rather than a pompous figurehead. This allows Arthur to gain respect and to lead by example and by deeds as opposed to by birthright (much like Christ). This equalization of power between king and knights is the perfect euphony between being the middle-ground in a practical role as well as a symbolic role. This juxtaposing and sometimes conflicting imagery illustrate the intermingling of Christianity and Paganism. This much seems clear. But to what end? I think this may have something to do with Tennyson’s time and audience.

Tennyson’s retelling of the Arthur legend may at least in part be a way for him to express the possibility (along with the difficulties) of reconciling the spiritual crises present throughout nineteenth century England. I can’t help but think that it’s not a coincidence that Tennyson began publishing early versions of Idylls in 1859, the same year of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The dates do not line up perfectly, so I realize I’m making the assumption that Tennyson was aware of what Darwin was doing well in advance of Darwin’s publication, but I believe scientific rather than religious worldviews were coming into prominence even before Darwin’s work. So while the Victorians were struggling to make sense in an increasingly scientific world, Tennyson taps into a culturally sacred narrative in order to help his audience reconcile these feelings of spiritual crisis.

An Initial Response to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Jenny” and Victorian Constructs of Gender, Genre, and Social Critique

The fallen-woman paradigm has always been something of a sore spot in my brain. There are several questions causing this tension, and their inter-woven nature gives me a headache to try to loose the Gordian knot they tie. For example, one of the fundamental questions I ask myself about the fallen-woman issue is why is all of the focus on the women, leaving the men who perpetuate the cycle of prostitution in the blurry background. Why must women bear the brunt of shame brought on by this market fuelled by the demand of the sexual desires of men? Hell, men aren’t even explicitly in the background: they are implicitly in the foreground. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Jenny” is a testament to these gender dynamics. In a poem centered around a fallen woman, Jenny, Rossetti’s narrator is the only one who speaks! Sure we could say that Rossetti is playing with the dramatic monologue form—and that’s certainly true—but he is choosing to use the form because it is especially appropriate to reflect Victorian attitudes toward women, especially fallen women: they have no voices. Telling the stories of fallen women is the domain of men (particularly—apparently—men who are their customers).
(how to cite this article)

I suppose Robert Buchanan makes a useful observation when he writes, “What we object to in this poem is not the subject. . . .But the whole tone, without being more than usually coarse, seems heartless. There is not a drop of piteousness in Mr. Rossetti” (qtd. in O’Gorman 358). Granted that I am taking this quote from a secondary source and am thus perhaps treating it out of context from the original source, I find the statement useful not because I think it is of itself enlightening—it is a rather obtuse reading, in fact, conflating Rossetti’s voice with his narrator’s voice; rather, it forces us to 1) make distinctions between Rossetti’s voice and that of his narrator and 2) it forces us to question the “heartless” tone with which the narrator uses to deliver his narrative: a dramatic monologue, remember. The heartless tone that Buchanan rightly recognises is perhaps indicative of a general Victorian male attitude toward prostitution and the fallen woman (not necessarily Rossetti’s own view, mind you). The “heartless tone” is designed to call attention to the issue not by attempting to maintain the status quo treatment of prostitution but by shedding light on it. But am I making assumptions on Rossetti’s intent here? In the mitigation of the possibility of my reading being treated as likewise obtuse, I offer a few observations.

It’s through imagery and allusion that Rossetti evokes his sympathetic stance toward Jenny, treating her as a sort of virginal-Mary figure. By the first stanza of the poem, it is made clear that Jenny is a prostitute. Rossetti writes, “…with your head upon my knee; – / Whose person or whose purse may be / The lodestar of your reverie” (18-20). The pun Rossetti makes using Victorian slang for “purse” immediately associates male sexual organs with money all in the context of Jenny’s head being on the narrator’s knee. Yet in the same stanza, in fact just one line earlier, Rossetti invokes the image of the holy virgin when he writes, “Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace” (17). Never minding the obvious reference to the “Hail Mary” prayer—“full of grace” being the common ending to both lines—I also note that Jenny and Mary are both two-syllable names that end in an “e-y” sound. The words “hail” and “shameful” also have similar phonetic characteristics, again both two-syllable words ending in an “el” sound. Along with the references to the holy mother, there are also specific images that, pardon the seemingly contradiction in terms, arouse a sense of the virginal a bit earlier in the same stanza. “…kisses which the blush between / Could hardy make much daintier” give us an image of Jenny blushing between kisses—something we would not expect from a prostitute (7-8). This alone contradicts our assumptions about prostitutes as being fallen rather than innocent. “Fresh flower,” he goes on, “scarce touched with signs that tell / Of Love’s exuberant hotbed” (11-12). So not only does Jenny blush between kisses, she is a “fresh flower” who shows no outward signs of rapacious sex. Hardly the vision we’d expect from fallen women who are at once dirty, untouchable, and insatiable according to certain Victorian mindsets. Stepping away from the text for a moment, there is further evidence suggesting Rossetti’s sympathetic treatment of the fallen woman, and it comes in the form of one of his paintings, Found.

D.G. Rossetti – “Found”

Although I understand that the painting is an unfinished work, the overall layout and composition working with the specific existing visual elements reveal tensions Rossetti sees between fallen women, men, and innocence. In fact, from left to right, subjects could be labeled as such: the prostitute with her craning neck on the left, the man in the middle who has found her, and the calf on the right. The calf’s neck is similarly craning—innocent and pure in its whiteness, trapped by a net not too dissimilar to how the woman seems to be trapped by the brick wall at the left edge. It’s also worth mentioning that The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of poets and painters whom Rossetti was a part, often idealized the purity of Medieval women in their work by highlighting both long hair and long, “craning” necks. The white calf standing in a cart of hay also alludes to the manger scene of Christ’s birth, again bringing unity to the perceptions of the fallen woman and purity rather than treating them as a dichotomy. Curiously, the male figure is the largest element in the scene, located right in the middle. His carries the most visual weight not only by means of sheer volume but by color contrast as well (our eyes immediately move to areas of high contrast—in this case, the white shirt with the black hat worn by the man carries significant visual weight). What’s most significant about this isn’t just that the male is literally the center of our visual attention: he is also the visual element in the painting that is separating the fallen woman with innocence. Note that this isn’t Rossetti perpetuating the dichotomy: I believe this is his attempt to call attention to the falseness of it and who is specifically responsible for it. In a variety of ways, it is not just oil on canvas—it is “Jenny” on canvas, and even if the male in the painting or the male narrator in Rossetti’s dramatic monologue are attempting to conflate the Madonna-Whore dichotomy, they aren’t saying anything. “Let the thoughts pass,” the narrator says, “an empty cloud! / Suppose I were to think aloud, – / What if to her all this were said?” (155-156). These lines reveal that while this is a dramatic monologue, it’s an internal monologue. These are the thoughts of the narrator, not the spoken words of the narrator. Perhaps this is all in an effort for Rossetti to bring the unspoken truth about the Madonna-Whore dichotomy to light.

“Purse” – Thank you, O’Gorman, for the footnote on the Victorian slang for “purse,” making the connection to Jenny as prostitute even more self-evident through the image’s association of male sexual organs and money.

“Found” – Thank you again, O’Gorman.

I have not yet read Hilary Morgan’s accompanying commentary on this page for the sake of keeping my own analysis generative and independent.

Cite my work:

Henry, Jeremiah A. “An Initial Response to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s ‘Jenny’ and Victorian  Constructs of Gender, Genre, and Social Critique.” Web log post. The Snow of the  Universe. N.p., 06 Oct. 2013. Web.

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