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Title: The medieval vision of aesthetic poetry : a study of Rossetti, Morris and Swinburne
Author: Frith, R. J.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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One of the distinguishing features of British Aestheticism is its frequent adoption of motifs, themes, and forms from the Middle Ages; yet, because of their association with ideas of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’, Aesthetic poetry and painting have been seen as predominantly ‘aesthetic’, rather than historicist, in their medievalism, and have for this reason been marginalised by historians of the broader nineteenth-century Medieval Revival. This dissertation argues, through a comparative analysis of the medievalist poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, and Algernon Charles Swinburne, that some of the central ideas of Aestheticism were derived directly from a careful study of the works of the Middle Ages, and that Aesthetic poetry is significantly interpretative and historicist in its concerns. The medievalism of Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne was in important respects a shared vision, particularly in its subversive attitude toward sexuality, which all three conceived of as finding more vital expression in the Middle Ages than in their Victorian present. The introduction discusses current scholarly views concerning the Medieval Revival and Aestheticism, and the critical problems associated with each. The three principal chapters examine the medievalist poetry of, respectively, Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne, concentrating on the most important thematic concerns of their work, and on the significance of the different medieval traditions to which they were drawn. Chapter one focuses on Rossetti’s engagements with Dante and his Italian contemporaries, and particularly on the complex interrelation of religion and sexuality that he found in their work. Chapter two explores the relationship between ideas of sexuality and of heroism in Morris’s medievalist poetry, which find their fullest expression in his works inspired by the Icelandic sagas. Chapter three contends that Swinburne’s medievalist poems, the most important of which are based on the Arthurian legends, posit a network of subversive medieval texts, seen as being united in rebellion against an oppressive Christianity. The conclusion comments briefly on the implications of my argument for an understanding of the Mediaeval Revival, of Aestheticism, and of Victorian poetry.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available