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Melissa Lane
The University of Melbourne
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Grace Moore
The University of Melbourne
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Stephanie Downes
The University of Melbourne
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Death, Love and Femininity in Dante Gabriel Rossetti

This project examines the motivations underlying Rossetti’s poetic representations of female death, and investigates whether they subscribe to or challenge conventional gender paradigms.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Aspecta Medusa (1867). Courtesy of Peter Nahum at Leicester Galleries.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Aspecta Medusa (1867). Courtesy of Peter Nahum at Leicester Galleries.

This project aims to chart the intersections between death, love and femininity in Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s poetry. Female death was extremely common in the Victorian period, and Rossetti’s representations of female death therefore form part of a large corpus of literature and scholarship on the subject. However, Rossetti’s poems are unique in that they range from imaginative and uncannily proleptic to retrospective, semi-autobiographical narratives, and are further complicated by his experimental, proto-Modernist artistic theories and practices. This project will investigate the motivations – aesthetic, ideological, cultural, and experiential – underlying Rossetti’s recurring association of femininity with death. It will also explore gender relations and power dynamics in his poems, with a focus on the relationship between their male speakers and female subjects. Specifically, it will consider whether these poems subscribe to conventional, hierarchized gender binaries that align, for example, femininity with passivity, emotion and nature, and masculinity with activity, reason and culture, or whether they reconfigure or overturn these paradigms.