University of East Anglia
Project Title: Louisa May Alcott and Christina Rossetti: Male Individualism and the Identity of the Female Artist
My thesis will consider the ways Rossetti and Alcott responded to the model of individualism espoused by their Pre-Raphaelite and Transcendentalist male relatives, and how both authors allied themselves with a religious, communal model of artistic identity inherited from their matriarchal familial communities. This will be an unprecedented comparison of the ways in which Victorian women authors used their critical responses to formulate an alternative social, moral vision of artistic identity to the individualistic model inherited from the Romantics.
Rossetti’s and Alcott’s critique of Romantic individualism is founded on their familial association with two influencial artistic movements of the period, each of which emphasised the pre-eminence of the artist above all religious frameworks. Critics contend that the authors’ emphases on renunciation underlie a philosophy of subordination to their male relatives’ individualism (Jensen, Garlick). However, recent research has revealed that Alcott’s mother, Abba May, used epistolary writing to provide a “safe psychic space” for her daughters’ literary talents (Stepanski).
This research has not been applied to studies of Alcott’s literary works, which emphasise her father’s influence (Jensen). Similarly, while critics have acknowledged the impact of the female Rossettis’ Tractarian practice on Christina Rossetti’s poetry, they have focused on her critique of contemporary attitudes to the fallen woman, and have thereby failed to examine Rossetti’s interest in sisterly communities as a response to her brothers’ artistic individualism (Garlick).
My thesis will challenge Gilbert&Gubar’s contention that the female writer’s philosophy of renunciation reflects her subordination to the male literary tradition. My exploration of Alcott’s and Rossetti’s relationships with Transcendentalism and Pre-Raphaelitism will focus on how their male peers’ refusal to support their families inspired Alcott’s and Rossetti’s philosophies of renunciation as a moral reaction.
I will also consider the relationship between Alcott’s and Rossetti’s unpublished and pseudonymous literary works, and the editorial influence of their male relatives. Rossetti’s posthumously published poems were deliberately hidden from her brothers, while Alcott prevented her father from accessing her pseudonymous sensational literature.
My exploration of Rossetti’s and Alcott’s relationships with their matriarchal familial communities will focus on their religious beliefs, so as to challenge critical views that claim that the authors’ faiths enabled them to accept their subordination as women. I will research Abba Alcott’s influence on Louisa’s decision to republish her first novel, Moods, with a religious moral, and analyse the devotional Valentine’s Day sonnets dedicated to Rossetti’s mother.
Feminist criticism of the period has been limited to case studies of British or American authors (Gilbert&Gubar). My concluding chapter will examine the work of other British and American female writers in dialogue with artistic individualism to explore the possibility of a shared pattern of transatlantic response.
Supervised by Doctor Thomas Ruys Smith. Doctor Hilary Emmett. Professor Rebecca Stott.
I have an MA degree in Victorian Literature, Art and Culture from Royal Holloway, London University and an honorary MA from Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University in English. I am a professional poet who has received fellowships from Sincresis D'a Spazio D'arte Associazione Culturale (Florence); Can Serrat (Montserrat, Spain) and La Muse (Languedoc, France). I have an upcoming publication with visual artist, Luca Macchi (http://lucamacchi.it/), with whom I produced an exhibition in the summer of 2014. My poetry draws from Dante's philosophy of romantic love; Gerard Manley Hopkins' concepts of "inscape" and "instress"; Dante Gabriel Rossetti's understanding of prophecy and the frozen moment; and the imagery of Rimbaud and Baudelaire.
Victorian Studies; feminism and gender studies; literary movements and communities inspired by Romanticism especially Pre-Raphaelitism and Transcendentalism; individualism and selfhood; American literature and transatlanticism; the influence of Dante in nineteenth-century literature and art; ideologies of love and immortality; biography and the influence of writers' lives on their work.
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