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Jane Morris

Jane Morris: The Burden of History

Wendy Parkins
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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    Jane Morris
    Book Description:

    A scholarly monograph devoted to Jane Morris, an icon of Victorian art whose face continues to grace a range of Pre-Raphaelite merchandiseDescribed by Henry James as a 'dark, silent, medieval woman', Jane Burden Morris has tended to remain a rather one-dimensional figure in subsequent accounts. This book, however, challenges the stereotype of Jane Morris as silent model, reclusive invalid, and unfaithful wife. Drawing on extensive archival research as well as the biographical and literary tradition surrounding William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the book argues that Jane Morris is a figure who complicates current understandings of Victorian female subjectivity because she does not fit neatly into Victorian categories of feminine identity. She was a working-class woman who married into middle-class affluence, an artist's model who became an accomplished embroiderer and designer, and an apparently reclusive, silent invalid who was the lover of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Wilfred Scawen Blunt.Jane Morris and the Burden of History particularly focuses on textual representations - in letters, diaries, memoirs and novels - from the Victorian period onwards, in order to investigate the cultural transmission and resilience of the stereotype of Jane Morris. Drawing on recent reconceptualisations of gender, auto/biography, and afterlives, this book urges readers to think differently - about an extraordinary woman and about life-writing in the Victorian period.>Key Features:First scholarly study of Jane Morris, which seeks to challenge the stereotype surrounding her as melancholy invalid and Pre-Raphaelite femme fataleInnovative case study of the role of class, gender and sexuality in the formation of Victorian feminine subjectivityContribution to emerging field of new biography and Victorian afterlives through the inclusion and examination of a wide variety of texts which construct the selfOriginal exploration of feminine creative agency that challenges conventional understandings of masculine artistic autonomy in the Victorian period

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-8192-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Julian Wolfreys
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xi-xix)
  7. Chronology of Jane Morris’s life and related events
    (pp. xx-xxiv)
  8. Introduction: Life and Letters
    (pp. 1-20)

    In recent years, the study of Victorian life writing has increasingly begun to recognise the generic instability and hybridity of auto/biographical modes.¹ Lives can be narrated through a wide range of textual forms – letters, diaries, speeches, testimonies, gossip – as well as through visual texts or material artefacts. As David Amigoni has noted, the challenge for life-writing research is to use such rich resources to map the relations between the multiple sources of subjectivity in the writing of Victorian lives (2006: 2). But how do we narrate a life when these resources are more limited? In the case of...

  9. Chapter 1 Scandal
    (pp. 21-56)

    The story goes: William Morris fell in love with Jane Burden, who had been recruited by Rossetti as a model for the murals being painted in the Oxford Union building in 1857. Frustrated both by his artistic limitations and his burgeoning feelings for his model, Morris scribbled on the back of La Belle Iseult, ‘I cannot paint you but I love you.’ Despite its uncertain provenance (re-tellings typically begin with the phrase ‘Morris is said to have’¹), this anecdote serves an important purpose for Morris biographers as the founding moment of a relationship doomed from the start by mis-matched backgrounds,...

  10. Chapter 2 Silence
    (pp. 57-82)

    The story goes, in Fiona MacCarthy’s words, that ‘Mrs Morris … took to the sofa in 1869, at the age of twenty-nine, and never really left it,’ although the cause of her invalidism remains a ‘mystery’ (1994: xiii). The myth of Jane Morris’s strategic invalidism is often allied with the trait of melancholy silence: together, these traits speak of a refusal of social engagement, a retreat from communication and connection with others. The attribution of silence to Jane Morris found in both contemporary accounts and subsequent depictions, however, needs to be interpreted mindful of the narratorial perspective and the narrative...

  11. Chapter 3 Class
    (pp. 83-112)

    The story goes that Jane Morris was ‘ashamed’ of her class background and ‘miserable’ about her husband’s socialism. For William Morris’s twentieth-century Marxist biographers, this story underpinned their depiction of Jane Morris as a kind of class traitor, condemned for her apparent pretensions to middle-class respectability and repudiation of her working-class origins. In William Morris: His Life and Work, for instance, Jack Lindsay wrote of Jane: ‘She had all the aloofness and snobbism of someone who had come up from the lowest working-class levels to a high genteel status’ (1975: 288), as if ‘aloofness and snobbism’ are only tell-tale qualities...

  12. Chapter 4 Icon
    (pp. 113-142)

    The story goes that Jane Morris was ‘an almost legendary figure’ to behold (Rothenstein 1931: 288), ‘hard to believe in as the sight of an actual nineteenth-century Englishwoman’ (Forman 1914: 203). She was often portrayed as an isolated spectacle, distinguished by a physiognomy and style of dress that accentuated her auratic status, with the power to evoke a range of emotional responses in observers. This relentless aestheticisation of Jane Morris has served many purposes, not least to function as a kind of life writing through which the woman and the icon merged to create a seamless life narrative. Testament in...

  13. Chapter 5 Home
    (pp. 143-176)

    The story goes that the name of William Morris was ‘intimately associated with the arts of domestic decoration’, as a journalist for Cassell’s Saturday Journal noted in 1890 (Pinkney 2005: 44), and Morris’s own homes – Red House, Kelmscott Manor, Kelmscott House – exemplified his philosophy of ‘The Beauty of Life’ (1880). But where is Jane Morris in this picture and what was her role in Morrisian domesticity? Was she simply part of the furniture, a decorative element in Morris’s ‘artistic mise-en-scène’ at home, as MacCarthy claimed (1994: 137)? From contemporary observations in the nineteenth century to the scholarly and...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 177-182)

    By the time Jane Morris wrote the letter in 1904 in which she asked, ‘Why should there be any special record of me when I have never done any special work?’ (Faulkner 1986: 121), the Pre-Raphaelite biography industry was well underway; in fact, her question occurred in the context of a discussion of the merits of Georgiana Burne-Jones’ recently-published Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones. While, on one level, Jane’s question could seem to signal her acceptance of the gendered division of labour and status associated with the men and women, artists and models, in Pre-Raphaelite circles, her praise for Georgiana’s efforts...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 183-194)
  16. Index
    (pp. 195-200)