Sound and Vision: Mysticism, Dante’s Commedia and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Zaman, Zaynub
(2020) Sound and Vision: Mysticism, Dante’s Commedia and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, University of Liverpool.

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti was saturated in the poetry of Dante, whose presence in his life was mediated by his father’s lifelong Dante scholarship. This would be a fraught but defining relationship for Rossetti. As William Michael Rossetti would comment in his Memoir: ‘Dante Alighieri was a sort of banshee in the Charlotte Street houses; his shriek audible even to familiarity, but the message of it not scrutinized’. It is the contention of this thesis that contrary to prevailing critical assumptions, Rossetti’s understanding of the aesthetics and theology of Dante’s Commedia has been underestimated, and that this understanding informed his own poetry, particularly in its more theological inflections. As such, I argue, Rossetti’s mystical expression can and should be traced back to Rossetti’s exposure to (and sometimes fraught) relationship with the aesthetics and theology of Dante’s Commedia, which is itself formed out of a dialogue with the mystic tradition in both medieval and patristic theology. The mystics who populate Dante’s Paradiso – Augustine, Bonaventure, Bernard of Clairvaux and others – consistently employ an erotic language that reappears in the sonnets of The House of Life, the subjects of Rossetti’s paintings, and in much of his poetry. Rossetti did not encounter this mystical expression exclusively through the Commedia, but undoubtedly its presentation in Dante’s seminal work was a key influence on both Rossetti’s understanding and representation of the soul’s relationship to God, and also of the lover’s analogous relationship with the beloved, from its most strained to its most ecstatic moments. Each chapter of this thesis considers Rossetti’s relationship to both the aesthetics and theology of Dante’s Commedia. Chapter One uncovers the infernal anxieties present in Rossetti’s poems, that is the impulse towards despair as a response to the lover’s awareness of his unworthiness before God and the beloved. Chapter Two examines Rossetti’s use of the gaze to relocate Purgatory from a stage in the afterlife to a lived emotional experience for the lover. Chapter Three reveals Rossetti’s use of the mirror imagery of Paradiso to express the mysticism of Bonaventure and Bernard of Clairvaux; Chapter Four positions Rossetti as an interrogator of the long-standing Christian tradition of praise and Chapter Five unveils the silence of the Rossettian beloved as replicating the silence of God. Taken as a whole, this thesis radically reconfigures our understanding of the Victorian language of desire, by exposing the theological genealogy inherent in subject-object relations, which transcends gender norms and reminds us that the spiritual can be sensual. It further reveals the common ground in discourses on desire occurring separately in medieval and Victorian scholarship, which when viewed in tandem may open up fruitful and insightful new pathways in both.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy)
Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of the Arts
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 07 Dec 2020 15:51
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2023 23:32
DOI: 10.17638/03101590