AbstractVictorian poets like the Rossettis and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, when they took up the form of the sonnet sequence from its long obscurity, turned to a romanticized Shakespeare as a model, and reconceived the sonnet sequence according to romantic notions of expressive, even autobiographical poetry. The chief problem facing them was how to give adequate structural integrity to their sequences without sacrificing the intensity of personal expression which they took as central to the poetic enterprise. The Elizabethans had frankly written their sonnets as conventional poems (sometimes indeed as conventional exercises), and had contented themselves with loose overall structures. Their notion of poetic expression lay in the play with and sometimes against the conventional expectations of their audience. The romantics, of course, did not have such public conventions available to them, nor did they deem the exercise of conventions a worthy poetic aim. Instead, they concentrated on the individual sonnet as a peculiarly intense form of lyric poem. The Victorians had to find new ways to integrate the poetic aims of the romantics with the large sequential form taken from the Elizabethans. While there were different solutions to this problem, I believe Christina Rossetti’s was particularly elegant and unique, and in the balance of this essay I will attempt to demonstrate this with reference to her sequence entitled Monna Innominata.
SubjectsVictorian poetry, Sonnet form, Sonnet sequences, Rossetti, Christina Georgina, 1830-1894
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