Unity and/or Disunity in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Poetry: Proto-Aestheticism, Cultural Politics, and Italian

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Revisiting the issue of Rossetti’s response to politics, I argue that Rossetti’s early work on Italian topics should be placed within the Risorgimento tradition of cultural nationalism that preceded and then ran alongside the political movement for Italian Unification. Recent work by scholars such as Jonathan Freedman, Stefano Evangelista and Michele Mendelssohn on ‘cosmopolitan’ political discourse within Aestheticism and Decadence has shown that the age of ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ does not turn away from politics, but rather re-defines its parameters. By re-situating Rossetti’s writing on Italy in relation to issues of cultural nationalism I argue that his work can be regarded as a formative precursor to the development of this cosmopolitan aesthetics.
I show how Rossetti’s poetics on the topic of Italian unity in fact returns a repeated experience of separateness - a failure of resolution defined politically, epistemologically and aesthetically. Through exploring and analysing this episteme of separateness in his Italianate works and as an aesthetic principle that recurs throughout Poems (1870), I argue that Rossetti creates an alternate aesthetic of disunity which engages creatively with the modernity of the mid-century and creates the necessary preconditions for the subsequent phenomenon of Decadent cosmopolitanism to emerge. Rossetti’s writing on Italy refutes most of the conventions of the tradition of cultural-nationalist writing but it is nevertheless embedded within it: I argue that an embedded reading of this Italian theme in his works is necessary to an understanding of the extent and character of Rossetti’s poetic innovations of the mid-century.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52-70
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Early online dateMar 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Mar 2020

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