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Rossetti's "Jenny": Aestheticizing the Whore Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 2000 I The most famous aestheticized object of Victorian culture is Robert ...

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Rossetti's Jenny: Aestheticizing the Whore - myCCSD

Rossetti's "Jenny": Aestheticizing the Whore Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 2000 I The most famous aestheticized object of Victorian culture is Robert ...

Rossetti's "Jenny": Aestheticizing the Whore

Papers on Language & Literature, Summer 2000
I

The most famous aestheticized object of Victorian culture is Robert Browning's Duchess, a woman whose utility
as a wife has been elided with the result that all who come upon her transformed condition must disinterestedly
regard her as an artifact.[1] The iconoclastic ritual Browning's Duke engages in to break his living possession
divorces the Duchess's property considerations as a husband's chattel only to reconstitute the woman as a new
form of property--a painting that takes possession of its possessor. The Duke's displeasure with his Duchess and
with her new role as his obsessive concern, of course, explains why this aestheticized object ordinarily hangs
veiled by a curtain rarely put by.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Jenny is the Duchess's kindred. Of markedly different social and economic status than
the recipient through marriage of a nine-hundred-year-old name, Jenny nevertheless undergoes the same
transformative aestheticization the Duchess endures with some of the same obsessive consequences for
Rossetti's speaker.

These obvious similarities nonetheless mask fundamental differences, other than the socio-economic ones, that
explain Rossetti's technical development of the dramatic monologue Browning employed and the variations on
ekphrastic practice with which Victorian poets were involved.[2] Examining the aestheticization of Jenny will
highlight the differences in Browning's and Rossetti's ekphrastic experiments in these two poems and underscore
how the painterly hand of Rossetti influenced the verbal articulation of the muted image of this Victorian whore.

Rossetti's speaker, "a thoughtful man of the world," monologizes from an "inner standing-point" to emphasize the
artistic "motive power" of his ruminations (484). To identify him as the "speaker" of the poem apparently
contradicts Rossetti's insistence on the interior orientation.[3] Speech has a social dimension that implies
someone's attending to articulated words, a situation that Jenny's sleeping state precludes. Not until the virtual
mid-point of the monologue, however, is Jenny "asleep at last"(171), the speaker prior to that moment
encouraging Jenny to "sit up"(89) and "take this glass"(96) in an effort to diminish the "weariness"(95) preceding
the complete inattentiveness of sleep. Whether the poem is a dramatic monologue, a narrative, an interior
monologue, a soliloquy, or a dialogue of the mind with itself obscures the more significant issue of the function of
the multiplicity of interpretations permitted by the text.[4] This critical confusion regarding the nature of the
poem's discourse, I suggest, discloses a necessary ingredient for the aestheticization the poem dramatizes,
namely the protagonist's confusion.

As the speaker attempts to encourage Jenny to ward off weariness and so revive the "merry"(96) spirit she
displayed during their night of dancing, he comments, "do not let me think of you, / Lest shame of yours suffice
for two"(91-92). The complete silencing that is sleep endangers the protagonist by forcing him to engage in the
dialogue of the self with its own mind and, in the process, to assume the shame he associates with Jenny. The
power to animate and manipulate that the narrator assumes as the result of Jenny's sleeping state is, as
Amanda Anderson argues, ultimately undermined by the loss of personal identity he suffers in the process.[5]
One of the protagonist's concluding remarks admits to his being "Ashamed of my own shame"(384). The
dilemma posed by speaking to an awakened Jenny or thinking silently about the sleeping "thoughtless queen"(7)
informs the opening lines of the poem in which the speaker superimposes conflicting images of the woman
resting on his knee. The woman "Fond of a kiss"(2), laughing and dancing, is "languid Jenny"(1). The "Fresh
flower" "scarce[ly] touched" sexually is the "Poor flower" "bare" of leaves (12, 14, 15). The madonna "full of

grace" is apostrophized as a bankrupt whore, "Poor shameful Jenny"(18). The speaker's ambivalence betrays
confusion not about the woman he initially speaks to--"is a whore a person?"(Harris 197)--but about the man left
unattended by the sleeping Jenny and compelled to discourse with his self. The obvious depersonation
consequent upon a madonna being sexually transformed into a whore, in other words, is less of a concern for
the speaker than the loss of integrity threatening the protagonist as he imaginatively exploits a woman whose
sleeping condition prevents him from satisfying his sexual urges.

The autobiographical notes provided by the speaker at the beginning of his monologue attest to a conversionary
process. Whether because of nobler scholarly "aims" or the wisdom of "years"(40), the speaker prides himself on
having given up the "careless life I led"(37). Tonight, however, he claims, "it all appears / Something I do not
know again"(41-42). His commitment to the scholarly life on this particular evening confirms the impossibility of
making "one's cherished work come right"(27). The "theft" from books over many hours has left his aim "wrong
for all their theft"(28).

Old habits die hard, though, or not at all. A momentary return to his "careless" past should clear the "cloud"(44)
interfering with the accomplishment of his work. The carrying out of his rationale, however, betrays an
uncertainty plaguing him throughout the poem. The alluring presence of the languid Jenny on his knee, her
wealth of hair and her unlaced garments disclosing a "poor beauty" worthy of a kiss (55), is insufficient to prevent
him from reading this woman the way he does his abandoned tomes: "You know not what a book you seem"(51).

The analogy widely misses the mark, as the protagonist discovers much later in his ruminations when he likens
Jenny to a "volume seldom read"(158) whose unturned pages resist opening as they turn back upon
themselves.[6] Such physical resistance of an unopened text to perusal, however, masks a far more disturbing
implication of the analogy. The text to "Be parted" and read (161)--"Jenny's desecrated mind"(164)--is absent
any "hue or shape defin'd"(163): "it reflects not any face"(177). The protagonist's mental confusion emerges
again as he proceeds to define the text as the male embodiment and destructive principle of the female (rose)
desecrated by long captivation in the text (253-75). The situation in which "the life-blood of this rose" is "Puddled
with shameful knowledge"(264-65), however, might possibly have been avoided had Jenny and womankind
attended to what had been written in the innocence of their youth and registered there as in a book "Much older
than any history"(128).

The confusion attending his use of the book analogy, however, is not so much evidence of the clouded thinking
of this young scholar as it is a sign of how this thoughtful young man goes about reading the text he scrutinizes.
The persistence of the book analogy and the conflicting readings disclosed thereby reveal the fundamental
principle of aestheticization, that is, the breaking and remaking of idols. What is most disconcerting about the
revealed images, both verbal and visual, is the essential discontinuity evidenced to someone concerned in the
reading process with discovering conformity between interpretation and text, companionableness between the
visual and the verbal. Instead of discerning the equivalency implicit in a palimpsest, the surface image disclosing
alliance with its underlying ground, the protagonist discovers a discontinuity not only between the sleeping Jenny
and womanhood, represented by his cousin Nell, "the girl I'm proudest of"(191), but between the scholar's image
of Jenny and the reveler's depiction of the woman resting in his lap. The discontinuity registered by this latter set
of superimposed images--madonna and whore, monetized and aestheticized Jenny, a woman, in Kathy
Psomiades's words, that "can be possessed and . . . is unpossessable"[7]--functions, as the Duke's conflicting
views of his Duchess do, to reveal the workings of the speaker's mind, divided as it is between possession of
and by the image on the one hand and renunciation of it on the other.

II

Many of Browning's aestheticizers of objects--Pictor Ignotus, Childe Roland, the speaker of "Pauline"--engage in
a process initially conceived as involving a "training for the sight"("Childe Roland" 180) and concluding with the
consciousness that the perceiving self has become the object of its own gaze. The process yields an ekphrastic
struggle by the protagonist simultaneously to empower what is mute and to enforce that object's silence. The
process results in three important consequences: (1) the protagonist's self "stands out more hideously"("Pauline"
647); (2) the self, as a result, "furnishe[s] its first prey"(652); and (3) the self born of the process becomes the
"chasm / 'Twixt what I am and all I fain would be"(676-77). Browning's unknown painter aptly analogizes the
implications of this process in his own life to witnessing "the revels through a door / Of some strange house of
idols at its rites"(42-43). Excommunicated from his own sanctuary, the unknown painter self-consciously views
himself as the prey of his own devisings. The distancing provided by the analogy attenuates the pain suffered by
a more direct confrontation with this psychological discontinuity. Like the veiling of a dead duchess's portrait, the
silence of a sleeping Jenny similarly minimizes the disconcerting messages likely to be delivered by objects
suddenly given voice.

But attenuation never fully relieves pain, nor does it prevent these protagonists from taking three important steps
in aestheticizing their respective idols. Silencing a potentially threatening voice is the first step. The second is a
consequence of the first: the idol must be rendered inanimate and thus an object. The third step discloses the
ultimate reason for silencing and thus rendering inanimate the idol: to appropriate the object to self and in the
process resuscitate the object by solipsistically assuming the "idol's empery"("Sordello" 1.515). What is broken
by the self is reconstituted as objective correlative of self. The ekphrastic endeavor engaged in by protagonists
compelled to render articulate such idolizations becomes less a process of giving voice to what is mute than an
attempt at obstetrically delivering what is now hopelessly encapsulated in and by the object.

Rossetti's protagonist early and repeatedly aggrandizes Jenny to himself. That she is near sleep and then fully
asleep only makes his taking possession of her easier. "Fair Jenny mine," he addresses her in the opening lines
that also signal his confusion about a woman regarded simultaneously as madonna and whore. The identity of
Jenny as object of worship or of pleasure, though, is not the point; the aestheticization and what that process
necessitates and implies is. The apostrophes of the first section of the poem (1-21) distract the reader from the
central issue of the soliloquy: "Whose person or whose purse may be / The lodestar of your reverie?"(20-21).

The question certainly deserves to be considered in light of the threats Jenny poses to the speaker's purse and
to his person. The coins liberally sprinkled in her hair prior to his departure lighten his purse. But it is Jenny's
purse--her sexuality--that poses the threat, the "lure"(63). Is her charm, he wonders, affected to waylay the
convert from his noble "aims"?

Jenny's flattering sleep confers
New magic on the magic purse,--
Grim web, how clogged with shrivelled flies!
Between the threads fine fumes arise
And shape their pictures in the brain. (344-48)

Pretending near poem's end that "we know your dreams"(364)--thus rhetorically implicating the reader in an
effort to minimize his relapse into carelessness--the protagonist acknowledges not only the "pictures" shaped in
Jenny's sleeping head, but that these images have been projected there from his own mind. The admission is
critically important as indicating the true nature of the solipsist's motives. The lodestar of Jenny's reverie is the
speaker, her alter ego. Persisting in his curiosity to ask again what occupies her dreams, the protagonist
speculates, and thus reveals his egocentric motives: "If of myself you think at all, / What is the thought?"(59-60).

The "conjectural"(60) nature of the question comprises the self-appointed "chasm" the solipsist inevitably falls
into with fatal consequences. The purse as possible lodestar of Jenny's dreams may suggest the obvious
monetary and sexual connotations; it also indicates, however, the trap or "lure" in which the speaker becomes
enclosed and from which whatever self emerges comes to be acknowledged as a self threatening the self
engaged in soliloquy or monologue.

The purse, however, is ultimately an inconsequential lodestar. The poem is about the "person" guiding the
articulated words. What follows the "conjectural" question in the next 110 lines (67-176) are self-serving
protestations and moral attitudinizing from a speaker condescending to provide Jenny with physical "rest"(68)
while insisting that the woman's sleep betrays the biblical or spiritual rest of the lilies of the field. For someone
who "know[s] the city"(135), who has been monetized in the "market-night in the Haymarket"(142) and thus,
ironically, been rendered "Poor"(144), the inevitable desecration is not surprising. Contagion has infected
Jenny's mind (164), and commerce with her clientele produces in her a countenance that "reflects not any
face"(167).

The self-righteous feel responsible for rectifying social evil and its consequences for the person of a whore. To
aestheticize an object, to remove it from commerce by stripping it of the negotiated value upon which its identity
depends, therefore appears a noble aim. The ignobility of the protagonist's actions, however, becomes manifest
with the recognition that no "picture" or face appears reflected in a "desecrated mind" like Jenny's, "no sound is
in its sluggish pace"(168). The visual and verbal void is suitable ground for one intent on imagining persons
speaking in or through a madonna/whore's reveries.

The protagonist no sooner acknowledges this fruitful void than he likens himself to an artist--a potter--engaged in
shaping material "So young and soft"(173) to his design. Like Browning's Pictor Ignotus, terrified at the prospect
of sending himself forth in his creations, the protagonist is momentarily overwhelmed by "doubt and horror"(179)
as he contemplates "this awful secret sway, / The potter's power over the clay!"(180-81). Rossetti's solipsist
waivers momentarily, not because he fears being mocked by the hostile regard the Pictor imagines arising from
those who equate artifact with artist, but because he knows that nobility and ignobility are possible
consequences of his creative endeavor: "Of the same lump (it has been said) / For honour and dishonour
made"(182-83). This antiphonal refrain (repeated in lines 203-204) introduces the "Two sister vessels"(184, 205)
Rossetti's potter verbally shapes. The first woman, his cousin Nell, is, in her fondness for "dress, and change,
and praise"(186), like Jenny, "So mere a woman in her ways"(187). The sexist remark precedes the chauvinistic
explanation that Nell's alleged flightiness is redeemable. A man's "pride in her"(197), accompanying Love, "shall
ripen" Nell "In a kind soil to just increase / Through years of fertilizing peace"(200-203). The solipsist, "proudest
of" Nell, renders her a vessel of honor, a sexual object whose virtue depends upon her being institutionally
sanctioned through marriage rather than monetized and depersonated through sexual commerce.

The protagonist's second sculpted vessel--the lump "dishonour made"--becomes an object of scorn. By
association, the potter, too, is "Scorned then"(214). The protagonist's reflection on his second creation, however,
identifies the threatening consequence of the solipsist's endeavor. The wrought vessel or "purse" is likened to a
"fair tree"(211). The transformation of an inanimate "lump" into an organic object parallels the protagonist's
understanding of the sun's transformation into a "goblin"(206) as the result of the creation of the dishonored
vessel. Whether Rossetti's speaker had in mind Turner's The Angel Standing in the Sun, the quintessential
nineteenth-century visual analogue of the destructiveness of solipsism,[8] he certainly understands that potential
vitalizations born of a "scorned" woman should suffice to "hold [a man's] pride forwarned"(215). From the
encounter of solipsist and vessel someone "frail and lost as you, shall rise,--/ His daughter, with his mother's
eyes"(218-19). Jenny's sleep permits the protagonist to weigh the gravest of consequences of his evening
encounter without actually engaging in an act of apocalyptic magnitude requiring, inevitably, that soul shall
"somehow pay for soul"(229).

The prospect of the "Judgment," the "Day of Days"(217, 216), does not deter the solipsist from forging another
artistic analogy similarly designed, as the potter metaphor has been, to exploit the sleeping Jenny. If the intent of
the shift in analogies is to attenuate the threatening consequences of the potter's metaphor, the protagonist
comes to discover that the painterly metaphor represents more fatal consequences for the solipsist than the
abandoned comparison. The protagonist likens his depiction of Jenny to the madonnas painted by Leonardo or
Raphael--the portraits of "Some living woman's simple face"(232) shrined in a "gilded aureole"(230). The
mechanical "placing"(231) of a human face within the frame of light transforms the painted object into a spiritual
symbol of "what God can do"(240). And the message perdures "Whole ages long, the whole world through"(239),
not because of the artist's talents but because of the divine's rendering the finite material on canvas into a
testament of the Infinite. Art is thus the reuttering of "The Truth of Man, as by God first spoken"("Old Pictures in
Florence" 85).

But the protagonist no sooner rejoices in mimetic art that "looked through these [symbols] to God's priest"(The
House of Life, "Old and New Art--St. Luke the Painter" 8) than he rhetorically questions "What has man done
here?"(241). Artifacts in this humanistic displacement of the transcendent become the "soulless self-reflections of
man's skill"(The House of Life, "Old and New Art--St. Luke the Painter" 11), and the artistic encounter yields
"your own footsteps meeting you, / And all things coming as they came"("The Portrait" 267). A dual realization
dawns for the protagonist: (1) "They that would look on her must come to me"(The House of Life, "The Portrait"
14); (2) all who look on Jenny must see only the protagonist. "No sign" remains on earth of "God's rest" amid the
"Many mansions of his house"(247-49). Man's "pitiless doom"(244) is irremediable.

Salvation in a world devoid of the divine must depend on the only pure thing among men--a "woman's
heart"(250). "But that can never be"(252), the protagonist summarily announces. As if to minimize the pain of
such a conclusion, he poetizes the inherent depravity of man's nature by likening it to a book in which is
enclosed a rose "Puddled with shameful knowledge"(265). The text cannot be examined because to do so
defiles the examiner.

The real reason for the hopelessness of the human condition is not the inability of the pure woman to read the
text of life, but rather the innate compulsion of man to corrupt any text he attempts to read. The protagonist's
painterly effort to replicate Leonardo's or Raphael's achievements fails because the aureoled countenance of the
woman framed in holy light reflects not the honor or dishonor of a vessel but the emptiness of the artist projecting
himself within the framing light. The solipsistic enterprise deprives of value--whether monetary or spiritual--the
object of its attention; it aestheticizes a woman, for example, until that "woman almost fades from view" to
disclose what is unchangeable, the "cipher of man's ... lust"(277-79).

Ironically, the solipsistic endeavor also discloses the bankruptcy and valuelessness of a protagonist blatantly
protesting his ownership of Jenny and liberally scattering his coin as sign of his possession. The various artistic
analogies employed in his reshaping of the womanly vessel conspire, in the end, to reinforce the message of
money and ownership: behind the sculpted or painted image, behind the currency he leaves, lies nothing, save
concupiscence, as warranty. Nothing of absolute value, in short, saves the appearances of things from
negligibility.[9] Such is "the riddle that one shrinks / To challenge from the scornful sphinx"(280-81).

The insolubility of the riddle is expressed deterministically. "Like a toad within a stone"(282), lust "live[s] through
all the centuries"(286) irremediably informing human behavior. Only the apocalypse can destroy this vivifying
fossil and with it the "seed of Man"(296). The exploitative nature of sexual relations, the transformation of woman
from independent entity to object possessed of and by man has, from the protagonist's perspective, an
inevitability about it made more certain by his earlier undermining of the transcendent basis of mimetic art. In the

absence of divine warranty for artifact, the "Master's" intervention (294) in absolving "Man's transgression"(286)
is impossible. The fatality of this recognition informs the protagonist's calculation of man's "changeless
sum"(278) as a "cipher." The term symbolizes the nothingness, the lack of identity characterizing existence
motivated only by lust, which leaves man "deaf, blind, alone"(291). And the sleeping Jenny reminds the
protagonist more painfully at poem's end of the alienation which at the outset appeared an annoying lack of
awareness. He is alone.

On two previous occasions when the apocalypse surfaces to highlight the threatening aspects of the
protagonist's artistic analogies, he resorted to a new artistic metaphor to mitigate the painful disclosure of the
potter's and the painter's enterprise. Once again, the protagonist, in the face of man's pitiless condition, shapes
another picture, his last, to depict the riddled situation of the solipsist who, in taking sole possession of an object
as the result of depersonating it, discovers how apart from and alone he is vis a vis the object he attempts to
own. The portrait of Jenny at dawn--rendered amid her apartment with its empty bed, the pier-glass reflecting her
ringed fingers, the burning lamp attesting to the wise virgin, the caged bird singing in concert with the London
sparrows--is, in many respects, a verbal recapitulation of Hunt's The Awakening Conscience.[10] As he prepares
to depart from Jenny, he places pillows beneath her head and imagines, as answer to his earlier question
concerning the lodestar of her reveries, that golden coins preoccupy the sleeping woman. Interpreted as semen
(Harris 212), the coins ironically underscore the protagonist's frustration at not finding satisfaction for his sexual
desires. As currency, the coins ironically measure Jenny's success in "luring" into a commercial transaction a
young man whose intentions she has (un)wittingly thwarted.

But the frustrated sexual desire ultimately betrays the more painful psychological frustration the protagonist
confesses to as he transforms the sleeping Jenny into a Paphian Venus. The result of the protagonist's placing
gold coins in her hair is "A Danae for a moment"(379), an "eligible deity"(371) who serves, like all icons, as a
mute testament of the worshipping solipsist's self-worshipping behavior. And the egocentric motive of the
divinization through money of the whore is the memorialization of the protagonist. "Waking here alone / May help
you to remember one,"(372-73), the protagonist soliloquizes as he prepares to leave Jenny at dawn. The
goddess's "eligibility" becomes synonymous with the gold coins falling from her hair as she rises from her
slumber. "That tinkling makes him [the protagonist's love] audible"(382).[11] If the protagonist finds the sleeping
Jenny's state conducive to the shaping of mute pictures that speak to convenient rationalizations of his own mind
and behavior, the awakening of the slumbering woman will render audible sentiments the silence preserved
ineffable. If the protagonist persists in "mocking[ing] you [Jenny] to the last"(383), the awakened Jenny will
undoubtedly mock, rather than remember, her absent client. Instead of symbolizing his ownership of the
depersonated whore, the protagonist's coins attest to his dispossession by a now ineligible divinity.

The closing sentiment of the poem--"Good-bye, my dear"(391)--ironically registers how costly the illusion is of
possessing an icon whose return from sleep signals dispossession. His monetary offering not only has provided
him with no sexual gratification, it has left him dispossessed of what he attempts to own verbally. The image of
Jenny, like the portrait of the Duchess and Tennyson's narrator's painting of the Gardener's Daughter,
ekphrastically betrays the word it ostensibly served as analogue.[12] The bankruptcy attendant upon the
profligate throwing away of money belies the psychological bankruptcy resulting from the speaker's recognition
of how expensive or dear the dawning of emptiness is. The vessel he inhabits during the course of his
soliloquy/monologue/interior discourse with self turns out to be an inhospitable receptacle for psychological, not
sexual, reasons for it defines him as dispossessed not only of Jenny but of the well-intentioned self leaving its
study for an evening's diversion.

The protagonist's ekphrastic attempts to have the sleeping image of Jenny obstetrically deliver someone
companionable with the artistic portraits verbally rendered indicate as motive the desire for hospitable silence.
The protagonist, if he must deal with a sleeping Jenny, believes that the projected image(s) with whom he

converses will be of a "mating" other.[13] The resultant unmatingness of image and word, however, only
reinforces the sense of betrayal the solipsist inevitably experiences when he discovers not only that projected
image repudiates its verbal analogue, but also that the articulate self informing mute image is alien from the self
projecting its self into the silent vessel. The "eligible divinity" lures the unwitting solipsist into becoming the prey
of his own exploitations.

III

"There are no happy marriages in art--only successful rape," Susanne Langer observes of the relationship
between the verbal and pictorial. "Compositions of different orders are not simply conjoined, but all except one
will cease to appear as what they are"(86). In words reminiscent of the opening line of "My Last Duchess,"
Rossetti's speaker in "The Portrait" remarks of his departed beloved's image, "This is her picture as she was"(1).
The painter's hand in both poems has succeeded, at least from the respective narrators' perspectives, in
preserving the loved one "as if she were alive"("My Last Duchess" 2). Jenny's sleep allows the protagonist of
Rossetti's poem to achieve the same memorialization: a perduring image whose silence allows
spectator/monologist to obstetrically deliver uncontested whatever message he, not she, wishes to be born. Like
Tereus's successful rape of Philomela, Rossetti's protagonist's solipsistic manipulation of Jenny ostensibly yields
gratification, not because of actual or imagined sexual satisfaction, but because the victim of the violation
remains mute, the same before and after the act.

Philomela weaves a pictorial web to indict her rapist. Browning's Duke and Rossetti's protagonist weave verbal
webs that amount to self-accusatory indictments. Significant in these ekphrastic exploitations is not the particular
indictable offense (male chauvinism, to put a charitable construction on the silencing in both poems) but the
painful consciousness of contrast that occurs psychologically as the monologist in each case witnesses himself
at the end of his weaving as different from the self initially engaged in rape. If the victim remains the same,
because silenced through death or sleep, the victimizer is fundamentally changed.

What these aestheticizers of images ultimately seek in their respective exegeses of mute icons is a construct
symbolic not of temporal change--his is the image as if she were alive or awake--but of psychological
equivalency. The Duke commissions Fra Pandolf to paint his Duchess in the hope that the resultant image will
represent what his nine-hundred-year-old name entitled him to and what the Duchess's smile represented as the
opposite. Ironically, Pandolf's image of the Duchess immortalizes in art the very spot of joy whose commands the
Duke silenced. The reason the veil covers the portrait is that the Duke cannot tolerate the lack of equivalency
between what he expects from his wife and what she presented. Rossetti's protagonist similarly becomes aware
of the irremediable contrast between his image of a young vibrant woman and the whore Jenny remains. As a
matter of sexual politics, Jenny's image in repose triumphs over the chauvinistic ideals of womanhood the
protagonist verbally parades and which this convert's lapse from noble "aims" violates. The victimizer becomes
his own victim.[15]

His generous act of dressing out Jenny's hair in gold becomes the final self-serving reminder of the
disjointedness of things. If the coins placed in her hair remind the protagonist of how Jenny remains the same
despite his salvific aestheticization of her, if she still is the whore and not the madonna, that image more
poignantly reminds him of the moral absurdity arising with the consciousness that the ideal and real do not
square, that what is conflicts with what ought to be. The protagonist, however, is not naive in his redemptive
aspirations; lust is deterministically a part of human nature. Nor is he the dogmatist whose conversion to true
belief entitles him to tyrannize over sinners and curse their foibles when they refuse redemption. Jenny reminds
him of the reformed man he would like to become and of the wayward man he still remains. And it is this
discontinuity that most troubles Rossetti's thoughtful young man.

Rossetti's speaker in "The Portrait" assumes that in capturing his beloved on canvas amid the mystic woods in
which both fell in love he would insure that "mine image in the glass / Should tarry when myself am gone"(3-4).
The "wonder"(2) of the situation derives from his awareness that the painted image may perdure--as Jenny may
perdure in the written/spoken testimony--but that the image of self reflected in the glass-covered canvas and in
the reposing Jenny will not. The superimposition of images of self upon the self's beloved visually reinforces the
discontinuity both speakers hope to avoid. In the end, both--in fact all ekphrastic experimenters--discover that the
self ostensibly tarrying in the mute image is no sooner recognized as self than it is witnessed as other or gone.
Like so many narrators in Browning's ekphrastic poems, the protagonist of "Jenny" learns that "Plus ne suis ce
que j'ai ete / Et ne scaurois jamais etre."[16]

[1] Paulson contends that the property aspects of a thing--its utility--must "be elided before the spectator can
become disinterested, before the object or phenomenon can be aesthetic; and so dispossession becomes a
procedure for aestheticizing any object, including the work of art itself"(5).

[2] For a discussion of Rossetti's indebtedness to Browning for what his brother William Michael Rossetti called
the "semi-dramatic monologue," see Howarth 21, and Stevenson 32. For a discussion of the theory and practice
of ekphrasis in nineteenth-century English poetry, see Heffernan 91-143.

[3] Harris argues that the narrator's "exterior speech, subverts the interior form Rossetti ultimately achieves" in
the final version of the poetic text (197-98).

[4] Gordon (90) contends that the poem is an interior monologue; Buchanan (344) and Howarth (20) regard
"Jenny" as a soliloquy; Siegel (685) considers the poem a "dialogue of the mind with itself"; Rodgers (159),
Hersey (17), and Howard (100) consider the work a dramatic monologue.

[5] Anderson argues that the protagonist's "self-objectification into a medium of exchange renders identity
indistinct"(118).

[6] Gordon argues that the problems arising from the use of the book analogy stem from the protagonist's
confusion of intellectual and carnal knowledge (92). Keane argues that the protagonist's preoccupation with
books "allows him to feel superior to Jenny"(276).

[7] Psomiades emphasizes the duality of Jenny's nature: she is woman and prostitute, book and commodity,
madonna and whore, a person with a physical and a value form (40-41).

[8] For a discussion of the significance in nineteenth-century thought of Turner's The Angel Standing in the Sun,
see Helsinger 247-48.

[9] Harris argues that "the major ideological pattern of the poem," the "triangulation of language with sex and
money"(198), results in Jenny's depersonation. My own view is that the pattern leading to depersonation is
driven by the iconoclastic motives of the protagonist.

[10] For a more detailed examination of the connection between "Jenny" and Hunt's painting, see Gordon 91-92,
and Shrimpton 325.

[11] The sound of the falling coins, Harris observes, "substitutes for sounded speech"(215).

[12] For a discussion of Tennyson's poem as an ekphrastic endeavor, see Tucker 278-302.

[13] Arnold, in "Isolation, to Marguerite," comments on the alienation of man in the modern world when he writes,
"they Which touch thee are unmating things" (31-32).

[15] For a discussion of the sexual politics implicit in ekphrasis, see Heffernan 5-8. Gordon aptly remarks that the
sexual politics involved in the poem result in "self-begotten images that forever betray the self"(103).

[16] The epigraph from Marot that Browning appends to "Pauline" translates, "I am no longer that which I was nor
will I ever know how to be again."

WORKS CITED

Anderson, Amanda S. "D.G. Rossetti's 'Jenny': Agency, Intersubjectivity, and the Prostitute." Gender 4(1989):
103-121.

Arnold, Matthew. The Poems, ed. Kenneth Allott. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1965.

Browning, Robert. The Poetical Works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.

Buchanan, Robert. "The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D.G. Rossetti." Contemporary Review 18 (1871) 334-50.

Gordon, Jan B. "A Portrait of 'Jenny': Rossetti's Aesthetics of Communion." Hartford Studies in Literature 1
(1969): 89-106.

Harris, Daniel A. "D. G. Rossetti's 'Jenny': Sex, Money, and the Interior Monologue." Victorian Poetry 22(1984):
197- 215.

Heffernan, James A.W. Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery. Chicago: U of
Chicago P, 1993.

Helsinger, Elizabeth K. Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982.

Hersey, G. L. "Rossetti's 'Jenny': A Realist Altarpiece." The Yale Review 69 (1979):17-32.

Howard, Ronnalie Roper. The Dark Glass: Vision and Technique in the Poetry of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Athens,
Ohio: Ohio UP, 1972.

Howarth, R.G. "On Rossetti's 'Jenny'." Notes & Queries 173 (1937): 20-21.

Keane, Robert N. "Rossetti's 'Jenny': Moral Ambiguity and the Inner Standing Point." Papers on Language &
Literature 9 (1973): 271-80.

Langer, Susanne. Problems of Art: Ten Philosophical Lectures. New York: Scribner's, 1957.

Paulson, Ronald. Breaking and Remaking: Esthetic Practice in England, 1700-1820. New Brunswick: Rutgers
UP, 1989.

Psomiades, Kathy Alexis. Beauty's Body: Femininity and Representation in British Aestheticism. Stanford:
Stanford UP, 1997.

Rodgers, Lise. "The Book and the Flower: Rationality and Sensuality in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's 'Jenny'." JNT 10
(1980): 156-69.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. The Collected Works. Ed. William Michael Rossetti. London: Ellis and Elvey, 1897.

Siegel, Jules Paul. "'Jenny': The Divided Sensibility of a Young and Thoughtful Man of the World." SEL 9 (1969):
677- 93.

Shrimpton, Nicholas. "Rossetti's Pornography." Essays in Criticism 29 (1979): 323-40.

Stevenson, Lionel. The Pre-Raphaelite Poets. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1972.

Tucker, Herbert F. Tennyson and the Doom of Romanticism. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988.

Source Citation:
STARZYK, LAWRENCE J. "Rossetti's 'Jenny': Aestheticizing the Whore." Papers on
Language & Literature 36.3 (2000): 227. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 13
Apr. 2011.
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