Tag Archives: portrait

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – The Blessed Damozel (1850)

The blessed Damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her were seven.

The opening stanza sets out many of the major tensions that will frame the rest of the poem: between heaven and earth, depth and surface, stasis and motion. One can think of the gold bar as having a reference to the gold standard that England had recently adopted in 1844–as a universal metric for literal exchange, it allows for the figural exchange between these various oppositions. Indeed, the painting “The Blessed Damozel’ has a gold bar running right through the middle of it, separating the flattened portrait of the lady (a face that according to Christina Rossetti was exchangeable with all of the other portraits in Dante’s studio because he only used one or two models) with the ostentatious depth of the “squashed” scene on the bottom.

144 lines in 24 six-inch stanzas. The striking symmetry of the poem itself rides the line between perfection and pure exchangeability. This is of course what Adorno has to say about the artwork as the ultimate or super-commodity–that which is universal and universally exchangeable.

Time: It seems to the Damozel that she has been in heaven for only a day, which is somehow the same as thousands of years. On earth, of course, time is felt.

The language is meant to be simple and natural, an application of pre-Raphaelite principles to poetry. it therefore verges on the sentimental.

In the final stanza, the speaker uses parentheses to insert his factual declaration of sensation: I saw her smile, I heard her tears. That this enters parenthetically points to subordination of these sensory aspects to a form that flattens sensation, impression, reflection, etc. Sensation would rupture the poetic contract that keeps the real and the aesthetic in two distinct realms.


Charles DIckens – David Copperfield (1850)

David Copperfield (son of D. Copperfield the elder, who dies) is born to Clara. Against Miss. Peggotty’s and Betsey Trotwood’s wishes, Clara marries Murdstone, who along with his sister, “kills” Clara (and her second baby) and leaves David to fend for himself in London. The first 15 chapters include his initial disciplining (Salem House, etc.), including his friendships with Steerforth and Traddles, his lodging with the insolvent Mr. Micawber; but he runs away to his aunt’s place and eventually lands, through the help of Wickfield, in a comfortable school in Dover under the tutelage of Mr. Strong. He meets Agnes, the boring lady whom he’ll evnetually marry (after Dora dies). He battles with Uriah throughout for his good name. Steerforth seduces his childhood friend Emily (part of the Peggattoy family living on the boat at Yarmouth) and then abandons her. her whole family will move to Australia to escape the disgrace. Steerforth drowns in a shipwreck. Micawber indicts Uriah for stealing from Wickfield. Mr. Dick, a simpleton, solves the martial problems of Mr. and Mrs. Annie Strong (who almost had an affair with a sailor/childhood friend). David marries Agnes in the end and has a bunch of kids. The book closes with a scene of writing.

Memory: Can be read as critique of Wordsworthian mnemonics. instead of recollecting in tranquility, we could take the Wolf Man paradigm (David bites Murdstone and wears a beware of dog sign around for a while), which claims that memory is constantly being made according to the psychological demands of the present. Perhaps connect this to Peter Brooks argument.

Time: The tense oscillates between past and present. The “Recollections” are done in the present, but are describing past scenes. The compresses the affective registers of experience and writing. Recollections could be thought of as a way of compensating for experience that could not be previously ordered by the phenomenological subject. So he narrates in the “present tense” as a way of patching over the inability of the past tense to contain various affective experiences such as an engagement with Dora, etc. The book also dramatizes those times when the past tense is breaking down without the solution of the retrospect. When he is drunk, the phenomenological subject is split, which double the spilt between the narrating subject and the narrated. Given this, we could talk about how time solves a spatial (identity) problem.

Names: David has a bunch of names given to him by other characters. This diagetic naming  is different from early phase, marks transition to Bleak House and Mutual Friend. Dick lives up to his name Richard–fulfills its potential.

Novelistic Convention: David is constantly imagining himself as the hero in a romance…but again, it’s unclear whether this imagining is taking place in the temps de recit or the temps d’histoire. Is this a continuation of Romanticism or a laying bare of its mechanism?

Sleep: Moments of falling asleep are crucial psychological moments, interesting in terms of the capacity fro dreaming (backwards and/or forwards)

Homosexual bonds – David is constantly described as effeminate (by both characters and critics), and he fulfills many of the domestic roles of a Victorian female heroine. Further, Steerforth acts as a threat that needs to be fully repressed as perverse (unweidly and therefore expendable) for David to move from Dora straight to the boring Agnes. On top of all this, his aunt treats him like the girl he always wanted him to be.

Autobiography – Compare to JS Mill in terms of the Bildungsroman.

Foils, repression, subjectivity – Littimer and Heep, two doubles of David (infact, productions of his unconscious) need to be produced by the social-text in order to adequately effect David’s consolidated ego. Int his way, the prison becomes a synecdoche for the text (even if that very social system–its ineffective at change) is what Dickens wants to bring under critique.

Imbedded Critiques, excised characters – Micawber (sorta like Skimpole in Bleak House) is used to critique the Victorian system of capital that constantly excises him. other unassimilable character (Steerforth, Rosa Dartle, Heep, Annie) are let fall, killed off, showing the embarrassment of a fictional writer attempting to uphold bourgeois norms–but also, at the same, registering the sensitivity to passions that, however muffled, live in these pages.

Mr. Dick is a case of trauma that runs into desire that is no longer bound to the original loss. Condensation and displacement becomes goods in themselves.

Secondary – David Copperfield

In David Copperfield, Dickens is attempting to create a masculine version of the domestic novel by writing a novel about a male writer who successfully transforms domestic space into economic space, while retaining the domestic novel’s traditional association with moral uplift. Dickens is claiming that a man can write a better domestic novel than a woman can, which provokes his contemporaries as well as ours into accusing Dickens of gender confusion: both have a habit of calling Dickens “effeminate.” The violence of these reactions should lead us to question the role of the male writer in the nineteenth century.

“Re-gendering the Domestic Novel in David Copperfield,” Emily Rena-Dozier (2010)

This essay first examines a variety of complex Victorian responses to the promise and problem of a conjugal heaven and then unfolds the eschatology of David Copperfield. The seemingly conservative language of Victorian angelology unexpectedly allows for David’s fantasy that he will share heaven with his two sequential wives.

“Soul-Mates: David Copperfield’s Angelic Bigamy,” Maia McAleavey (2010)

The strongly plotted novel David Copperfield distinguishes itself from [Mr. Dick’s] kites it describes, though Mr. Dick’s name pointedly invites a comparison to Dickens’s own writing. Ultimately Mr. Dick presents a “line of flight”—a schizophrenic alternative to the patterns of writing, subjectivity, desire, and temporality embraced by the other characters and the novel as a whole.

“Desiring-Production and the Novel,” Lorri Neandra (2010)

Dickens’s figures belong to poetry, like figures of Dante or Shakespeare, in that a single phrase, either by them or about them, may be enough to set them wholly before us.

Selected Essays, T.S. Eliot

Rosa can be understood, then, not only as typifying but as allegorizing Dickens’s means of characterization in general. This is particularly notable in the scar, the expressive use of the scar, and the gestures surrounding it. First of all, the scar, Rosa’s characteristic feature, overwhelms the whole of her character: the scar is overcharged with expressiveness in relation to her other features, and her representation is overcharged with the feature of the scar. Secondly, the essential features of Rosa’s character are set against the ego or secondary processes of the personality or individual. Thirdly, like many of Dickens’s characters’ characteristic traits, Rosa’s take the form of an impediment, a distortion or disfiguration of realistically, mimetically represented character. This last quality did not fail to unsettle those of his audience who expected mimetic characterization or to bring much criticism upon Dickens from his bourgeois contemporaries…. The scar inflicted upon mimesis is thus not simply an aggressive gesture but a means of, as it were, subverting the mimetic bind on subjectivity in order to achieve an expressiveness repressed by the very form of realism. In the gesture of defacing Rosa’s portrait—precisely the gesture which marks the representation with its subjectivity (“The painter hadn’t made the scar, but I made it”)—Dickens repeats his own desire to subvert the image of totality implied in mimetic representation by exposing the scar, the aporia, of the subject that it represses.

“The ‘Unbearable Realism of a Dream’: The Subject of Portraits in Austen and Dickens,” Alexander Bove (2007)

In The Novel and the Police, D.A. Miller biefly traces the several stages of David’s early disciplining (212-13), and goes on to show in his profession as writer is at once liberated and imprisoned. What is missing from this story is how the various forms of overt discipline to which David is subject in the frist twelve chapters–family, education, and work–reappear, disguised as liberal humanitarianism…. In other words, David’s arrival at the comfortable middle-class haven of Dover Cottage and his subsequent experiences, far from being “another beginning” as the title to chapter 15 states, is a continuation of the more obviously coercive disciplining suffered at the hands of his early persecutors.

“Foucault, Dickens and David Copperfield,” Gareth Cordery (1998)

Dickens shows how a name imposed in the economy of power and desire pushes a person into an expression of that name. but he also shows how the essence to which a truen name refers pushes back on that economy with the moral force of truth.

“The Gentleman’s True Name: David Copperfield and the Philosophy of Naming,” Joseph Bottum (1995)


Oscar Wilde – Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

The young and beautiful Dorian Gray becomes Basil Hallward’s artistic muse. Lordy Henry meets and corrupts him with his deacadent cynicism. Dorian wishes that he will never age, and after some time, the Basil’s portrait begins to shown the signs of his age. He falls in love with Subyl Vane, gets engaged, but when she fails to act well in front of Basil and Lord Henry, he withdraws his offer and scorns he. She commits suicide. Dorian becomes increasingly decadent but never ages. Rumors spread about his infamy. Basil comes to give advice. Dorian show him the now gruesome portrait before violently murdering him. Dorian calls his friend Campbell to melt the body down…and threatens to reveal his “secret” if he does not. He goes on an opium binge outside of London. He encounters James Sibyl, who tries to kill him, but is fortuitously shot during a hunting outing. Dorian can’t bear his guilt, vowing to be good, he tries to slash the portrait but is found, a withered old man, stabbed to death.

Time/Portrait/Narrative – One way to frame Dorian’s fear of aging is a fear of narrative in general. Couch within a broader discussion of portraiture around the turn of the century. Commitment to static, non-literary form begins usurp 19th-century forms of plotting. Contrast with James’ Portrait of a Lady and Joyce’s Portrait/Stephen Hero. Also, the form of the novel is epiphanic, a collection of moments, strung together by social episodes, letters, etc….the formalities requires by the social and plot itself. One can see both deteriorating.

Actor/Spectator – Several times, Dorian suddenly becomes a spectator rather than actor in his own affairs. Read this as a perfected and perverted form of Smith and Hume’s early development of the impartial spectator. What does it mean to be entirely impartial to your own and other’s actions? Couch within discussion of decadence and aesthetic distance.

Art/Life – Dorian conceptual categories are dominated by theatrical and literary clichés, which mediate his relation to both himself and to others. Sibyl exhausts her potential by performing, consecutively, all the Shakespearean heroines. Simialrly, Basil represents Dorian in a variety of poses, dressed up as Hellenistic, Roman, etc..

More broadly, Paterian, Jamesian and Huysmanian ideas about relationship between art and life surface. Is art a separate sphere? What is the harm of making one’s life into a work of art? Wilde’s philosophically rich aesthetics foreshadows discussion of modernist aesthetics of autonomy in works like Portrait/Hero, Tarr, Eliot-Pound-Hulme-Ford essays, etc.

Concealment – an updated for of 19th-century concealment. No longer the secret that needs to be decoded for the plot to unfurl and become transparent, but secrets become “open” (Sedgewick, ALF)—and they are not benign, rather, they can be forced on others and used for the purposes of manipulation. Further, portraits are concealed, faces, etc…

Sensorium – Lord Henry and Dorian become exemplars of Paterian decadence in their pursuit of bodily sensation. At one point, Dorian, to relive himself of boredom, explores perfume, drapery, etc. in order to satisfy all the senses. Actively unseats vision as the primary mediator of outside world.

Society – Important plot moments are narrated off-scene through dialogue

Henry James – Portrait of a Lady (1881)

Isabel Archer, from Albany, the most intellectual of three daughters (who go largely unmentioned) moves to Europe with her Aunt Lydia Touchett, where she meets her cousins at Gardencourt: Mr. Touchett, an American banker living out his last days, and Ralph Touchett, her consumptive cousin that reamins her closest companion throughout. She also meets Lord Warburton, whose marriage offer she refuses. When Mr. Touchett dies, Ralp gives over his inheritance to Isable, wanting her to be free of amrriage (for instance, of Casper Goodwood, an American suitor that follows her all over Europe. She is accompanied throughout by Henrietta Stackpole, a militantly modern pro-American, proto-feminist journalist who proves to be a great friend despite appearing vulgar at first (she marries Mr. Bantling, a minor character except that he presages uxorious man of the 20th century). Meeting Madame Merle (high in Mrs. Touchett’s esteem), she goes to Italy, where she meets Gabriel Osmond, a aesthetic dilletante (American expat) with whom she falls in love, thanks to Merle’s maneuvering and much to everyone’s chagrin. All goes wrong. She hates her husband, who hates her. It turns out that Merle is his ex-lover, and mother of Pansy Osmond. Isable returns to England despite her husband’s wishes in order to be with Ralph during his final days. They are reconciled. Soon after he dies, Casper Goodwood tries to propose violently. She resists, and the novel ends with her planning to return to Osmond.

Aesthetics: much attention given to actual portraits, but characters are constantly described in explicitly aesthetic terms. There is a danger, as in Osmond’s case, the one takes aesthetic distance to a cold extreme, transforming everyone into objects. Pansy is an extreme case.

Proximity: The desire for nearness, which is ubiquitous, counteracts the aesthetic impulse. Symapthetic characters travel great distance in order to be near to Isabel, the central aesthetic object. She herself moves in and out of her artistic state (wearing a mask at times, and breaking down at others, going near to Ralph in the end, despite her being useless to his recovery.)

Money: Draw parallel with Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend. Will becomes central enabler of evil rather than of good.

Love: Ralph goes on about love in the end, but it fails to rewrite lives devoid of it.

Translation/Original: Isabal is described as on original—unmediated—that is, as pure, in terms of currency.

Imagination: Isabel wants to fill out the limits of her imagination, which is what art does, too.

Life: Isabel is constantly employing this term to stand in for a poorly developed concept of personal freedom.

Suffering – track as plot device.

Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre (1847)

Status of marriage and the legal contract: bound up with the question of intent and meaning. When does a contract hold or not. Compare with Woman in White.

Painting – Jane’s paintings do not have an original in nature. The original is Jane herself, since it is by one of her paintings that her secret is discovered. The painting becomes necessary to the “unraveling” or the construction of denoument. The necessity of the medium relationship. MEDIATION.

“I know no medium: I never in my life have know any medium in my dealings with positive, hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between submission and determined revolt” (341)

Charm – A word that bridges the world of goblins with the world of the drawing room

Tense shifts – shifts into the present at times. How does this work with a narrative that is more or less a diary. How can one write in the moment. Another time in which the static or “timeless” portrait (or just a different temporality) beocmes necessary for the intensity of narrative time itself.

Food – becomes a keeper of time early in the novel