Tag Archives: Poe

The Oval Portrait/Hand and Soul

I’ve been reading a very short story of Poe’s  called The Oval Portrait (I’ve transcribed it here at LizzieSiddal.com if for those of you who have never read it).  Rossetti was an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe’s work and drew several illustrations of Poe’s stories. The Oval Portrait is an interesting little tale of an artist’s model dying while her portrait is being painted.  It is a concept that Rossetti would visit more than once in his own work–he had an incomplete story called St. Agnes of Intercession and a piece called Hand and Soul that appeared in The Germ.

The Rossetti Archive describes St. Agnes of Intersession:

The influence of Poe’s short stories, particularly the supernatural tales, is evident in this work, as it is in its famous companion piece Hand and Soul. But DGR decisively shifts the Poe model so that both tales become programmatic commentaries on art and its contemporary psychic and socio-cultural relations.

The hoaxing character of these tales is marked in this one in an especially arresting way. The Sterne epigraph is actually a spurious (pastiche) text. DGR clearly means it to function as an oblique signal to the discerning reader.

Special notice should be taken of the lyric embedded in the story. Written specifically for this tale, it stands in the work much as Stephen Daedalus’ famous “Are thou not weary of ardent ways” stands in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Each poem is written partly as an index to the character of its fictive author—in this case, the character of the poet/critic being satirized by DGR in the story. Part of the wit of DGR’s poem lies in its parodic resemblance to certain features of DGR’s own poetical style. Self-parody is a form of pastiche that DGR, like Swinburne, liked to practice, and in this case it functions especially well. The story as a whole, for instance, is written under the parodic sign announced in the spurious epigraph from Sterne placed at the front of the tale.

The Keatsian facet of this self-parody is partly discernible in the general allusion to Keats’s famous narrative “The Eve of St. Agnes”, and partly in two witty lines in the poem imbedded in the tale, “O thou who art not as I am”. The words “purplehushed” (line 21) and “bloompulvered” (line 30) are Keatsian constructions (a fact slightly concealed when WMR published the poem and hyphenated both words, though they are not hyphenated by DGR). Other words and phrases in the poem—for example, “unipotence” (line 13) and “autumntide and aftermath” (line 22)—are clearly self-parodic of DGR’s own Keatsian-influenced style.

Today I’ve decided to read Rossetti’s Hand and Soul, found via Google Book Search.