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Lecture 11

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English 2307E
Krista Lysack

English 2307E Thursday February 27 Lecture 11 Christina Rossetti’s “Aesthetics of Renunciation” Rossetti is typically thought of an “off the cuff”, witty, playful writer. • “Goblin Market” was different than her usual work • She usually writes with very short verses • She went through a change in temperament during her teens o As a child she was lively and extroverted, but she went through a spiritual crisis or transformation where she became more introverted and developed a set of practices organized around self-denial • There is a long history of self-denial in Medieval history, people punishing themselves and trying to get closer to God o Rossetti gave up going to the theatre, the opera, and no longer played chess (since she felt she was overly competitive, she tried to show restraint and not play it anymore) o In the context of Victorian femininity, self-denial became “the thing to do” • Rossetti went on to be one of the best and most original Victorian poets • Much of her poetry is devotional and religious, it has a sense of melancholy (can sometimes seem morbid) o There are lots of poems about death and the afterlife • At the same time, her poetry is witty and playful o Her poetry has a push and pull (melancholic on one hand, but still finds ways to be funny and discover some meaning in the aesthetics of renunciation) Aesthetics of Renunciation • A form of poetry that founds itself on deferral, self-denial, restraint • The term wasn’t used by Rossetti, but by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic (1979) to describe Rossetti’s tendencies as a poet • It privileges deferring pleasure and putting off rewards • Rossetti is a contrary figure, going against the expected logic of things in a wilful way • What can you make out of self-renunciation as a poet? Can it be made into a poetic strategy? o We tend not to value self-renunciation today – we see it as a path to shutting down. We see a value in speaking up, expressing yourself, and being direct. o Rossetti makes a case for the potential of deferring and self-restraint. o Deferral can be a way to build suspense and anticipation of pleasure o It can help to focus your energies on other pursuits o The practice of restraint is productive when it comes to pleasure  eg. if you have a chocolate bar and instead of eating it right away, you save it for later in the day and anticipate the time when you will eat it • Self-renunciation as a way to assert oneself o Deferral or practicing restraint isn’t just a way of magnifying pleasure, but also magnifying power o There is a power and autonomy in the act of deferral  The more that Rossetti puts things off, the more power she has o It is hard for us to see power in refusal (in us not wanting to do something), but Rossetti sees refusal as a way to assert herself  eg. a child may assert themselves by refusing to eat certain foods (and there is nothing anyone can do about it if they really put all of their energy into refusing it) o Our culture sees deferral as self-defeating, not a positive attribute • Rossetti finds ways as a poet to find enabling ways to promote self-renunciation (and to use that for pleasure and power) “Song” (1490) • This poem is an experiment in restraint • It isn’t a long poem (only 2 stanzas) • The message also seems to be short and holding back o Everything about it seems understated and restrained, but it is the understatement that carries the message • It is often read at funerals • The speake
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