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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The house of life and the biographical imperative Cummings, Denise Louise


The purpose of this thesis is to determine the importance of biographical inreading to a study of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's The House of Life. Although most of Rossetti's critics have predicated a biographical imperative in examining this work, the validity of their approach can be seriously questioned. The tendency to employ biographical criticism perhaps stems from an excessive concern on the part of both biographers and critics with the sensational details of Rossetti's life. Because of this concern, The House of Life has been treated more as an autobiographical record than, as an integral work of art. It is necessary to re-examine the poem through some approach other than the biographical. Chapter One outlines three standard approaches to the study of literature. The first, the historical or extrinsic, includes the study of the poet's biography as well as the various external influences on him. The second, the organic or intrinsic, concentrates on internal aspects of the literature, such as imagery and form. The third, the synthetic, is a more fluid approach than the other two in that it attempts to employ all available tools of literary criticism, including biography. Chapter Two reviews certain pertinent facts about Rossetti's life and considers a number of biographies and biographical studies which have appeared since his death, and which, to a considerable extent, have created an inaccurate legend about him. Chapter Three considers the specific problem of biographical inreading in The House of Life, and discusses some of the criticism based on that inreading. It also traces the general development of The House of Life from the two essentially biographical preliminary versions (the Fortnightly Review sonnets, and the Kelmscott sonnets) to the complete version of 1881. Chapter Four examines The House of Life as a work of art rather than as a biographical document. A reading of the poem is suggested in which The House of Life is seen as a series of cycles depicting the "transfigured" life of the poet. An exegetical analysis of The House of Life necessarily involves the critic in an examination of biographical data. However, once the development of the sequence has been traced, the critic must employ intrinsic criteria in order to determine the essential structure of the poem. In other words, the best approach to The House of Life synthesizes both the extrinsic and intrinsic methods of criticism.

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