In October 1869, Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, Gabriel
Dante Rossetti exhumed the grave of his former muse and wife, Elizabeth Siddal, to retrieve
some earlier poetry he had buried with her. The collection was
published as the Poems of D. G. Rossetti
in 1870 to great controversy- for their eroticism and hedonism- and none received
greater attention than the ‘House of Life’ sonnets, a ballad intimately
describing a romantic relationship.
In this short essay, Professor Jerome J. McGann unpacks the origins
and inspirations for the ‘House of Life’ sonnets, including the influence of
Italian poet, Dante Alighieri; their shared traits of allegory and theatricality,
Rossetti’s abstract concepts of life and love, and his many muses.
Professor Jerome J. McGann is literary scholar based at
the University of Virginia whose work focuses on the history of literature and
culture from the late eighteenth century to the present. He has worked extensively
at the Rossetti Archives and has been a senior research fellow at the Institute
of English Studies, University of London since 1999.