Mmmmm….juicy. Illustrating ‘Goblin Market’ and ‘The Lady of Shalott’.

Apple with fangs  This past week I’ve once again tried out a new online exercise.  It’s always good to exploit the visual potential of online content, and access to visual images that the web makes available, so this week the class have been thinking about Victorian poetry and visual responses. The two poems they’ve been using for this are Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’.  The exercise set was for each student to find an image — either Victorian or later — that is in some kind of dialogue with one of these poems.  I asked them to get to know their chosen image well — really look at it  and pay attention to its detail — and then consider what lines in the poem it seems to be responding to.  In the case of some images — for example, illustrations to editions of ‘Goblin Market’ — this may be relatively clear.  With others — and more than fifty visual responses to ‘The Lady of Shalott’ appeared within the Victorian period alone  — the image, particularly if it is a painting, may well not come with a tag line making clear which exact lines it is responding to.

I’m a big fan of work on reading words and images together, or in dialogue.  Some of my own work on William Morris has been significantly influenced by the work of Jerome McGann in The Textual Condition (1991), and his subsequent work which has argued strongly for the necessity of reading poetry as ‘literature by design’, set alongside all the bibliographic coding that is part of any given publication’s making, publishing and production.

I gave the students some links to good sites featuring images of both the texts, and pointed them to various articles and chapters worth checking out.  In particular the terrific work of Lorraine Janzen Kooistra featured several times, whose 1994 article ‘Modern Markets for “Goblin Market”‘ (Victorian Poetry 32 (3-4), pp. 249-77), and subsequent book Christina Rossetti and Book Illustration: A Publishing History (Ohio UP, 2002), are fascinating accounts of the multiple ways Rossetti’s iconic poem has been illustrated.

Perhaps because ‘Goblin Market’ had been focussed on in the classroom session this was perhaps overall the more popular choice for students to find images for.  Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s 1862 illustrations to the first edition, Laurence Housman’s 1893 edition for Macmillan — one of the Fin de Siècle’s most distinctive illustrated books, and Arthur Rackham’s 1933 illustrations all appeared.  This latter contains one particular image, responding to the lines White and golden Lizzie stood, that has been subsequently much copied – sometimes with telling variations (see below).  One student made my week by finding the entire adult comic version of Goblin Market, illustrated by John Bolton in 1989, which I had heard of via Kooistra’s 1994 article, but certainly never seen (a) in full or (b) in colour.

It’s a whole other essay of a post for me to start discussing visual responses to ‘The Lady of Shalott’.  They are legion.

The Lady of Shalott at her Loom by Elizabeth Siddal (1853)

 Check out Christine Poulson’s essay on visual responses to the poem in Re-Framing the Pre-Raphaelites (Scolar Press, 1996) and her The Quest for the Grail: Arthurian Legend in British Art, 1840-1920 (MUP, 1999), Elizabeth Nelson’s Ladies of Shalott: A Victorian Masterpiece and its Contexts (Brown University, 1985) and any of numerous books on the Pre-Raphaelites.  Suffice to say that the students seem to be engaging with the exercise well, and it is an interesting exercise in getting them as English Studies students to think about interpretation of texts from a slightly different angle.  After all, every illustration in relation to a text is some kind of interpretation — that’s partly what I’m trying to flag up.  As the exercise kicked off last Friday I was having to restrain myself from wanting to respond to every post that was going up!  Once again I was pleased to see quite a number of students eager to engage with the online task within hours of the classroom session finishing…and the posts have kept coming over the whole week of this session.

Trouble at Marlborough Mill

Well, far from it, actually.  The class have been considering Elizabeth Gaskell’s  North and South (1855) for a couple of sessions and for the first time there is an online session to accompany their in-class discussions.  I’ve adapted an idea I’ve used on my Fin de Siècle course previously in online sessions for this one.  It’s a relatively simple idea of getting each member of the class to choose a chapter from the novel to discuss: they situate it briefly in the plot, and discuss in more detail what happpens in the chapter and what significance it has in the ongoing novel.  This means everyone has got something of their own to contribute by way of each student picking a different chapter.  They are encouraged not to duplicate each other’s chapters — hence they also need to keep an eye on what is being posted up.  I was pleased to see that posts were going up only hours after the Friday morning class as a few students were keen to make sure they could post on their particular chosen chapter.

Are we nearly there yet?

This exercise is of course partly trying to encourage the practice of good, concise, attentive close reading — skills which we all want to see in essays.  I’m pleased too to see some students are clearly doing some extra reading on Gaskell, and are bringing that to bear on their posts.

I respond briefly to a few of the posts — adding a question prompted by something in a post and/or trying to encourage the discussion on a bit further.  From my virtual distance the class are coming across to me as quite motivated in relation to the online activities…I’m not overly having to remind them to take part and there’s a good level of engagement quality wise in the tasks set.

‘E-sonnet’ by Matt Harvey for National Poetry Day

It’s National Poetry Day so what’s to do but give you a poem.  This is by the funny, wondermentalist, and all-round clever word manipulator, Matt Harvey.  Matt is quite often to be found on programmes such as Radio 4′s Saturday Live, and he was Wimbledon’s first Poet in Residence back in the summer.  Or if he’s not performing at a venue near you he’s writing poems about the home of all things alternative and complementary, Totnes.  The poem is from Matt’s new collection, Where Earwigs Dare (Green Books, 2010), which also features slugs, leeks, cows, bread, kippers, bees, and water coolers, and contains the memorably-titled poem ‘If I said you had a bit of  problem would you hold it against me?’  Buy it — you’ll love it.


Daily diaspora of signals, neural
sparks, paperless clutter, fact-opinion.
I am viral, extra-mural.  I am plural.
I’m the ‘e’ in evolution.  I’m Darwinian.
I’m the encroacher. I’m the great Instead:
of letters, notes, talk, postcards, memos, syntax –
the phisher-king preying on the easily led
the spam that seeks to fertilise your inbox.
I am the information superhighwayman
demand your time with subtle menaces
and blandishments to tempt you to reply to them –
exemplary parthenogenesis.
I breed, though I am neither male nor female.
I’m victorious. I am legion. I am email.

(Reproduced with permission)