University of Iowa The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Department of English Search

Lady of Shallot by William Holman Hunt8:432 Seminar: The Pre-Raphaelites in Prose and Poetry

Professor Florence S. Boos


Ideals and practices of Pre-Raphaelite poets and artists strongly influenced the styles and motifs of their successors and Victorian conceptions of what was verbally and visually ‘beautiful’ in complexly intertwined ways. In an effort to interpret this evolution, we will begin with influences on the Pre-Raphaelites in poems of John Keats, Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning, and continue with essays, poems and prose narratives by John Ruskin, Dante and Christina Rossetti, William Morris, Algernon Swinburne, Walter Pater, and some of their less-well-known  associates such as Augusta Webster. 

In addition to the poetry for which the Pre-Raphaelites are best known, we will consider several prose texts. Among these will be Ruskin’s Modern Painters; prose tales by D. G. Rossetti, William Morris and other contributors to the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine; and essays by Morris and Walter Pater, as well Morris’s A Dream of John Ball and News from Nowhere and Pater’s The Renaissance and Marius the Epicurean.

We will also attend to the evolution of Pre-Raphaelite artistic works, among them Morris’s manuscript illuminations and volumes for the Kelmscott Press, as well as issues of cross-influence, manuscript revision, periodical publication and audience reception. Finally, we will consider Pre-Raphaelite ideals of the “lesser arts” in an egalitarian society, and their traces in the artistic and literary endeavors of their successors. Several classes will be devoted to viewing slides of Pre-Raphaelite art and examining Kelmscott Press and other Pre-Raphaelite-associated books in Special Collections.

I will ask students in the class to prepare background materials and questions for discussion, write several short ICON postings, and submit a final fifteen-plus page essay which will be summarized for fellow students.