English, Literature, and Modern Languages
Dr. Donald Deardorff
Robert Browning, Charles Baudelaire, William Etty, Victorian poetry, Victorian aesthetics, mysticism
Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” engages with ‘the problem of Raphael,’ a Victorian aesthetic debate into which Browning enters in order to address Victorian society’s spiritual impotence, which he connects to the societal emphasis on external appearances of virtue and nobility. This emphasis on appearances is reflected in Raphaelite aesthetics, for Victorians understood Raphael’s paintings as representational pictures intended to cause viewers to contemplate spiritual states. The Raphaelite school of aesthetics saw Raphael’s works as the pinnacle of the Christian visual art tradition, while the pre-Raphaelites sought to dissolve the distinction between sacred and secular, painting human bodies as they actual appear, with all of their awkward flaws, as opposed to the polished, perfected, demigod-like humans in a Raphael. This essay weaves Baudelaire’s aesthetic theory of the phantasmagoria with the Victorian aesthetic debate over the problem of Raphael, and the pre-Raphaelite school of Victorian painters’ associations with sacramental realism, for a new take on Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.”
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Werneburg, Matthew K.
"Encountering the Phantasmagoria: Pre-Raphaelite Aesthetics as the Antidote for Victorian Decadence in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”,"
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