The title of their second volume of short poems, Sight and Song , might seem a mistake, then. What is left of voice is in Michael Field partly an excess to which Thain also points, an energy or restlessness that is verbal but also bodily and sexual. Yet voice also haunts Sight and Song. These ekphrastic poems are organized throughout by vocal gestures, particularly by vocatives of direct address, by interjections and exclamations, and by periodic shifts from simple indicative to interrogative or imperative mood.
These residual signs of voice or instructions for voicing are indispensable to the relations between sight and song explored in this volume. But sight is also the resulting poem, a text whose organization we grasp, at least in part, from the visible shapes it makes on the page. This is a dimension of the poem to which they, like D. Rossetti, paid a great deal of attention, working with small presses and their artist friends and insisting on the importance of every visible aspect of their small book, not least its typography.
We begin to see how this works in the opening poem.
The poems for these paintings have more work to do to make these stone Venuses the focal points of our attention and the organizing forces of the poem. Once again, however, shifts of verbal mood gradually focus our attention on figures whose imputed thoughts apparently control the tonalities of color and feeling. This is a story of the revenge of the excluded aural.
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Vernon Lee confidently rewrote the familiar story of the raped female singer. In place of the violence visited on mythical women to make them instruments of passionate vocal production, she offered a tale of the haunting of a male musician by a musical voice equally the product of a violent act, the voice of an eighteenth-century castrato whose fabled singing was said to produce in female listeners the desire for a death as real as it was metaphorical their ecstasies were both sexual and mortal.
Lee describes the mysterious voice five times, giving textual presence to a sound she and her readers would probably never hear by the late nineteenth century, the trained castrato singer had all but disappeared, even in Italy. The first three times Lee describes that voice the singer is hidden. It is the swelling sound alone that takes on uncanny agency:. This time the fevered narrator watches a woman die in an ecstasy of listening.
The young composer recovers from his fever but henceforth finds himself unable to compose except for that hated voice. He is possessed by a silent, ghostly sound that is emphatically not his own. But this is also their accomplishment. Victorian women poets, I have been arguing, had indeed learned by mid-century to underline the status of their work as writing and to embrace a poetry of dis-embodied conversation, brevity, and silence.
Voice, in their poems, is sound that cannot be imprisoned in the singularities of the gendered body. Their conscious, intentionally crafted verse sings silently, producing the illusion or imitation of voice by textual means. Plural and dialogic, voice in their poetry becomes other to the poets: ec-static, medial, and shaped by the silences of time, space, painting, death, and the page.
It demands to be realized through the listening, reading, and voicing of others. Karlin, The Figure of the Singer , esp. Nowell Smith , On Voice in Poetry , p. Harrington, Second Person Singular , p. Harrap , , p. MS Thain, The Lyric Poem and Aestheticism , p. Stetz and C. Field, Sight and Song , p. Poetry is a visual way of expressing ideas, emotions, and experiences.
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Its iconicity on the printed page forms in short lines of type floating in white space; its poetic language evokes images in the visual imagination. In Victorian illustrated books and periodicals, poems were paired with eye-catching black-and-white art, making poetry uniquely visual.
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The title page for Goblin Market and Other Poems presents as a series of frames and borders, marking off white space as well as decorated, lettered, and pictorial sections Figure 1. Its balance of whites and blacks — negative and positive spaces translated into ground and figure — fundamentally expresses the medium of wood engraving, a point to which I shall return. The vertical and horizontal lines stamped in gilt on the blue covers become, on the title page, a double series of black lines framing the white space around the letterpress and inset vignette.
The central frame made by the double rules creates four squares, each containing a laurel branch and a rose. These devices are not merely ornamental. In this way, the framing, ornamentation, and picturing of the title page provide a series of visual lenses through which to view the poems that follow. The circular aperture of the upper left corner offers a disorienting glimpse into the outdoor, nighttime world of lively goblins in contrast to the inside, domestic space of sleeping sisters.
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For Victorian women poets, seeing and being seen were complex social negotiations as well as contested cognitive processes. Does the scopic aperture open a window into an outside world, giving us access to a sight that the subjects of the picture, the sleeping sisters, do not have? If this opening is a window, how does it mediate between inside and outside?
Are the goblins able to peek into this intimate domestic space? Or perhaps the aperture is not a window at all.
Perhaps it functions as a dream bubble, representing the night visions of one of the sleepers. In this way, the image also looks proleptically forward to the coda, where the sisters are pictured living together happily, telling stories about their past to their children.
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The scene pictures sisters so intimately connected that it is difficult to see where one begins and the other leaves off, let alone distinguish Lizzie from Laura. Pre-Raphaelite painters often took scenes from literature for their subjects, and many of them became leading black-and-white illustrators for books and magazines. Throughout the nineteenth century, illustrated periodicals popularized the visual trope of the sister arts by depicting two female figures, one with a pen and one with a brush, on their covers and contents pages.
For Victorian readers, then, the relationship of poem and picture on the printed page was visualized as feminine and sororal, and thought of as mutually supportive, aesthetically enhancing, and intimately interactive.
As the dominant form of picture reproduction, wood engraving introduced the integration of image and text in mass print culture. Previous image reproduction technologies required a different printer from that used for the letterpress, resulting in the separation of picture and word. For example, the illustrated annuals popular between the s and s relied on steel-plate engraving, which meant that separately printed pictorial plates had to be inserted between pages of letterpress.
The books and periodicals of the second half of the century, on the other hand, featured wood-engraved illustrations on the same page as the text because wood engraving, like moveable type, is a form of relief printing. To enable printing on the same press, blocks of boxwood were prepared to be type high: that is, of identical height to the typeface.
Like typography, wood engraving mediates between creator and reader. Dante Gabriel Rossetti drew the title-page design, including the caption, in reverse on the woodblock, and W. Linton engraved it for reproduction. Notably, there is a direct correlation between the size of the printed image and the size of the woodblock. Above and below the pictorial vignette, the wood-engraved, ornamental frame creates space for the insertion of the paratextual information of title, author, publisher, and date. Combining manual and mechanical methods and assembled out of fragments by many hands, the title page expresses the modular modernity of Victorian print culture.
Paper provides the ground on which alphanumeric and iconographic figures convey meaning in the common medium of black ink. However unconsciously, readers must decipher this printed page by interpreting the relationship between positive and negative spaces, black lines stamped on a white ground. Wood engraving enabled the sister arts of poem and picture to share the printed page and develop the multimodal hybridity characteristic of Victorian books and periodicals. Print culture in the second half of the nineteenth century was dominated by date-stamped, illustrated serials, produced to be momentarily consumed and discarded, and focused on the everyday life of readers.
Whether they were nostalgic evocations of past worlds and imagined societies or mirrors of contemporary life, however, illustrated poems presented magazine readers with floating worlds in a sea of transience. Marked off by white space and irregular wood-engraved lines in sharp contrast to the standardized lines of type set up in regular columns, these islands of aesthetics and affect were highly visible in Victorian print culture.
Notably, editors frequently selected poetry by women writers for visualization, making their work more culturally visible than ever before. The era of illustrated weekly entertainment was launched in with Once a Week , under the editorship of Samuel Lucas. As Linda K. Notably, this time, attention, and expense were lavished on the work of a relatively unknown poet. Figure 2 Wood engraving by Swain after Hablot K. While Lucas would likely have given Stewart the standard two guinea payment for her lengthy poem, he would have paid the well-known Browne two to three guineas for each drawing, or between eight and twelve guineas for all four.