Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

English

Supervisor

Dr. D.M.R. Bentley

Abstract

Focusing on the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson, the poetry and paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the early poetry of William Morris and the poetry and prose of Christina Rossetti, this thesis examines how boredom emerges in Victorian aesthetic culture. Drawing from writings in visual culture, gender studies, social history, and recent returns to new formalism in Victorian studies, this thesis attends to how renderings of boredom open up our understanding of the relationship between poetry, art, temporality, embodiment, and explorations of everyday life and living in Victorian England.

Chapter One of my thesis is an introductory explanation of boredom and the term an aesthetic of boredom—a concept that I use to explore the connections between poetry, art, the psycho-somatic phenomenon of being bored, and poetic developments in Victorian socio-political and artistic contexts. It also outlines the connections between boredom and various affects of discontent (such as acedia, melancholy, and idleness). Chapter Two considers how Tennyson’s understanding of boredom is shaped by complicated attitudes towards gender, sexuality, and work—as seen in his poems “Mariana,” “Mariana in the South,” “The Lady of Shalott,” “The Lotos Eaters,” and “Ulysses.” Chapter Three concentrates on how repetition and thwarted desire influence the multiple versions of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “The Blessed Damozel,” his paintings of women from the later 1850s, onwards and aspects of The House of Life. Chapter Four considers how William Morris’s The Defence of Guenevere, and Other Poems fleshes out an aesthetic of thwarted desire that links to his developing views on art, gender, and everyday life. Chapter Five discusses the ways in which Christina Rossetti understands boredom in an expressly moral, albeit paradoxically ambivalent, light: it is either a form of affective purgation or else a symptom of spiritual lukewarmness, as shown in Maude, “The Prince’s Progress,” and Commonplace. My thesis concludes with a Postscript that comments on how both Victorian art and poetry—and its ways of encoding time, playing with rhythm and rhyme, and exploring the dynamics of desire—provide us with a profound sense of the embodied nature of boredom, in its various forms, in Victorian England.