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The Modern Portrait Poem

From Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Ezra Pound
Frances Dickey

BUY Cloth · 272 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813932637 · $49.50 · Jun 2012
BUY Ebook · 272 pp. · ISBN 9780813932699 · $49.50 · Jun 2012

In The Modern Portrait Poem, Frances Dickey recovers the portrait as a poetic genre from the 1860s through the 1920s. Combining literary and art history, she examines the ways Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Algernon Swinburne, and J. M. Whistler transformed the genre of portraiture in both painting and poetry. She then shows how their new ways of looking at and thinking about the portrait subject migrated across the Atlantic to influence Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Amy Lowell, E. E. Cummings, and other poets. These poets creatively exposed the Victorian portrait to new influences ranging from Manet’s realism to modern dance, Futurism, and American avant-garde art. They also condensed, expanded, and combined the genre with other literary modes including epitaph, pastoral, and Bildungsroman.

Dickey challenges the tendency to view Modernism as a break with the past and as a transition from aural to visual orientation. She argues that the Victorian poets and painters inspired the new generation of Modernists to test their vision of Aestheticism against their perception of modernity and the relationship between image and text. In bridging historical periods, national boundaries, and disciplinary distinctions, Dickey makes a case for the continuity of this genre over the Victorian/Modernist divide and from Britain to the United States in a time of rapid change in the arts.


Among the outstanding qualities of this book are its fruitful lines of inquiry, its careful and precise arguments, its deft and meticulous reading of poems and paintings, and its acute attention to historical and literary detail. Dickey’s book makes a lucid, engaging contribution to the study of literary Modernism and the visual arts.

Jahan Ramazani, University of Virginia

This is a sweeping, smart, and creative study of the interaction between the artistic portrait and the modern ‘portrait’ poem by male artists from late-Victorian to modern. Frances Dickey extends a rich, deeply instilled knowledge of art history and modern poetics to their interface in a stunning trajectory spanning the Pre-Raphaelites, Swinburne, Whistler, Futurist painting, Eliot, Pound, and the later Modernism of William Carlos Williams. She raises provocative questions concerning the relation between interiority and engagement, identity, gender, and the body while elucidating the shifting cultural milieu and changes in aesthetic form. A long overdue, exciting, rich, and informative book.

Cassandra Laity, Drew University

About the Author(s): 

Frances Dickey is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Missouri.

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