In Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Jenny," the speaker confronts his sympathy for a prostitute whom he recognizes others in his society would condemn. To contrast the speaker's affection for Jenny with his expectations, Rossetti opposes emotion and thought throughout the poem.
The symbol of the book represents the world outside Jenny's room that would lead the speaker to think of her as a degraded figure, rather than feel sympathy for her. The primary difference between the speaker's room and Jenny's is his books:
This room of yours, my Jenny, looks
A change from mine so full of books . . .
Even as to-night my work was left:
Until I vowed that since my brain
And eyes of dancing seemed so fain,
My feet should have some dancing too: —
And thus it was I met with you. (Lines 22-3, 29-33)
Rossetti here explicitly links the book to the brain, as well as to the judgmental Victorian world outside her chambers. The image of the book resurfaces when the speaker laments the fact that proper Victorian women cannot appreciate Jenny's decency. Jenny's heart, "a rose shut in a book/ In which pure women may not look" (Lines 253-5), remains inaccessible to those who subscribe to the Victorian mode of thinking.
Rossetti places Jenny in opposition to this book image. Her impenetrable thoughts make her a "volume seldom read" (Line 158). The speaker cannot access her thoughts (one can find examples on Lines 60-1, 163-6, 341-2) and instead must relate to her on an aesthetic and emotional level as he looks at her beauty.
Rossetti's images create a speaker who dwells in two worlds. His membership in Victorian society should make him think of Jenny as a fallen woman. However, his emotional connection to her within her room, a place so unlike his home, allows him sympathize with the difficulty of being a socially unacceptable figure.
1. Rossetti associates the lily with Jenny at various points in the poem. What effect does comparing the lily, a flower associated with the Virgin Mary, to Jenny produce? Is his use of the lily and other flower imagery similar to that in "The Blessed Damozel" (text) or "The Staff and the Scrip" (text)?
2. There are a number of references to the artist in the poem (see in particular Lines 231, 237, 294). What significance do these comparisons of Jenny to art carry? Considering Rossetti's own career as a painter, what link do these images create between painting and poetry?
3. In a similar vein, compare the stanza in "Jenny" from Lines 121-134 with Rossetti's unfinished painting Found. Do these two works present a similar moral?
4. Finally, consider the "two sister vessels" image (Lines 184 & 205). What does this image indicate about Rossetti's opinions on whether or not the life of the prostitute is a choice? How does it both associate Jenny with the speaker's cousin and differentiate between them?
Last modified 16 October 2004