A Festscrift for William E. Fredeman: Haunted Texts: Studies in Pre-Raphaelitism

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

Despite all sorts of obvious gaps and problems, characteristic of the genre of the festschrift volume, this volume not only has some fine contributions but makes some sort of sense, since the two topics of the Rossetti's and book illustration more or less match Dick Fredeman's own interests. The one major gap from the point of view of its scholar it celebrates is the lack of something on William Bell Scott, about whom he knew a great deal.

The volume begins strongly with a superb, beautifully written piece by Jerry McGann, whose attention to the problems of translation, Dante Gabriel Rossetti's relation to Dante, and poetic form, are a major contribution. I have written most of an entire chapter of one of my books on Rossetti's House of Life -- and I like Slinn's work better. He strikes just the perfect note with something as commonplace as seduction, and he unpacks the poem beautifully using contemporary gender approaches. It's already two hurrahs, and then we get to Peter's solid, valuable, fair-minded scholarly study, importantly based on MSS evidence, of the way William shaped Christina's reputation. Not exciting or novel; just valuable.

Hares-Stryker's competent study of Hughes as book illustrator also succeeds, though it misses two key points, one easily added -- that At the Back of the North Wind, like Kinglsey's Water Babies, which she doesn't mention, are not just children's books but major contributions to the Victorian genre of works, including poetry, addressed to helping children (and parents) cope with the death of children. Much in the way Lewis's Narnia books make Christianity understandable to the child imagination, George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind does the same thing with death. Hares-Stryker mentions that MacDonald left his position as a Congregational minister over a conflict of doctrine; in fact, he flock got rid of him when he denied infant damnation, something directly relevant to the work Hughes illustrates.

MacDonald as an author and Hughes as illustrator very much embody the Pre-Raphaelite split between realism and fantasy or spirituality; most of GM's novels divide between highly realistic works of Scottish life and the famous fantasies. It's also too bad Hares-Stryker doesn't mention that MacDonald, an unusual Victorian feminist, saw God as a woman (see Phantastes).

Allan Life pays appropriate attention to the greatest work of Arthur Boyd Houghton, the finest illustrator before Wedward Sullivan. A beautiful leather-bound copy of The Thousand and One Nights is one of my treasures, so I certainly appreciate his enthusiasm and detail. The piece is a bit overlong, in large part because he tends to veer off into citing contemporary fashionable works on orientalism and the like that do not have much to do with the main argument.

Lorraine Janzen Kooistra has a predictable, workmanlike essay on transvestism, one of the recent flavors of the month, and my only criticism -- other than wondering what Aubrey Beardsley's doing in this volume -- is that it is so tame. What about androgyny, hermaphorditism, and S/M, which run all through Beardsley. And what about the rumour that he and his sister were lovers? Or the totally opposite one that his TB was so severe he was essentially asexual?

Since I believe in this sort of festschrift, I found the essay by Roberts quite lovely and just what is called -- something that, like Dick's own "Paper Chase," gives a human, subjective side to it. And of course, we need the bibliography.

You will have noticed that I have not yet mentioned Hillis Miller's dreadfully inadequate contribution. Given that Dick Fredeman was a self-proclaimed curmudgeonly stickler for editorial detail -- he loved to mention his famous review of Wahl and Doughty edition of Rossetti's letters -- including this would-be trendy new media piece in a volume for him strikes me as insult. It's a very lazy piece: there is an entire literature on digital scholarship, editing, and new literary forms -- Michigan, Johns Hopkins, and MIT publish whole series on such things! -- but Miller can't be troubled to say anything very specific. Fifteen years ago this might have been exciting, but, goodness, Jerry McGann, one of the world's experts in this exact topic appears in this volume,. It's too bad some Canadian scholar, like Mike Groden, who's doing the hypermedia Ulysses, wasn't invited to write something more substantial.

It's perfectly alright in this kind of a volume to have Fredeman proclaim himself the founder of Pre-Raphaelite studies, for it tells us something not particularly offensive about him. Latham takes this claim, which is nonsense in the British context, all a bit too seriously, managing not only to distort the history of Pre-Raphaelitism and PR studies but also omit an incredible number of major scholars, including internationally famous art historians, starting with Alan Staley; then there are the great London dealers, such as the Fine art Society, which did a lot to popularise these materials, and Jeremy Maas, who published three important books, including one on Hunt.

Dick may not have liked the so-called Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood, but they wrote some seminal books (some bad ones, too) and Dick -- and Latham -- manage to scant all those major women scholarly editors, who produced the now-standard scholarly editions of Christina Rossetti and George Meredith.


Haunted Texts: Studies in Pre-Raphaelitism. Ed. David Latham. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003.

Last modified 29 August 2004