On April 27, 2014 David Trestini e-mailed the following:

Dear Sir,

In your commentary about this poem by Rossetti's (crossetti/akim6.html), you develop an entire argument on the use of the female voice. However, absolutely nothing shows that the speaker is female.


First of all, David, I am not the author of “A Reversal of Roles in 'Song [When I am Dead]'” (akim6.html). As the byline clearly states, the author is Angela Kim '06, a student in my Brown University seminar in the Pre-Raphaelites. Nonetheless, I certainly agree with the key assumption about the speaker's gender in this excellent decade-old question set (a weekly assignment).

If one were to follow the dictates of the method of close reading insisted upon by the New Criticism so popular half a century ago when I was an undergraduate, one had to follow the basic assumption that the reader cannot employ any information from outside the poem when interpreting it. New Criticism has great advantages as a pedagogical method, for it makes the learner and teacher concentrate upon what's in the poem itself. Unfortunately, as soon as one uses a dictionary to find the meaning of a single word in a poem one has admitted that one also needs to know at least some of the poem's many contexts.

Today we have become accustomed to ironic speakers and unreliable narrators, but when Robert Browning introduced them in his dramatic monologues contemporary readers had no idea how to read them, since they assumed that the speaker in a poem had to be the poet or an idealized version of him or her. Turning to Christina Rossetti and her poems, we see that the speakers all appear to be female and most pretty obviously are Rossetti herself.

Last modified 4 May 2014