Word-Painting Defined

In Victorian Word Painting and Narrative: Toward the Blending of Genres, Rhoda L. Flaxman defines word painting as

extended passages of visually oriented descriptions whose techniques emulate pictorial methods. Word-painters typically employ framing devices, recurrent iconographic motifs, careful compositional structures, and pay close attention to contrasts of light and dark, of color, volume, and mass. But the primary feature that distinguishes a genuine word-painting from a static catalogue of visual data is faithfulness to a precise and consistent perspective focused through the viewpoint of a particular spectator. This point of view often yields an effect we moderns call cinematic, implying progress from one element to the next in a 'narrative of landscape.' This narrative of landscape tranforms a static catalogue of visual data into the dramatization of the visual. Word-painting, then, implying a spatial progression through a landscape, offers a correlative to narrative." [9-10]

Eventually word-painting comes to be the "fusing [of] the narrative, the descriptive, and the dramatic to illustrate the metaphorical journey toward the discovery of self." (10)

General Characteristics of Victorian Word-Painting

Word-Painting in poetry

Word-painting, of course, reflects a poet's attitude toward nature, and the line from Thomson through Wordsworth and Tennyson and T. S. Eliot affirms the growing fragmentation both of the relationship between man and nature and the expression of this shattering relationship in new poetic forms." [3]

Word-painting alternates between description and reflection in poetry, whereas in prose it alternates between description and narration. [63]

The Romantic poets such as Wordsworth moved away from simply presenting picturesque scenes declaring, "Whoever, in attempting to describe their sublime features (The Alps), should confine himself to the cold rules of painting would give his reader but a very imperfect idea of those emotions which they have irrisistible [sic] power of communicating to the most passive imaginations." [Wordsworth quoted in Flaxman, 67]

Last modified 2007