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Paola Spinozzi & Elisa Bizzotto, The Germ: Origins and Progenies of Pre-Raphaelite Interart Aesthetics

Bern, Peter Lang, 2012, 286 p. ISBN 978-3-0343-0298-2
Béatrice Laurent
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Paola Spinozzi & Elisa Bizzotto, The Germ: Origins and Progenies of Pre-Raphaelite Interart Aesthetics. Bern, Peter Lang, 2012, 286 p. ISBN 978-3-0343-0298-2

Texte intégral

1With the emergence of a renewed interest in interart practices and theories these last ten years, the volume by Paola Spinozzi & Elisa Bizzotto on the Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ is a welcomed and useful contribution to interdisciplinary scholarship and reflection. The four issues of the magazine are carefully reappraised as an endeavor towards ‘self-referentiality and meta-discursivity’ which paves the way for Modernist interrogations about interrelated modes of artistic expression.

2The first two chapters ‘Origins and Propagations’ and ‘A Biographical Perspective on The Germ’ offer very useful introductory material for the non-specialist reader, with interesting biographies of lesser-known Germ contributors.

3Chapter three ‘Aesthetic Prose in The Germ: Moulding a Literary Mode’ proposes that four contributors—Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Tupper, Frederic George Stephens, and John Orchard—crafted a new literary genre. However, Spinozzi and Bizzoto do not use the word ‘genre’ but rather refer to a ‘mode of writing’ which they define ‘aesthetic’, ‘because it delves into the origin and reverberations of artistic creativity, explores the endeavours of the artist, and enunciates the criteria for evaluating artworks, [using] a language characterized by sophisticated aesthetic concepts and an extensive use of allegories, symbols, and tropes’ (99). The Pre-Raphaelite ‘aesthetic prose’ may lose some of its novelty but could gain in semiotic depth if it were examined in the light of previous ‘aesthetic’ writings about art in the Romantic-Gothic works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and even possibly in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The Romantic tradition may indeed provide a paradigm and an explanation to what Paola Spinozzi considers as ‘the conceptual bipolarities of the Pre-Raphaelites, wavering between a present that they could not elude and an ideal past that aroused their yearning’ (126). It seems that, intent as they are to prove the ground-breaking audacity of the Pre-Raphaelites, the authors choose to look forward to their possible imitators and followers, and neglect to look backward at their own sources of inspiration, possibly judging that this research field has been covered already.

4It is indeed in tracing the influence of Pre-Raphaelitism on later literary and artistic movements—the Aesthetes, the Decadents, and the Modernists—that the authors provide fresh considerations on late Victorian and Edwardian literary production as a more coherent body than is often asserted. Such is the aim of chapter four ‘Germinal Poetical Imageries: From Pre-Raphaelitism to the Fin de Siècle and Modernism’. In underlining the ‘contrast between “realistic” and “visionary” attitudes’ which, according to Spinozzi, ‘constitutes the core of verbal and visual Pre-Raphaelitism’ (137), the authors seek to define the Brotherhood and its circle as one of the earliest Avant-garde movements in European art. Through the analysis of poetry published in The Germ, chapter four convincingly shows that ‘experimentation with realistic, allegorical, and symbolic modes’ (144) exemplifies the Pre-Raphaelites’ distrust in orthodoxies and their Avant-garde tendencies to mix media and references, while keeping a critical distance with their own productions.

5To complete their argument, Spinozzi and Bizzotto show the seminal influence The Germ had on Fin-de-Siècle little magazines. Seen as a prototype of artists’ magazines such as The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine, The Century Guild Hobby Horse, The Yellow Book and The Savoy, The Germ cannot be dismissed as an abortive juvenile venture, for its impact long outlasted the four months of its existence.

6In their fresh reassessment of The Germ, its ambitions, its paradoxes, and its self-reflexivity, the authors provide a useful literary and critical addition to the recent inclusion of Pre-Raphaelitism within the broader context of European Avant-gardes, as demonstrated in the very successful exhibition hosted by the Tate gallery ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde’ (12 September 2012–13 January 2013).

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Béatrice Laurent, « Paola Spinozzi & Elisa Bizzotto, The Germ: Origins and Progenies of Pre-Raphaelite Interart Aesthetics », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 79 Printemps | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2014, consulté le 15 septembre 2019. URL :

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Béatrice Laurent

Université Antilles-Guyane

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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