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The Transformative Power of the Arts in Victorian and Edwardian Culture and Society
4. The Transformative Power of Intermediality

Illustrating Victorian Poetry: The Dynamics of Photographic Tableaux Vivants

Illustrations de la poésie victorienne : la dynamique des tableaux vivants photographiques
Gwendoline Koudinoff


Le présent article analyse la relation texte-image entre la poésie victorienne et leurs illustrations photographiques réalisées par Julia Margaret Cameron, Henry Peach Robinson et Lady Hawarden. Initiant une pratique artistique de la photographie, ces derniers ont en effet créé des œuvres communément appelées tableaux vivants qui interprètent visuellement les poèmes suivants : Idylls of the King et The Lady of Shalott de Lord Alfred Tennyson, Tristram and Iseult de Matthew Arnold et The Goblin Market de Christina Rossetti. Les arts plus traditionnels tels la peinture, la gravure ainsi que le dessin ont tenté d’illustrer ces mêmes poèmes. Cependant, le caractère interdisciplinaire des tableaux vivants photographiques du xixe siècle a permis de doter le contenu métaphorique du langage poétique d’un réalisme esthétique saisissant. Une étude approfondie des tableaux vivants vis-à-vis des arts traditionnels ainsi que des sources textuelles auxquelles ils renvoient rendra alors compte de l’impact intellectuel et novateur que ces œuvres ont eu dans l’histoire de l’art victorien.

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1Authors of 19th-century tableaux vivants demonstrated the intellectual power of photography by illustrating the literary heritage of Great Britain: for example, Victorian photographers such as Julia Margaret Cameron and Henry Peach Robinson created several representations of William Shakespeare’s characters. Nonetheless, Victorian photographers, including Lady Hawarden, embraced the modernity of the photographic apparatus by focusing their attention on contemporary literature as well and more particularly on the poetry of their time. Victorian art photographers had indeed a tendency to offer visual interpretations of poetry. The figurative language and strong imagery of poems, through for instance the common use of metaphors, make it easier for artists to create visual renderings of written works. The interdisciplinary nature of tableaux vivants, which appears as a cross between painting and photography, is instrumental in reflecting the symbolic impact of narrative poems such as Idylls of the King and The Lady of Shalott by Lord Alfred Tennyson, Tristram and Iseult by Matthew Arnold and Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. In the 1860s and 1870s, Julia Margaret Cameron, Henry Peach Robinson and Lady Hawarden made photographic tableaux vivants that transformed traditional representations of medieval legends, by taking up the challenge of adapting the realism of photography to fictional subject matters. The concise language of poetry also liberates the imagination of art photographers who then feel free to interpret the imagery of poetry according to their own desires. Consequently, the photographers’ autobiographical influence on their illustrations provides original interpretations of Victorian poetry: Julia Margaret Cameron’s proto-feminism, Henry Peach Robinson’s tendency to photograph embodiments of feminine innocence and Lady Hawarden’s family memory permeate their works, which mostly tackle the issue of women’s status in poetic and visual fiction. The tableaux vivants by women photographers Julia Margaret Cameron and Lady Hawarden use the photographic medium to put into question the traditional representation of women in arts and literature. Both photographers anticipate Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s feminist theory from The Madwoman in the Attic as they visually endow literary characters with a more complex psychology that goes beyond the polarized representations of women as either ‘charitable angels’ or ‘mad monsters.’ However, Henry Peach Robinson, as a male photographer and academic artist, complies with the conventional representation of woman as ‘The Angel in the House’ in reference to the eponymous poem by Coventry Patmore. The attributes of the selfless, innocent and almost childish angel is subject to Virginia Woolf’s satire in ‘Professions for Women’ and implicitly debunked by Virginia Woolf’s great-aunt, namely Julia Margaret Cameron, and her Victorian counterpart, Lady Hawarden. The passive roles of lovesick or dead women in Robinson’s photographs clearly contrast with the active and imposing postures of feminine characters pictured by Cameron and Hawarden. Lady Hawarden’s subversive tableaux vivants were inspired from the equally daring poetry of Christina Rossetti whereas Julia Margaret Cameron chose to take the opposite view of her literary source, that is, Tennyson’s poetry.

  • 1 Louvel mentions that the Greek etymology of ‘idyll’ means ‘short picturesque poem’. She therefore q (...)
  • 2 Martha Weiss. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the wor (...)

2This essay will initially analyze the text-image relationship between Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King published in 1859 and its photographic illustrations created by Julia Margaret Cameron, one of the poet laureate’s closest friends. Illustrations by Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and by prolific French engraver Gustave Doré were previously suggested as visual representations of Tennyson’s re-telling of Arthurian legends.1 According to Barbara Tepa Lupack in Illustrating Camelot, Tennyson was highly critical of them. Tennyson then initiated a professional collaboration with Julia Margaret Cameron, whose artistic sensibility would generate unique Arthurian tableaux vivants (Lupack 39). Twelve of her photographic works were published by Henry S. King & Company in late December 1874 in a folio-size edition titled Illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, and Other Poems. Julia Margaret Cameron handwrote the titles and the appropriate lines from Tennyson’s poem on the photographs. Some of these photographs were also exhibited in 2015 at the Victorian and Albert Museum to celebrate the bicentenary of Cameron’s birth and the 150th anniversary of her first exhibition held at the same museum in 1865.2 It shows evidence of the significant and profound meaning that Cameron’s tableaux vivants convey. Her aesthetical productions indeed stand out as proto-feminist interpretations of Arthurian heroines. Mentioning ‘Cameron’s own proto-feminist sensibilities’, Lupack notices that Cameron’s intentions radically depart from Tennyson’s poetic interpretation of Arthurian legends in order to challenge the text it is supposed to illustrate. This accounts for the fact that Cameron’s illustrations have usually been considered independent intellectual productions from which Tennyson’s contribution is in fact excluded (Lupack 48). Cameron was then free to depict Arthurian characters as she wished. Guinevere and Enid are two cases in point. Two tableaux vivants are devoted to each of these female protagonists: Guinevere appears in The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere as well as in The Little Novice and the Queen in the Holy House at Almesbury while Enid is depicted in an eponymous photograph coupled with And Enid Sang.

3In his poem ‘Guinevere,’ Tennyson’s overall treatment of Arthur’s wife does not seem as sympathetic as Cameron’s. In the lines illustrated by The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere,3 the reader is disturbingly reminded of Guinevere’s marriage to King Arthur when the lovers decide on meeting one last time: ‘And then they were agreed upon a night/(When the good King should not be there) to meet/And part forever’ (Tennyson 271). The line in brackets sounds intrusive and moralizing as it lays emphasis on the adulterous nature of Guinevere and Lancelot’s relationship. Cameron instead brings out the tender despondency of forbidden lovers facing separation. The tableau vivant’s heartfelt atmosphere contradicts the focus of the poem on the dire consequences entailed by the queen’s love affair.

4An engraving in 1868 by Gustave Doré, which shows Guinevere grovelling at her husband’s feet to ask his forgiveness, literally presents the queen as the archetype of the fallen woman.4 Julia Margaret Cameron’s second tableau vivant of Guinevere, The Little Novice and the Queen in the Holy House of Almesbury,5 departs from Doré’s unflattering illustration of the queen in order to rehabilitate the more complex psychology of the character.6 The photograph serves as a visual sequel to the previous tableau vivant when after leaving Lancelot the queen finds shelter in an abbey. Guinevere is not pictured in front of her betrayed husband but rather in a convent where she appears to repent from her sins. She looks more dignified and sits upright. Her sinfulness is symbolized by her dark garb contrasting with the white robe of the novice.

5Contrary to Doré’s aforementioned engraving, Cameron interprets Guinevere’s evolution as an empowerment. Following her sad goodbye to Lancelot, she seems to have renounced love, thereby attaining the power of an independent woman. She chooses not to see Lancelot again and does not lower herself to listen to her husband’s condescending monologue as is the case in the poem and in Doré’s work. That deeply religious tableau vivant echoes Cameron’s photographs of Mary Magdalene, the prostitute from the Bible who, like Guinevere, redeems herself by leading a new life dedicated to Christianity.

6Cameron’s monastic interpretation of the queen refers to the lines of the poem recounting the scenes of conversation between the queen and the novice: ‘the stately Queen . . . communed only with the little maid/Who pleased her with a babbling heedlessness/Which often lured her from herself’ (Tennyson 272–73). But it also favourably predicts Guinevere’s own decision at the end of the poem to devote her life to penance in an abbey. That depiction is typical of Cameron’s Catholic-themed tableaux vivants which combine secular and sacred elements to demonstrate the influence of the Tractarian movement in Victorian England and to morally emphasize the resilience and mettle of fallen women. In this regard, Mike Weaver mentions in British Photography in the 19th Century that Cameron’s photographs ‘refer to the stamp of divinity which, in the mind of Evangelicals and Tractarians alike, guaranteed God’s immanence in the world’ (Weaver 156). As he analyses the photograph titled The Dream by Cameron, Mike Weaver explains that the woman posing for the tableau vivant represents the combination of opposite Biblical characters (Mary Magdalene and Virgin Mary) and embodies the divine transcendence of the female body. Despite her adultery, Guinevere is pictured the same way in Cameron’s Arthurian photographs: the queen is determined to atone for her sin, like Mary Magdalene, the repentant prostitute.

7Cameron portrays the character of Enid in a similar fashion. The juxtaposition of two photographs, Enid along with And Enid Sang, stages the evolution of the protagonist: she is at first seen as a diffident wife upbraided by her husband but then becomes a self-assured woman showcasing her inner strength. In the first eponymous photograph,7 her looks and gestures reflect her submissiveness: a veil covers her hair tightened into a knot and her downcast eyes look away from the camera as she opens the cabinet door to get a shabby dress that her husband Geraint forced her to put on. Geraint wrongly suspects his wife of infidelity because of her strong friendship with Guinevere, the unfaithful queen. As Tennyson writes in ‘The Marriage of Geraint,’ Geraint sets about humiliating her and orders her to wear her ‘worst and meanest dress’ (Tennyson 79), to remind the reader of her poverty before her marriage to Geraint.

8The following photograph, whose title ‘And Enid Sang8 is a direct quotation of the aforementioned poem (Tennyson 85), nonetheless reveals the protagonist’s flattering transformation. Looking disarmingly confident, she exudes the dignity of an emancipated woman performing the art of music and singing. Her hair is loose and flowing in a Pre-Raphaelite style while the heart-shaped lockets of her necklace demonstrate her unconditional love for Geraint. That depiction of Enid runs counter to the Victorian ideals of self-sacrificing womanhood: to secure marital fidelity, wives do not need to suffer and jeopardize their self-esteem but instead can engage in artistic activities such as music. That redefinition of feminine values can be extended to Cameron’s autobiography since the photographer herself was the living proof that women in Victorian times did not just play the part of the muse but also that of the artist creating memorable works of art.9

9Julia Margaret Cameron created another Arthurian tableau vivant, Elaine, the Lily Maid of Astolat, which is worth comparing with Henry Peach Robinson’s photographic interpretation of Elaine in Elaine Watching the Shield of Lancelot. Though they do not refer to exactly the same lines from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, both photographs illustrate the beginning of the poem ‘Lancelot and Elaine’ when Elaine watches over Lancelot’s shield. Interestingly each tableau vivant offers a different approach to the scene of the poem. Cameron favoured psychological portraiture over the stricter standards of academic art which Robinson attempted to incorporate into his photographic rendering of Elaine.

10In Cameron’s photograph, no particular lines from the poem are associated with the tableau vivant, even though it apparently represents Elaine’s weaving.10 The lack of clear textual reference allows Cameron to create a more evasive picture of Elaine, who seems lost in her daydreaming. Similarly, Cameron escapes and frees herself from the realism of photography by using the soft-focus technique, which she proudly described in her autobiographical fragment, Annals of my Glass House. The so-called technique blurs the photograph and endows it with an ethereal atmosphere that perfectly fits Elaine’s daydreaming. It also invites the viewer to see beyond the superficiality of the photographic image in order to take on an active role: the viewer is encouraged to use his or her own imagination to identify the photograph’s details and Elaine’s inner thoughts. Cameron valued the autopoietic qualities of her photographs that are constantly subject to the viewer’s imagination and interpretations.

  • 11 In 1875 Cameron wrote in her poem ‘On a Portrait’ that portraiture should be dynamic and that the g (...)

11In that regard, Carol Hanbery MacKay asserts that Elaine as well as other Arthurian protagonists usually look away from the camera, which causes their eyes to be deliberately hidden and blurred. Therefore, the viewer ‘examine[s] the notion of portraits without eyes, their apparent absence demanding that we explore them even more as “windows to the soul”’ (MacKay 25). That explains why Cameron does not want the viewer to be distracted by earthly objects such as Lancelot’s shield. The latter is cropped in the photograph, hence the importance of the close-up technique that focuses attention on Elaine’s profile and intensifies the viewer’s insight into her soul.11

12However, Cameron’s techniques were disapproved of by her contemporaries, including Henry Peach Robinson, one of the leading figures of academic photography, who sharply criticized the flaws in her photographs. He argued that there is ‘so little definition that it is difficult to make out parts even in the lights [and that] in the shadows . . . nothing exists but black paper’.12 Robinson’s more academic approach to art photography clearly transpires in his tableau vivant titled Elaine Watching the Shield of Lancelot,13 which he exhibited in 1860, almost fifteen years before Cameron’s own illustrations of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. In contrast to Cameron’s work, Robinson’s composition is carefully centred and the foreground is perfectly in focus. More attention is paid to the props such as Lancelot’s shield which Elaine fingers. It is also highlighted by the morning light shining through the window in the background. Conversely, Cameron’s depiction of Elaine obliterates the background as it appears modestly black and pared-down. On the matt of his tableau vivant Robinson inscribed the lines from Tennyson’s ‘Lancelot and Elaine’ which describes the scene: ‘And ah God's mercy, what a stroke was there!/And here a thrust that might have killed, but God/Broke the strong lance, and rolled his enemy down,/And saved him: so she lived in fantasy’ (Tennyson 168). The sharp focus at the centre of the picture and the hierarchical ordering of visual elements in the composition direct the viewer’s gaze to Elaine and her finger running over the shield’s damage suggesting the perils Lancelot must have faced as a knight. This is exactly what the corresponding lines by Tennyson are about. Robinson’s rigorous care for sharp details and his close reading of Tennyson’s lines reflect the art photographers’ efforts to distance themselves from the prejudice that they were mindless copyists.

13In 1861, Robinson uses the complex technique of combination printing to illustrate Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott inspired from the myth of Elaine.14 He thus pushes the concept of idealized art further in this tableau vivant. His photograph pictures the dead body of the Lady of Shalott lying in a boat on its way to Camelot. Following French photographer Gustave Le Gray’s ‘theory of sacrifices’,15 Robinson insists that a work of art or a fine photographic composition should be structured according to principles of hierarchy and subordination in order to ‘idealize’ and put into relief the most important element in the picture. Robinson writes in Pictorial Effects in Photography that ‘in a landscape will always be found some object of more importance than the rest, to which all other parts are subordinate, and to which all other objects lead’ (Robinson 35–36).16 In The Lady of Shalott, the details of the landscape direct the viewer’s attention toward the centre of the picture where the Lady of Shalott’s dead body can be seen. Several negatives were in fact required to create the photograph, each of them selecting a portion of reality to represent one precise element of the final work. By combining the fragments into one coherent picture, this process enabled Robinson to maintain an optical focus across the entire space of the tableau vivant. The centralized and geometrical composition of the tableau vivant underscores the supine body of the protagonist thanks to the straight horizontal lines of the boat and of the river’s edge. That extremely codified perspective shows Robinson’s interest in following academic rules, which rationally organize the artist’s composition. With this composite picture of The Lady of Shalott, Robinson tries indeed to introduce the aesthetical idealism of Leon Battista Alberti, the 15th-century Italian author of the treatise On Painting. The horizontal lines of The Lady of Shalott reflect Alberti and Renaissance painters’ rigorous reliance on the purity of geometrical perspective. Moreover, the arched upper frame of the tableau vivant is reminiscent of a window frame through which, according to Alberti, the viewer looks at a portion of the world that the art photographer wants to transform into an object of admiration.

14Nevertheless, Margaret Harker mentions that Robinson’s Lady of Shalott was ironically inspired from Pre-Raphaelite art whereas Pre-Raphaelite painters were renowned for questioning the academic conformism dictated by the Royal Academy. The Pre-Raphaelites intended to debunk the ‘great style’ of classical paintings, which idealized the noble qualities of models. Instead, the natural background in Pre-Raphaelite works usually seems as important as the rest of the painting, which causes the hierarchy of pictorial elements to become disrupted. The intricate and overwhelming depiction of plants and trees in the photograph The Lady of Shalott by Robinson echoes John Everett Millais’s well-known painting Ophelia17 which similarly displays a lushly detailed natural background and unveils the aestheticized dead body of a lovesick maid (Harker 31–34). Robinson and Pre-Raphaelite painters had something in common that inevitably kept them away from academism: their respective arts were both experimental. Robinson introduced the practice of a new medium into fine arts whereas the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood preferred the spontaneous painting techniques of medieval artists over the artificiality of precepts laid down by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy.

15Unsurprisingly, reviews of Robinson’s Lady of Shalott were lukewarm. The combination printing technique was deemed ineffective in creating a convincing work of art because of the technical constraints of the photographic apparatus. In order to visualize the corresponding lines of Tennyson’s poem (‘The Lady of Shalott./Lying robed in snowy white/That loosely flew to left and right’), Robinson had to use a punt—a boat without a prow and shallow in depth—to obtain a camera angle that would reveal the lady and her flowing white dress. Additionally, the juxtaposition of several negatives created unnatural effects such as the fact that the boat does not ripple the water surface.

16Another combination print titled Sleep18 by Robinson suffers from similar technical problems but remains worthy of interest. It is supposed to illustrate a Victorian poem, Tristram and Iseult, written by Matthew Arnold and published in 1852. Robinson quotes the following lines from the poem on the matt of his tableau vivant: ‘They sleep in sheltered rest/Like helpless birds in the warm nest’ (Arnold 205). Robinson’s interpretation of the lines seems extremely personal since it is nearly impossible, even for the most educated viewer, to recognize any representative or symbolic element of the well-known medieval myth of Tristan and Iseult.

17The two children pictured in Robinson’s tableau vivant actually refer to Tristan and his wife’s offspring. The characters were added by Matthew Arnold in his own poetic rendition of the myth. In the Victorian version of the story, Tristan is married to Iseult of Brittany but has a love affair with Iseult of Ireland. The invention of the two children is meant to heighten Tristan’s irresponsibility not only toward his wife but also toward his entire family. Domestic stability is therefore endangered by the patriarch’s infidelity. In the tableau vivant by Robinson, the two children are sleeping peacefully in an apparently protective hearth as mentioned in the first line (‘They sleep in sheltered rest’), but both look ‘helpless’ and therefore find themselves threatened by the enclosing darkness which may stand for their father’s destructive relationship with Iseult of Ireland. In The Politics of Focus, Lindsay Smith suggests that the use of the combination printing technique in the photograph strengthens the feeling of uneasiness: the technical oddities caused by the joining of multiple negatives exposes conflicting sources of light and their accidental overlapping reveals the ghostly transparency of objects (Smith 22–23).

18Confronted with the time-consuming and laborious technique of combination printing, Robinson eventually stopped using this photographic process. The imperfect merging of negatives in composite prints fuelled the controversy over the photographer’s role: upon its invention, the medium’s purpose supposedly consisted in a scientific attempt to record the truth as faithfully as possible but not in a flawed attempt to deceive the eye. Composite prints such as Sleep by Robinson suffer from a counter-intuitive relationship between text and image as well as from technical defects. Consequently, they may impede the viewer’s understanding of the cultural references at stake. Louis Marin, in Des Pouvoirs de l’image, underlines the danger of images serving as an Eikasia that tricks the viewer into believing appearances and realistic-looking photographic images. Louis Marin’s theory refers to Plato’s mistrust of visual representations of reality: images are just illusions that cloud the viewer’s direct perception of the world. Robinson’s prints may accidently reflect the photographer’s intentions in creating mimetic deceptions, unfortunately belied by flaws that make the combination prints look like patchworks of a fragmented reality.

19Lady Hawarden was a Victorian photographer who took artistic pictures of her daughters in her London residence from 1857 to 1864 but the true meaning of her painterly staged photographs remains abstruse as well. It is not clear whether some of Lady Hawarden’s works were intended to be aesthetical celebrations of family memory or were meant to illustrate the narrative poem Goblin Market penned by Christina Rossetti. Marina Warner remarks, in the introduction to Hawarden’s biography Lady Hawarden, Studies from Life by Virginia Dodier, that ‘the Victorian poet who comes to mind most strongly, . . . when looking at Hawarden’s photographs of her daughters, is Christina Rossetti, . . . who published Goblin Market in 1862’ (Dodier 7). Nonetheless, Hawarden’s photographs remain undated and untitled, which makes it somewhat difficult to relate Hawarden’s tableaux vivants to Christina Rossetti’s lines. This does not mean that no text-image relationship can be established. In her study of Christina Rossetti’s poetry, Lorraine Janzen Kooistra defines her poetic style as ‘physical’ and imbued with vivid imagery.19 As a consequence, Christina Rossetti’s lines offered several opportunities for artists to illustrate them. The first to do so was none other than her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti,20 a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who drew the two main characters of the Goblin Market on the title page of his sister’s first volume of poetry.21 The drawing brings to mind the intimate and symbiotic relationship that the two sisters Laura and Lizzie share when they sleep together in the same bed. This apparently homoerotic depiction of the two protagonists of Goblin Market corresponds to the following lines of Christina Rossetti’s poem: ‘Golden head by golden head/Like two pigeons in one nest/Folded in each other’s wings,/ . . . Cheek to cheek and breast to breast/Lock’d together in one nest’ (Rossetti 109). As I studied the lines from Rossetti’s poem and her brother’s own depiction of the scene, I found out that one photograph by Hawarden bears an undeniable resemblance to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s drawing. The woman photographer, a Victorian housewife, loved photographing her family, especially her two daughters, Clementina and Isabella, who can be seen as the real-life counterparts of Laura and Lizzie. In the tableau vivant, Clementina and Isabella huddle together to strike a pose. Clementina apparently plays the part of the wiser sister (Lizzie) who puts Isabella’s hand on her heart and pulls her sibling into a protective embrace. The sensuality of the scene is further suggested by Isabella’s pose: Isabella is reminiscent of the more childish sister (Laura) as she buries her head into Clementina’s bosom like a child falling asleep in her mother’s arms.22 It is worth underlining the ambiguous nature of the photograph and the lines it illustrates. Goblin Market is a narrative poem intended to sound like a fairy tale for children, its short skipping lines reminding the reader of the nursery rhyme structure. As for Hawarden’s photograph, it represents teenage girls who might be potential readers of the poem. Yet the sensual imagery of the poem and the photograph belies the seemingly innocent and moralizing message of Goblin Market. The fictional and actual sisters look actually liberated from strict Victorian codes of conducts regarding femininity and sexuality.

20The same photograph by Hawarden may provide another intriguing visual interpretation of the following lines from Goblin Market when, trying to wrest her sister from the clutches of fruit addiction, Lizzie asks Laura to eat the fruits that the goblins hurled at Lizzie’s body: ‘Did you miss me?/Come and kiss me./Never mind my bruises,/Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices/Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,/Goblin pulp and goblin dew./Eat me, drink me, love me;/Laura, make much of me’ (Rossetti 116). In the tableau vivant, one can see Clementina suckling Isabella. I think that Hawarden may have then implicitly staged the moment when Laura is sucking Lizzie’s juice-covered body. The dramatic display of sisterly love definitely pervades the photograph and the lines quoted above.

  • 23 In the article ‘Rossetti and the Tractarians’, Diane D’Amico and David Kent explore the influence o (...)

21As in Julia Margaret Cameron’s religious tableaux vivants, the text-image relationship between the poem and the photograph emphasizes a harmonious blend between the profane and the divine. Indeed, the explicit sensuality is offset by religious overtones: Laura’s eating of the goblins’ fruits corresponds to Eve’s desire to taste the forbidden fruit in the Bible and Lizzie’s heroic attempt to save her sister by any means matches the sacrificial eating of Christ’s body during the Catholic rituals of the Eucharist. Although the sisters seem to indulge in pleasures that would be reprehensible from a Victorian perspective, Laura and Lizzie escape from the deadly fate usually attributed to fallen women in contemporary fiction. The poisonous juice of forbidden fruits becomes the antidote when Laura absorbs it from Lizzie’s body. Both sisters avoid fatal retribution: they finally marry and start a happy family. As a matter of fact, they are given a chance to learn from experience and to redeem themselves: in the final lines of the poem Laura warns her children against the goblins’ spell. Christina Rossetti’s reference to the Eucharist and to remission from sin shows the artistic significance of the Tractarian movement, which contributed to a revival of Anglo-Catholicism in the Victorian era.23

22Lady Hawarden’s photographs enable the reader to obtain a visual and therefore direct knowledge of the poetic meaning in Goblin Market. As Agnès Minazzoli posits in La Première ombre, réflexion sur le miroir et la pensée, pictures make it possible to think in a way that brings us closer to our visual perception of reality and consequently will enrich the reader’s understanding of Christina Rossetti’s metaphorical language. The strong imagery of her poetry indeed sounds like an invitation for visual representations: Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s and Lady Hawarden’s works are proof of this. The intermediality of Goblin Market encourages the reader to think in terms of visual analogies in order to shed light on subjects that cannot be easily mentioned or explained in words. Since the subject of female sexuality was taboo in Victorian times, resorting to images appears to be the most efficient way of making the reader understand what is never explicitly written or said. The photographic illustrations by Hawarden consequently guide our comprehension of their textual sources because they relate Rossetti’s audacious poetry to empirical experiences of sensuality. In Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden, Carol Mavor analyses the visual sensations but also the haptic perception that the viewer may experience while looking at Hawarden’s photographs. This reinforces Hawarden and Rossetti’s erotic content of their works. Though Hawarden exhibited some of her photographs in her lifetime, her photograph albums remained mostly of private concern and were not entirely revealed until her granddaughter Lady Tottenham tore off all the photographs from the albums to donate them to the Victoria and Albert Museum in the mid-20th century. Hawarden’s sensual approach to photography has then influenced contemporary photographer Sally Mann: like Hawarden’s tableaux vivants, the American photographer’s most well-known work At Twelve: Portraits of Young Women depicts teenage girls in their intimacy.

23Cameron’s exploring of the feminine psyche, Robinson’s neo-platonic aesthetics and Hawarden’s instinctive desire to give body to sisterly love deepen and reveal the multi-dimensional aspect of Victorian poetry. In addition to providing illustrations, the tableaux vivants unravel new meanings in the poems. Those meanings may tally with the poet’s intentions or contradict them but it is their complexity which constitutes the very dynamics of Victorian arts.

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Website images cited

Cameron, Julia M. And Enid Sang. 1874. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. V&A Search the Collections. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Cameron, Julia M. Enid. 1874. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. V&A Search the Collections. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Cameron, Julia M. Elaine, the Lily Maid of Astolat. 1874. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. V&A Search the Collections. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Cameron, Julia M. The Little Novice and the Queen in the Holy House of Amlesbury. 1874. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. V&A Search the Collections. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Cameron, Julia M. The Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere. 1874. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. V&A Search the Collections. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Doré, Gustave. Guinevere. 1868. Scolar Cardiff Word Press. Engraving. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Hawarden, Clementina. Study from Life. 1862-3. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. V&A Search the Collections. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Millais, John E. Ophelia. 1851-2. Tate Britain, London. Tate Britain, Art & Artists. Painting. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Robinson, Henry P. Elaine Watching the Shield of Lancelot. 1860. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. National Gallery of Victoria, Collection Online. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Robinson, Henry P. Lady of Shalott. 1861. The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas. Victorian Web. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Robinson, Henry P. Sleep. 1867. National Media Museum, Bradford. Photograph. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

Rossetti, Dante G. Goblin Market Title Page. 1862. Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

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1 Louvel mentions that the Greek etymology of ‘idyll’ means ‘short picturesque poem’. She therefore qualifies Tennyson’s Idylls of the King as an ‘iconotext’ that naturally exhorts artists to provide illustrations for the poem (Louvel 117).

2 Martha Weiss. Julia Margaret Cameron: Photographs to electrify you with delight and startle the world. London: V&A publishing. 2015.

3 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

4 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

5 Last consulted on 1 June 2018.

6 In Julia Margaret Cameron, Her Life and Photographic Work, Helmut Gernsheim quotes Cameron’s bold statement about her illustrations to Tennyson’s Idylls of the King in her letter to Sir Edward Ryan: ‘Now one of my large photographs, for instance, illustrating Elaine, would excite more sensation and interest than all the drawings of Doré.’ (Gernsheim 68).

7 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

8 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

9 As Carol Hanbery MacKay observes in Creative Negativity, Cameron’s pairing of photographs enables the viewer to witness a chronological sequence. The latter matches the narrative scope of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and explores the multifaceted role of Arthurian heroines who are not irremediably passive but also capable of acting of their own volition (MacKay 34). Cameron’s binary photographic sequences perfectly fit the medievalism of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. She instructs the viewer about women’s empowerment in a way that is reminiscent of didactic diptychs which date back to the Middle Ages and provided visual illustrations of Bible stories for the illiterate.

10 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

11 In 1875 Cameron wrote in her poem ‘On a Portrait’ that portraiture should be dynamic and that the greatness of an artist lies in his or her ability to ‘find the depth of all those tragic woes’. For the making of Elaine, the Lily Maid of Astolat, Cameron accordingly took great pains to illustrate the suffering of Elaine who is a victim of an unrequited love with Lancelot.

12 Robinson’s Pictorial Effect in Photography, as cited in Gernsheim’s biography of Cameron (Gernsheim 68).

13 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

14 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

15 Lepaon, Ève.  « L’art ne ferait pas mieux ». Études photographiques, 31 | Printemps 2014. URL: Last consulted on 1 June 2018

16 Robinson, Henry P. Pictorial Effect in Photography. London: British Library. 1869.

17 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

18 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

19 Kooistra’s work is included in The Cambridge Companion to the Pre-Raphaelites (Prettejohn 164–82).

20 Last consulted on 1 June 2018

21 The Goblin Market tells the story of two close sisters Laura and Lizzie. Despite Lizzie’s warning, Laura becomes addicted to fruits sold by evil goblins and as a result falls seriously ill. To help Laura, Lizzie tries to buy more fruits but the goblins violently throw the fruits at her. Back home she asks Laura to eat the mashed fruits on her body. Laura does so and is cured.

22 In Becoming: The Photographs of Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden, Carol Mavor analyzes the eroticism of Lady Hawarden’s tableaux vivants.

23 In the article ‘Rossetti and the Tractarians’, Diane D’Amico and David Kent explore the influence of the Tractarian movement on Christina Rossetti’s poetry.

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Référence électronique

Gwendoline Koudinoff, « Illustrating Victorian Poetry: The Dynamics of Photographic Tableaux Vivants », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 89 Spring | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2019, consulté le 18 novembre 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.5416

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Gwendoline Koudinoff

Gwendoline Koudinoff teaches linguistics, translation and literature as an assistant lecturer at Lyon 2 University in the department of Anglophone studies. She is a PhD candidate at Lyon 3 University, working on a dissertation devoted to Victorian tableaux vivants and British aesthetics.
Gwendoline Koudinoff, professeure agrégée d’anglais, enseigne la linguistique, la traduction et la littérature à l’Université Lumière Lyon 2, en qualité d’attachée temporaire d’enseignement et de recherche, au sein du département d’études du monde anglophone. Doctorante à l’Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3, elle étudie principalement les tableaux vivants de l’ère victorienne ainsi que l’esthétique britannique.

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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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