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Jerome McGann: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Collected Poetry and Prose

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Jerome McGANN Ed. Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Collected Poetry and Prose Yale University Press. 2003 v-xxix + 424 pages. 0300098022. £14.95

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1Jerome J. McGann is well-known as one of the leading theorists of New Historicism, as a scholar of the Romantic period in general and of the work of Lord Byron in particular. Nevertheless, this collected edition of the poetry and prose of Dante Gabriel Rossetti should not come as a surprise, since Jerome McGann has also published on the painter-poet extensively, his latest book of criticism on the subject being Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Game that Must Be Lost (Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn., 2000).

2What comes more as a surprise then, is that Jerome McGann’s edition has been released shortly after another edition of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s collected works, that of another Rossetti scholar, Jan Marsh (Collected Writings, London: Dent, 1999), who has also recently published a biography of Rossetti (Dante Gabriel Rossetti: Painter and Poet, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1999). These two scholars know each other very well, as is shown in the fact that they mention the other’s name and works in the acknowledgments as well as in the “suggested reading” section. But before we give a description of McGann’s edition, a question arises: is this new edition redundant with Marsh’s one or is it a “correction” of it? Indeed, although McGann mentions Jan Marsh’s work, he strangely forgets its existence when he discusses the previous editions of Rossetti’s works: “Until the appearance, in 2000, of The Rossetti Archive (i.e., my electronic edition The Complete Writings and Pictures of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a Hypermedia Research Archive [​rossetti]), the standard edition of Rossetti’s works was William Michael Rossetti’s 1911 collection, The Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti. […] None of William Michael’s editions are critical (in the scholarly sense) or complete” (xxviii). But another reason might have lead McGann to provide a new edition of Rossetti’s collected writings after so short a period of time: Jan Marsh, while retracing the history of the previous editions of Rossetti’s works, writes that she chose to include both “early” and “late” versions of the same poem when these two versions differ markedly. For instance, she gives two versions of “The Blessed Damozel” (text A, 1850 and text B, 1870). Here lies the main difference between McGann’s and Marsh’s editing procedures: as McGann explains, “The texts in this edition are prepared from the scholarly texts of The Rossetti Archive, meaning that I have here chosen texts that in my judgment are the best ‘reading texts’ from those made available in the archive. The chosen text is indicated in the editorial notes here supplied for each work” (xxviii). In his notes he states the various dates and conditions of publication of each poem and indicates the version printed in the book.

3McGann’s succinct introduction (xvii-xxix) consists in four parts : “The Life”, “Works”, “The Text” and “Suggested Further Reading”, and the second section stresses the importance of such key-concepts as Rossetti’s translations as commentaries (as expressed in his preface to The Early Italian Poets, 1861), “the double work of art” (the relationship between poems and paintings), and “the inner standing point” expounded in his pamphlet “The Stealthy School of Criticism” (1871).

4The collected writings of Rossetti fall into eight parts: “Poems (1870, 1881)”, “The House of Life (1870, 1881)”, “The Songs (1870)”, “Ballads and Lyrics (1881)”, “The Early Italian Poets (1861, 1874)”, “Other Translations”, “Prose” (consisting in “Hand and Soul”, “Saint Agnes of Intercession” and “The Stealthy School of Criticism”), and finally “Posthumously  Published and Uncollected Writings” (including “A Trip to Paris and Belgium” and his parody of Tennyson’s “Kraken”, “MacCraken”). Completed by the notes and an index of titles and first lines, this accessible and reliable edition is a very good tool for the student eager to have an overall view of Rossetti’s written accomplishments. The scholar who does not feel technologically-challenged might prefer to go directly to Jerome McGann’s website which offers a wealth of information on Rossetti’s writings and pictures, and which makes the most of the world of multimedia in trying to answer the difficult questions raised by a painter-poet who believed in the value of “the double work of art.”

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Yann THOLONIAT, « Jerome McGann: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Collected Poetry and Prose », E-rea [En ligne], 2.2 | 2004, mis en ligne le 15 octobre 2004, consulté le 20 juillet 2018. URL :

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