1. Can you compare this sequence in significant ways with Tennyson’s “In Memoriam”? What are important contrasts?

2. Which aspects of this poem might have seemed shocking/unorthodox/avant-garde to readers of the 1870 and 1881 editions? Which elements would have seemed reassuring or predictable?

3. Can you explain the poem’s title? Is it an appropriate one for the sequence?

4. What are some familiar repeated images and guiding personifications of the series? How does the presence of “Love” affect the poem’s emotions?

5. Can you contrast the use of the child image with its use in Tennyson? Why may Rossetti have included the painful image of a dead child?

6. What conception of love seems to be presented? To what extent is this a gendered conception?

7. What can you infer about the social context in which this love occurs? (marital, extramarital, parental?)

8. How does Rossetti employ images of nature within the sequence? Is nature comforting or alienating for the lovers?

9. What are some characteristics of his choice of diction? His use of varying word lengths? Are shifting rhythms used to reflect changes in content?

10. Do you find a sequence in the arrangement of the poems? How has the tone shifted, if at all, from part I to part II? For example, is the love presented entirely joyous at the beginning and completely despairing at the end?

11. What myths and historical references seem most significant to the author of “The House of Life”? Is there any pattern to Rossetti’s choice of sources?

12. How important is Dante’s Vita Nuova to our understanding of this sequence? Of Dante’s Purgatorio and Paradiso?

13. Which earlier Victorian sonnet sequences may have served as a model for the sequence? (Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese”)

14. To what extent does this sequence embody Victorian conventions on womanhood? On erotic love?

15. Can one infer any of Rossetti’s political or social views from these poems? (e. g., “The Sun’s Shame”) Is his view of life generally optimistic?

16. Taking into account the different dates of composition of individual poems, can you trace a development in the poet’s moods and themes between the poems of the 1850s, late 60s, 70s and 80s? What seems characteristic of the earliest poems? Of the latest ones? During which periods does the poet seem to have been most prolific? Most unhappy?

17. What are some important features of the Willowwood sequence? What is significant about the imagery of doubling, shades, mirrors and reflections, and dissolving selves? What seems striking about the language of this sequence?

18. Is the love Rossetti describes essentially fulfilled or happy? What is its purpose? With what final certainties, if any, is the poet comforted in the sequence’s final poem?

19. In what ways may the influence of this sequence have reinforced traits of later fin de siecle and “decadent” poetry--including symbolism, imagism, expressionism, ability to convey states of anxiety and alienation, and the sense of a dissolving self?

20. Does the sequence reflect any features of French poetry of the period? (symbolist)

21. Rossetti’s sonnets, rather oddly, influenced a series of later women poets who wrote sonnets in the Rossettian mode--Mathilde Blind, Alice Meynell, Michael Field, Olive Custance, Amy Levy, Rosa Lehman and many others, several of whom used Rossettian mannerisms to express feminist or even lesbian themes. Why do you think his romantic sonnets would have seemed a suitable model for a succeeding generation of women poets?

22. What legacy of language use and sensibility did Rossetti contribute to his readers and successors? Are there contemporary aspects of his view of the dissolution of identity?

23. Which modes of modern or recent criticism do you think are most appropriate for an interpretation of Rossetti's poetry, for example, its recurrent images of doubling and sense of a dissolving self? Does this poem lend itself to forms of Freudian analysis?

For discussion: 90, 92, 61, 94, 97, 98


Small Group Close Analysis: “The House of Life”

For each sonnet, please read aloud and comment on the following:

1. What are some of its important sound patterns? Its patterns of rhythm and meter?

2. What are some of its unusual word choices? Its word order? What effect do these contribute?

3. Paraphrase the sonnet. Are any portions tricky or difficult? If so, does this add to or detract from the final effect?

4. What does the sonnet mean? What seems to be its importance to the sequence? Does it make a significant contribution to the effect of the sequence as a whole?

Group 1:
10, “The Portrait”
25, “Winged Hours”
50-51, “Willowwood”
60, “The Song-Throe”
69, “Autumn Idleness”
83, “Barren Spring”
92, “The Sun’s Shame”
If time permits, begin 98 and 101

Group 2:
19, “Silent Noon”
40, “Severed Selves”
51-52, “Willowwood”
67, “The Landmark”
70, “The Hill Summit”
85, “Vain Virtues”
95, “The Vase of Life”
If time permits, begin 98 and 101

Group 3:
18, “Genius in Beauty”
49, 52, “Willowwood”
68, “A Dark Day”
71, 73 “The Choice” I and III
86, “Lost Days”
97, “A Superscription”
If time permits, begin 98 and 101

All together: 98, “He and I” and 101, “The One Hope”