Dante’s Beatrice and Victorian Gender Ideology

Julia Straub

in Dante in the Long Nineteenth Century

Published in print March 2012 | ISBN: 9780199584628
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739095 | DOI:
Dante’s Beatrice and Victorian Gender Ideology

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In 1859 William Gladstone commissioned a painting from William Dyce which became known as Beatrice. A portrait of a young woman wearing a plain Renaissance dress, Beatrice is one of the first Victorian paintings depicting Dante's muse and reflects an obsession with Beatrice and the Vita Nuova, which is typical of the mid and late-Victorian reception of Dante. The Victorian Beatrice is usually associated with Pre-Raphaelite artworks, especially those by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Many of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Beatrices fit into either the category of the ‘beautiful dead woman’ or that of the male artist's cipher or projection screen. In contrast, the different Beatrices this chapter introduces possess a powerful and animate aura: they are alive, and the realm they inhabit is not so much a land of shadows, but the social environment of the Victorian here and now. The first part looks at her exploitation in Victorian literature, especially in the hands of John Ruskin, who saw Beatrice as a model for the behaviour of English women. In the second part, a critical response to such processes of idealization is discussed. George Eliot's Romola, a novel which consciously revises the use of a literary figure such as Beatrice, contains complex criticism of the kind of female idealization perpetuated by poetic traditions.

Keywords: Dante; muse; painting; Dante Gabriel Rossetti; Victorian literature; John Ruskin; George Eliot; Romola

Chapter.  7249 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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