Conjugial Love and the Afterlife: New Readings of Selected Works

  • Anna Maddison

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis re-examines selected works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in the light of a specific engagement with Victorian spiritualism, which is characterised by an interest in the esoteric writings of the eighteenth-century mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. It locates Rossetti’s use of Swedenborgian imagery and ideas in his written and artistic work, contextualising it within his engagement with spiritualism, and with reference to his interest in a visionary tradition of literature. The thesis therefore furthers what has begun in embryo in both Rossetti and Victorian scholarship; drawing together two hitherto separate areas of research, to formulate new and detailed inter-disciplinary readings of Rossetti’s poetry, fine art and design. The critical approach is twofold, combining historical scholarship with textual analysis. A cultural context is re-established which uncovers a network of Swedenborgian and spiritualist circles, and through original research, Rossetti’s connections to these are revealed. The specific approach of these groups, which this thesis calls ‘Swedenborgian-spiritualism’ (thereby naming a new term), is characterised by an intellectual, literary interest in Swedenborg, coupled with a practical engagement with spiritualism, and a fascination with the mesmeric trance state. In addressing three major works, ‘The Blessed Damozel’ (1850), Beata Beatrix (c.1863-71) and The House of Life (1881), the thesis traces Rossetti’s engagement with Swedenborgian-spiritualism through three distinct phases in his career, the result of which facilitates a greater understanding of the development of his poetics and artistry. In addition, the thesis returns to earlier critical sources, which show a response to Rossetti in this light, and questions long rooted assumptions which persist in Rossetti scholarship. Thus, it adds to the body of critical literature on Rossetti by reestablishing context and readings which are needed in order to fully understand his work, and reinstating a critical engagement with Rossetti that has become sidelined, or forgotten.
Date of Award6 Nov 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University


  • Spiritualism
  • Dante Rossetti

Cite this