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The poem quoted above, which opens A Pageant and Other Poems, the 1881 volume in which Christina Rossetti published the sonnet sequence "Monna Innominata," depicts sonnets as "full of love," suggesting plenitude coupled with ease of formal containment, a kind of capacious abundance. The poem also associates the sonnet form with trouble. Since maternal love provides "love-lore that is not troublesome," and since the sonnet form traditionally voices erotic love, troublesome love expressed in sonnets must be erotic. (2) The sound of "love-lore" evokes a major source of the sonnet's troublesome "love-lore"--Petrarch's twin loves: poetic laurels and the lady Laura. Associating inherited literary forms, and allusions to them, with ideas common at the time of their origin--with "lore," (3) Christina Rossetti thus preceded contemporary theory on genre and intertextuality. In describing the book's "many sonnets," the dedicatory poem also foreshadows "Monna Innominata's" focus on the sonnet, a focus Rossetti manifests through her use of that poetic form within poems and as structure for the fourteen-sonnet metapoem; through a prose statement alluding to seminal male and female sonneteers--Petrarch, Dante, and Barrett Browning (4)--and through the subtitle, "A sonnet of sonnets." The subtitle presents Rossetti's sonnets as about sonnets, owned by, and/or born of sonnets, even, as Sharon Bickle notes, as the best of sonnets. (5) It also highlights a material element of "Monna Innominata": the subtitle presents the fourteen sonnets literally as one sonnet, the metapoetic structure William Whitla elucidated. (6) Since each poem is preceded by quotations in Italian from Dante and Petrarch, Rossetti literally incorporates and contains the language of these male precursors in her own larger poem, ultimately in her book. Her refusal to print any of the poems separately (Whitla, p. 93) and her sense of sonnets as containers "full of love," construct her poem as the larger, more powerful container, a container of containers. Rossetti thus displays poetic mastery under the sign of female voice through a formal metaphor that involves both containment and magnitude: the outermost "sonnet"--Rossetti's--is of necessity the greatest in size and in power. In light of this ideologically nuanced play with the sonnet form and with the implicit issues of gender embedded in the sonnet tradition, Rossetti's "Monna Innominata" has received much deserved critical attention in the last twenty years, including studies of the influence of Dante and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, (7) yet Petrarch's role in the intertextual play has not drawn careful analysis. Those critics who have addressed the Petrarchan allusions have primarily discussed Petrarchism, rather than the referenced poems of Petrarch, and have focused on the epigraphs' lines, rather than closely reading the entire poems to which Rossetti alludes side by side with her own poems--an attention that has, on the other hand, been paid to the verses referenced in the epigraphs from Dante. Knowledge of the family's abiding interest in Dante has eclipsed the possible influence of Petrarch, and the preface describes Petrarch as "as a great tho an inferior bard," but while the allusions from Dante demonstrate a complex intertextual dialog, they derive from Purgatorio not from Vita Nuova, the obvious formal precursory Petrarch, then, the only sonneteer whose sonnets feature in the epigraphs, must carry important allusive power for Rossetti in her sonnet of sonnets. Furthermore, Rossetti's attraction to and her reading of Petrarch's sonnets as ultimately about spiritual struggle, a struggle that "Monna Innominata" also enacts, (9) has recently been demonstrated by Michele Martinez.

Professional & Technical
22 December
West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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