I should like to thank Professor Ken Goodwin, Dr. Richard Read and Dr. Robyn Cooper for their help with various aspects of this article. Grateful acknowledgement is also made to the public galleries and private collections cited for permission to reproduce works in their collections. [The author has graciously shared this essay with readers of the Victorian Web; it first appeared in The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Studies 1 (Spring 1988): 63-74.]
"On the whole the perfectest of his works, and the representative picture of that generation-was no Annunciate Maria bowing herself; but only a Newsless Mariana stretching herself" (33: 165). Thus John Ruskin pronounced on Millais's Mariana (1850-51) in The Three Colours of Pre-Raphaelittsm (1878), a lecture in which Millais was described as "Our best painter" R34: 165) but also classified as the sole member of the "uneducated" branch of Pre-Raphaelitism, whilst Rossetti and Holman Hunt were its "learned" (34: 168) representatives, and Burne-Jones, Ruskin's latest Pre-Raphaelite protégé, was "the greatest master whom that school has ever produced" (34: 148). Ruskin was not using "uneducated" in a pejorative sense, indeed he was likening Millais's realist art to the work of his beloved Wordsworth, "as opposed to the erudite and artificial schools" (34: 167).
Unfortunately, Ruskin's influential and potentially ambiguous labelling of Millais as "uneducated" probably gave him the reputation as the least literate and literary Pre-Raphaelite oil painter, which he has kept despite the fact that he was and still is a highly regarded Victorian book illustrator. Whereas the poet-painter Rossetti habitually wrote poems for and on pictures, and Hunt filled The Awakening Conscience (1853) with such literary clues as the unfurled sheet music for Tennyson's "Tears, Idle Tears," Millais subordinated overt literariness to realism, excelling in what Ruskin calls his "physical power... an intense veracity of direct realization to the eye" (34: 167).
It is because of Millais's "intense veracity" that the literariness of Mariana is underestimated, which is rather ironic since its title announces a Tennysonian and Shakespearean subject. Even when Mariana's literariness is acknowledged by modern critics such as Malcolm Warner it is only to observe that "The work remains a subject-picture" because it uses symbolism "in the service of narrative," whereas Autumn Leaves (1855-56) apparently transcends the realm of narrative despite its anecdotal associations with Tennyson and "the happy Autumn-fields" (4) of "Tears, Idle Tears."3 In trying to rehabilitate Millais's "perfectest" work I shall firstly try to show how it relates to works by Tennyson and Shakespeare and to specific Pre-Raphaelite paintings, many of which also illustrate works by these writers, thus constituting a significant and homogeneous body of Pre-Raphaelite literary paintings.
My second concern is to show Mariana's significance in the evolution of the Pre-Raphaelite Gothic, a phenomenon first analysed by Walter Pater in his seminal review of "Poems by William Morris" in the 1868 Westminster Review (Sambrook, 105-17). As Herbert Sussman has shown in "The Pre-Raphaelites and the 'Mood of the Cloister,"' the "early Victorian sacramental medievalism" of Carlyle and Ruskin was subverted by what Pater calls a [65/66] profounder medievalism (Sambrook 106). The values of monastic order and Gothic workmanship celebrated by Carlyle and Ruskin respectively had to compete with the Pre-Raphaelite fantasy of a world in which repressed female sexuality resulted in what Pater calls "the idolatry of the cloister," which he claims "transformed the whole religion of the middle age into a beautiful disease of disorder of the senses" (106-07). It is this "Gothic" world which Millais's Mariana inhabits.[63/64]
When William Michael Rossetti attended the private view day at the Royal Academy in May 1851 he reported that "Mariana appeared to be a great favorite [sic] with women," and my third objective is to determine why this might be.' (P.R.B. Journal, 91; hereafter cited as PRBJ). The answer may well lie with Mariana's evident weariness with her embroidery, an activity in neither of Tennyson's Mariana poems, "Mariana" (1830) or "Mariana in the South" (1832) but a motif which is central to Rossetti's Annunciation (1850), the painting of an "Annunciate Maria" with which Ruskin contrasts Mariana, and cognate with the tapestry weaving in Hunt's series of Lady of Shalott illustrations. In The Subversive Stitch Rozsika Parker points out that the Victorian re-discovery of medieval embroidery in the 1840s coincided with the fact that "women were increasingly voicing resentment at the contradictions that bound their life" (17, 18), a resentment which has caused Mariana to stop embroidering. Her passive but provocative resistance to her situation obviously struck a deep chord with its female viewers, justifying Ruskin's belief that it is a "representative picture" of the Pre-Raphaelites. It remains to be seen exactly what Mariana is representative of.
In the first place Mariana is the Pre-Raphaelites' most accomplished tribute to the work of the Laureate. Concerned that his protégé were defecting to the service of Tennyson, in 1856 Ruskin issued a stern warning to them in the fourth volume of Modern Painters:
I should particularly insist at the present time on the careful choice of subject because the Pre-Raphaelites, taken as a body, have been culpably negligent in this respect, not in humble respect of Nature, but in morbid indulgence of their own impressions. They happen to find their fancies caught by a bit of an oak hedge, or the weeds at the side of a duck-pond, because perhaps, they remind them of a stanza of Tennyson. [6: 30]
This cryptic warning seems to allude to two of Millais's paintings: Ophelia (1851- 52) and A Huguenot (1851-52). The allusion to A Huguenot is particularly interesting because the painting was originally planned as an illustration to the line, "Two lovers whispering by a wall" (4), from Tennyson's short poem "Circumstance." Furthermore, this painting prompted Tennyson to discuss "the limits of realism" with Millais at Farringford in 1854, when the painter was told:
if you have human beings before a wall, the wall ought to be picturesquely painted, and not to be made too obtrusive by the bricks being too minutely drawn, since it is the human beings that ought to have the real interest for us in a dramatic subject picture.9
it is fascinating, not to say amusing, to see Tennyson and Ruskin both complaining to Millais about the same picture: Ruskin because the "natural" detail is really from Tennyson, and Tennyson because the Ruskinian detail overwhelms the "dramatic subject."
Ruskin's knowledge of Millais's love for Tennyson had been acquired at first hand. While on the ill-fated tour to Glenfinlas with Mr. and Mrs. Ruskin, and his brother WilIlam, Millais had written to Hunt: "I have been reading In Memoriam to the Ruskins who were stunned with admiration -- -particularly the lady" (3 September 1853; Lutyens, 89). When "the lady," Euphemia Ruskin, had fallen in love with Millais, his drawing of St. Agnes' Eve (1854; fig. 3) illustrating Tennyson's poem of the same name, acquired a special significance for her. Effie wrote to her mother on 2 March 1854:
The It is the most touching thing you ever beheld. Saint's face looking out on the snow with the mouth opened and dying-looking is exactly like Millais'-which however, fortunately has not struck John who said the only part of the picture he didn't like was the face which was ugly... I think I see Millais reading the poem to me and talking about it with me. (Lutyens 148)
On 26 July 1854, shortly after the Ruskin marriage was annulled, Millais wrote proudly to Effie: "Tennyson has chosen me to illustrate his poem for Moxon the publisher" (Lutyens 238). The purpose of this thumbnail sketch of the Ruskin-Millais triangle is not to suggest any sinister correspondence [64/65] between Millais's liking for Tennyson and the breakdown of the Ruskin marriage, but to draw attention to three things: firstly, Millais's intense interest in Tennyson's poetry; secondly, the personal as well as professional reasons Ruskin may have had for disliking Tennyson's influence over his first PreRaphaelite favourite; and thirdly, the fascinating construction Effie Ruskin put on St. Agnes' Eve, a drawing closely linked with Mariana with which it shares important iconographic features which will be examined subsequently.
The depth of interest which we have seen Millais had in Tennyson's work was not unreciprocated, for in his P.R.B. Journal entry for October 1850 William Michael Rossetti notes: "I heard from Patmore the other night that Tennyson on being told that Millais was doing something from 'The Woodman's Daughter,' observed: 'I wish he'd do something from me'" (PRBJ 72). In fact, as Malcolm Warner points out, Millais had already started working on Mariana in London before June 1850 when he went to Oxford to begin work on The Woodman's Daughter" (1851; The Pre-Raphaelites, 89). This illustration of Coventry Patmore's poem together with his Ferdinand Lured by Ariel (1849-50) and Ophelia, reveals the extent to which Millais was involved in painting literary subjects. In addition these last two illustrations of The Tempest and Hamlet show that as well as working with Victorian literature at this time Millais was experimenting with the realistic treatment of Shakespearean subjects. Shakespeare and Tennyson meet in Mariana, a painting which represents a considerable advance upon Ferdinand Lured by Ariel which sets Prospero's island, quite improbably, in an Oxford garden (Fact Into Figure, 107). For Mariana however the Oxford setting is entirely appropriate because it provides Millais with an authentic Gothic environment in which to evoke the Gothic mood of the texts he is illustrating, thereby affording him the opportunity of successfully combining realism with literariness.
When Patmore enlisted Ruskin's help to defend the ailing Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood [64/65] from its detractors in May 1851 he gave it, in the form of two letters to The Times. Nevertheless he strongly denounced the "Romanist and Tractarian tendencies" (12: 320) of Mariana and Charles Collins's Convent Thoughts (1850-51). Millais and Collins had worked together on their respective paintings in Oxford, and both works bear the hallmarks of Tractarianism and the Catholic Revival, to which Ruskin responded with the warning that it is "of the highest Importance in these days that Romanism should be deprived of the miserable influence which its pomp and picturesqueness have given it over the weak sentimentalism of the English people" (9: 436).
Ruskin's suspicions about Millais's religious affiliations are confirmed by Alastair Grieve who has shown that many of the Tractarian details in Mariana are authentic. Grieve notes that the "domestic altar with its triptych and censer were probably copied from one" in Thomas Combe's house at the Clarendon Press where Millais and Collins stayed in the autumn of 1850. While in Oxford Millais also sketched the stained glass window in Merton College, significantly altering the shapes of the figures of the Virgin and the angel Gabriel for the Annunciation scene in Mariana. 12 Millais's High Church sympathies in the early 1850s are further confirmed by Mariana's motto "In coelo quies" (in heaven there is rest) surmounting the heraldic snowdrop in his picture. Millais associated this maxim with Cardinal Wiseman, the man who spearheaded the Catholic Revival in England and became Archbishop of Westminster in September 1850. For in December of that year he wrote to Thomas Combe:
I think I shall adopt the motto 'In coelo quies' and go over to Cardinal Wiseman, as all the metropolitan High Church clergymen are sending in their resignations. Tomorrow (Sunday) Collins and myself are going to dine with a University man who has just seceded, and afterwards to hear the Cardinal's second discourse.... The Cardinal preaches in his mitre and full vestments, so there will be a great display of pomp as well as knowledge... I do not mean to turn Roman Catholic just yet. (Millais 1: 93) [65/66]
Millais's flippant attitude towards the pomp of the Catholic religion exemplifies the weak-minded English response to it which so worried Ruskin.Faced with the idolatrous threat posed by Mariana Ruskin tried to neutrallse it publically with rhetoric. In his Times letter he provocatively announced: "I am glad to see Mr. Millais's lady in blue is heartily tired of her painted window and idolatrous toilet table" (12: 320), thereby implying Mariana's spiritual disillusionment with her idolatrous artefacts while completely avoiding the obvious implication of her sexual frustration. For Mariana's evident weariness is not simply a response to the window's religious connotations per se, but also her reaction to it serves as a visible reminder of the absence of her lover Angelo, the corrupt Viennese Deputy in Measurefor Measure who abandons Mariana when her dowry is lost at sea. The erotic implications of the painting which Ruskin ignored are made abundantly if facetiously clear by George MacBeth who writes about:
the sensuous twist given to Mariana's body as she drowsily inclines her head-not, however, to look out for her absent lover, but to appraise the forward young angel making the two-finger sign of sexual invitation before her very eye in the Gothic window pane.... The boy in the window is, of course, the Archangel Gabriel, come to approach Mary with the news of her forthcoming sacred impregnation. The meeting of his eyes, not with those of the Virgin in the window, but with the hotter, more livingly lustful eyes of the girl in the room, pronounce the preliminary sexual arousal of a secular Annunciation. 
In his post-Freudian enthusiasm to unravel the erotic implications of Mariana, MacBeth neglects to make the most elementary piece of deduction: the angel in the window is synonymous with "the absent lover" Angelo. Millais's Annunciation scene makes use of a simple Shakespearean pun on the words angel and Mary and their secular counterparts Angelo and Mariana. In Measure for Measure when Angelo plans to seduce the novice Isabella he rationalises this act to himself thus:
O place, O form
How oft dost thou with thy case, thy habit
Wrench awe from fools, and tie the wiser souls
To thy false seeming!
Blood, thou art blood.
Let's write good angel on the devil's horn
'Tis not the devil's crest. (iv. 12 - 17)
Angelo's heraldic conceit of inscribing his good angel's name on the devil's horn provides Millais with a convenient means of suggesting the dual identity of Angelo in which an angelic appearance conceals diabolical lust. In Millais's Annunciation scene Angelo appears in the guise of the good angel to the Virgin, although as MacBeth indicates his gaze is not fixed on her but on Mariana.
Furthermore, Shakespeare's "devil's crest" is present in the form of the heraldic device in which the snowdrop, a flower associated in the Christian tradition with Candelmas, the feast of the Virgin's purification, appears as the emblem of a shield surmounted by an armorial device. Mark Girouard notes that in "1844-45 Millais had put together a manuscript book, Sketches of Armour, elaborately illustrated with drawings made in the Tower of London armory" (158), and his knowledge of both armour and heraldry is evident in Mariana. The armorial device surmounting the snowdrop shield comprises of a closed helmet surmounted by a mailed arm with a warriorlike fist brandishing a lance. The effect of this heraldic configuration is to make the drooping, virginal flower appear to cower beneath a threatening armed figure which looks particularly demonic, and indeed phallic, with this devil's horn protruding from its helmet. Finally, the aggressive downward thrust of the lance appears to be aimed at the head of the Virgin, so that the male symbol appears to be simultaneously threatening her floral emblem of purity, the snowdrop, and her maidenhead.
The use of a lance as a threatening phallic symbol was subsequently adapted by Hunt in his Lady of Shalott (1857) illustration for the Moxon Tennyson, in which, as Richard Stein has pointed out, "by a trick of perspective the tip of Lancelot's seems to be entangled in the loops of the weaving," there [66/67] by symbolically connecting Lancelot's spear with the disintegration of the Lady's art" (295). While there is something inadvertant about this conjunction of the Lady's weaving with the spear of a knight who is riding away from her, the lance in Mariana is wielded with menacing intent by a mailed arm in bend sinister, an heraldic configuration of ill-omen suggestive of the evil nature of Mariana's former betrothed. Thus in Morris's "King Arthur's Tomb," Guenevere's hostile heraldic description of Lancelot makes clear the negative connotations the Pre-Raphaelites sometimes associated with him, connotations similar to those evoked by Mariana's heraldic Imagery:
"Banner of Arthur-with black-bended shield...
Sinister-wise across the fair gold ground!
Here let me tell you what a knight you are,
0 sword and shield of Arthur! you are found
A crooked sword, I think, that leaves a scar. . . (368-73)
Millais's closed helmet intensifies the "sinister" effect, seeming in half-profile to be looking towards the angel and the Virgin, in a threatening gothic manner reminiscent of the behaviour of the "ominous casque" in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto (1765), the original Gothic novel. The threatening appearance of this armorial figure whose motto informs the viewer that "in heaven there is rest," reminds us that in Measure for Measure, Angelo, the man once betrothed to Mariana, intends either to seduce the novice Isabella or kill her brother Claudio.
Besides their heraldic significance, the three stained glass panels in Mariana can be regarded as a set of symbolic tableaux alluding to the sordid network of relationships presided over by Angelo in Shakespeare's play. The likelihood that this is the case is supported by the fact that Mariana was probably conceived as a companion piece for Hunt's Claudio and Isabella (1850-53). Hunt's picture shows the novice visiting her brother whom Angelo had imprisoned because he conceived a child with his betrothed, Juliet, out of wedlock, a fact of which we are reminded by the names "Claudio and Isabella" carved on the wall near the prisoner's arm. More overtly than Millais does, Hunt encourages the viewer to read the picture and meditate upon its moral import. Supplementing this internal cue are Shakespeare's words inscribed on the frame: "Claudio. Death is a fearful thing. Isabella. And shamed life a hateful." The subsequent gloss to Hunt's engraving of the picture which reads: "Thou shalt do no evil that good may come," makes it quite clear that Claudio is being cast in the role of tempter and Isabella in the role of his, as much as Angelo's, virtuous victim (The Pre-Raphaelites 104).
The confrontation between male tempters and chaste female figures from Measure for Measure is the major conceptual parallel between Hunt's and Millais's paintings, a parallel which the pictures reinforce visually. Mariana's incarceration corresponds with Claudio's imprisonment and Isabella's entrapment by Angelo, and accordingly both paintings depict "prison" scenes: the bars of Claudio's cell corresponding with the latticing of Mariana's stained glass. In addition, Hunt's white-robed nun Isabella, with her halo of blossom and tranquil posture resembles Millais's haloed Virgin in her chaste, simple habit. Visually Hunt's Isabella is the double of Millais's virgin, while if we read the picture there is a verbal correspondence between the names Mary and Mariana. Thus both of the virgins threatened by Angelo in Measure for Measure appear in Mariana.
Unlike Hunt, Millais does not rely heavily on supplementing his images with written clues, and those he does use are not as incongruous as Hunt's. It seems unlikely, for instance, that Claudio would have possessed either the skills or the tools to carve his and Juliet's names quite so neatly on the wall, whereas Mariana's Latin motto is entirely in keeping with the picture's Gothic setting. Similarly it can be seen that the narrative function of Millais's three stained glass windows is equivalent to Hunt's use of eight magic mirrors in his first Lady of Shalott sketch (1850). The narrative function of Millais's windows is signified by the presence of the darkened triptych in the back [67/68] ground whose tripartite pictorial form they match. Like Hunt's mirrors these painted windows recall and foreshadow events in the literary texts to which they allude. although consonant with the supernaturalism of Tennyson's poem, Hunt's repeated use of the same device is rather laboured. Millais's windows however, with their dual painted and transparent levels, achieve a comparable effect of simultaneity of vision and evoke hallucinatory presences, without compromising their integrity as authentic features of an oratory. Millais thereby creates a Gothic environment in which the supernatural can be represented realistically and understood in terms of the psychology of the Victorian erotomaniac heroine, whose abandonment by her beloved results in her obsession with him and in vivid hallucinations of his presence. This is the psychology dramatised in Tennyson's Mariana poems, and it is indicated by Millais by his introduction of the symbolic snowdrop.
Besides being associated with Candlemas as we saw earlier, the snowdrop is the birthday flower of St. Agnes's Eve, the night on which, as Robert Burton explains in the Anatomy of Melancholy, maidens "only desire if it may be done by art to see their husband's picture in a glass" (1813 edn. Ill.2.iv.1; cited Barnard, 621) At the same time as he was painting Mariana Millais was also working on The Bridesmaid (1851), a painting which, as Warner observes, illustrates "the superstition ... that a bridesmaid who passes a piece of the wedding cake through the ring nine times will have a vision of her future lover" (The Pre-Raphaelites 93). Clearly the superstition of the visionary maiden interested Millais in the 1850s, thus in Mariana the heroine sees the image of her future husband, Angelo, in a glass window, just as in Tennyson's "St. Agnes' Eve" a nun who is a devotee of the virgin martyr wears the "first snowdrop of the year" (11) in her bosom as she breathlessly awaits her assumption into the hand of the "Heavenly Bridegroom" (31).
In Millais's St. Agnes' Eve (1854) a white-robed nun is shown with a snowdrop at her breast, and the snowdrop motif is repeated in the leading of her cell window, where its severe stylization suggests that the nun is the ascetic counterpart of Mariana. Millais indicates the identity of the nun's future husband, her Heavenlv Bridegroom, by placing a candlelit crucifix on her altar, a crucifix which is the nun's equivalent of Mariana's glass angel. Sussman points out that in the context of "the cold winter landscape" depicted by Millais "the nun's virginity becomes identified with sterility; the twisted body of the crucified Christ above her personal altar is equated with the gnarled leafless tree in the garden."" Little wonder then that Effie Ruskin saw the picture as a portrait of a "dying looking" Millais, dying presumably of frustration for his "Heavenly Bride."
In his review of William Morris's poetry, Pater observes that the cult of earthly love learned of medieval Christianity "the art of directing towards an imaginary object sentiments whose natural direction is towards the objects of sense. Hence a love defined by the absence of the beloved" (Pater 106-07). The nun's crucifix and Mariana's painted angel, with their dual identities as religious icons and images of an absent lover, conform exactly to Pater's definition of the Pre-Raphaelite medievalist aesthetic. As Sussman has shown, "Pater is not inventing but rather describing a particular code of literary and visual medievalism, centering on the enclosure of the cloister." Thus Sussman suggests that
although Mariana is not a nun within the poem, she is presented by Millais within the convention of the enclosed nun. For Millais introduces a complex of Christian iconography not present in Tennyson's text, in particular the Annunciation in the stained glass window and the household altar... that indicate, through the reversal of sacred meaning, that Mariana is imprisoned by the idea of female chastity. ["'Mood of the Cloister,"' 47-49]
The only weakness in this reading is the assumption that Millais worked within a single literary frame of reference: "Mariana." For we have seen that the drawing alludes to the enclosed nun in "St. Agnes' Eve" and also to Measurefor Measure. As a final literary context for Mariana I wish to suggest that "Mariana in the South" provides Millais with the . complex of Christian iconography" not found in "Mariana."
For in Tennyson's sequel to "Mariana," his Mediterranean heroine's mirror allows her to superimpose her own image upon that of the Virgin, in a decadent combination of autoeroticism and Mariolatry:
She as her carol sadder grew,
From brow and bosom slowly down
Through rosy taper fingers drew
Her streaming curls of deepest brown
To left and right, and made appear,
Still-lighted in a secret shrine,
Her melancholy eyes divine ...
Low on her knees herself she cast
Before Our Lady murmured she;
Complaining, "Mother, give me grace
To help me of my load."
And on the liquid mirror glowed
The clear perfection of her face.
"Is this the form," she made her moan,
That won his praises night and noon? [ll. 13-34]
In Mariana, although Millais includes the secret shrine, appropriately adorned with Mary's flower the marigold, the candlelit mirror is in disuse. But I believe that by a process of metonymy the self-reflexive properties of Mariana's neglected mirror are transferred onto the painted glass, properties which coexist with its narrative function as a "triptych." Thus instead of superimposing her mirrored image upon Mary's as Tennyson's Southern Mariana does, Millais's Mariana identifies with her namesake, the Virgin in the window who is her "mirror" image. But she also presents an image of perfect, fulfilled womanhood which reflects unfavourably on Mariana, who is as Sussman says, "Imprisoned by the idea of female chastity."
Mariana is thus trapped behind her windows which not only reflect her condition but also act as a psychological moat. There is a token moat outside Mariana's window but the one which dominates the painting is the one found at the end of "Mariana": [68/69]
All day within the dreamy house,
The doors upon their hinges creaked;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shrieked,
Or from the crevice peered about.
Old faces glimmered through the doors,
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called her from without ...
The sparrow's chirrup on the roof
The slow clock ticking, and the sound
Which to the wooing wind aloof
The poplar made, did all confound
Her sense; but most she loathed the hour
When the thick-moted sunbeam lay
Athwart the chambers, and the day
Was sloping towards his western bower (ll. 61-80)
According to his son, Millais "particularly sought to illustrate" (Millais 1: 106) the last four of these lines, although his inclusion of the mouse and the "old" glimmering face of Angelo indicate that both of the final stanzas provide key images for Mariana. But it is the climactic moment "when the thick-mote sunbeam lay/ athwart" Mariana's "chambers" which particularly attracted Millais, and the resonant word in this image is "thick-moted" (78: my emphasis), a homophone which echoes the Shakespearean epigraph Tennyson prefaces "Mariana" with: "Mariana in the moated grange" (my emphasis). These two .moats" frame the poem aurally, and it seems clear that since Tennyson never describes the . moat" which imprisons Shakespeare's Mariana, therefore the only thing imprisoning his Mariana is a "thick-moted sunbeam," a fact we only discover at the end of the poem, and one which shifts it from the realm of objective landscape to the inner world of Mariana's disturbed mind. The abnormal and oppressive tangibility of Tennyson's sunbeam is not translated by Millais into a shaft of moted sunlight, but his introduction of the stained glass provides an objective correlative for it as a translucent moat behind which Mariana is trapped, and from which she averts her gaze wearily. Millais further intensifies the oppressiveness of Mariana's environment by introducing the autumn leaves which have [69/70] somehow entered her room through the closed windows and threaten to smother her embroidery.
The strategies involved in Millais's successful visual representation of a poem in which natural phenomena apparently conspire to torment Mariana, become clearer when his oil painting is compared with his subsequent Moxon version of Mariana (1857). In this engraving the organic relationship between an oppressive landscape and the grange is vividly represented. For instead of being animated by Tennyson's shrieking mouse the wainscotting is alive with men's portraits, and Millais's versatility as an illustrator is exemplified by the way in which he economically creates an organic continuity between these images in the room's wooden panelling, the tree, and the medium of wood engraving itself. The monolithic poplar which towers over the slumped figure of Mariana presents us with a stark contrast of vigorous rectitude versus complete physical collapse. The single poplar and casement curtain are details from "Mariana" (19, 41) not used in the oil which are needed in the monochrome medium of wood engraving to reproduce on a small scale the sinister effects provided by the painting's heraldic symbols. Thus the painting's threatening armored figure is replaced with the looming, anthropomorphic menace of the tree which supplements the wooden portraits, and appears to watch Mariana through the window where she has dared to draw her "casement-curtain by" (19).
What sets Millais's first Mariana apart from his second is the former's embroidery, although neither Mariana is in fact doing anything. In his Notes on Millais (1886) a somewhat mellowed Ruskin overlooked Mariana's Romanism but expressed concern about her inactivity, observing:
The picture has always been a precious memory to me, but if the painter had painted Mariana at work in an unmoated grange instead of idle in a moated one it had been more to the purpose-whether of art or life. (14: 496)
Ever perceptive and always provocative, Ruskin, in his latest approach to Mariana, provides the key to its psychological significance by equating work with an unmoated grange and inactivity with enclosure. For as Parker somewhat inaccurately points out: "incarceration, the slow passage of time, embroidery as compensation for male absence-appear in ... Tennyson's poem 'Mariana' and inspired John Everett Millais's painting Mariana" (Subversive Stitch 25). Embroidery is of course Millais's "inspired" addition to Tennyson's poem, and but even more inspired is the fact that Mariana has ceased to embroider, since it implies that she has gone beyond the point of even trying to compensate for male absence.
Three points raised in Roszika Parker's book are particularly relevant to Mariana's status as an embroiderer. The first is that "the revival of embroidery" based on medieval prototypes which began in the 1830s in order "to furnish the Gothic revival churches," took place in "workshops attached to noble households, in monasteries and nunneries" (Subversive Stitch 20, 17, 11, 22). The second is Freud's belief that "constant needlework was one of the factors that 'rendered women particularly prone to hysteria"' (Breuer and Freud, 2: 12); and the third is Parker's observation that the Victorians conflated "women's creative work... with their procreative capacity." By virtue of her class and situation as a gentlewoman with no dowry consigned to a moated grange, Shakespeare's Mariana is an obvious candidate to become Millais's Gothic revivalist embroiderer, and with nothing else to do except "constant needlework" she makes an ideal case study for Freud.
The Victorian association of women's embroidery with their "procreative capacity" is the final thread in Millais's Marian web. Parker notes that in medieval embroidery "the miracle of Mary's fertility" is "connoted by the lily of the Annunciation" but by "the nineteenth century" it "no longer connoted spring flowering and fertility, but only purity and asceticism" (Subversive Stitch 37). In The Annunciation Rossetti revives the medieval connotations of the lily as a sign of the Virgin's fertility, and conflates them with the creative and procreative connotations of her needlework. For the triple blossomed lily on Mary's embroidered cloth not only signifies the Trinity but also indicates that she, the prototype Marian artist, had foreknowledge of the miracle of her impregnation. Unlike Rossetti's Virgin, Mariana has not foreshadowed any miracles in her, mille fleurs, embroidery. Rather the reverse is true: Mariana's embroidery is therapeutic, and its patchwork of autumn flowers is an attempt to retrieve or at least remember the days when she was "knee deep in mountain grass,/ and heard her native breezes pass,/ And runlets babbling down the glen" ("Mariana in the South" 42-44).
Thus the full significance of Ruskin's elegantly formulated distinction between the "Annunciate Maria bowing herself " and "a Newsless Mariana stretching herself' finally becomes clear. Mary's bow knowingly registers her impregnation, as does her embroidery. But Millais's Marian artist has given up her interminable work in despair and in the full knowledge of her barrenness, as the dead leaves start to pile up. Ruskin felt that Mariana was "the representative picture of its generation" because it was the "best symbol of the mud-moated Nineteenth century" (34: 166). Without necessarily concurring with this rather apocalyptic reading of the picture, it can be said that Millais has captured the moment of the transition between the healthy Gothic vision of Rossetti's Marian artist, and the morbid "idolatry of the cloister" which traps the helpless Mariana between the Virgin and the Angel in the house for eternity.
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Last modified 17 May 2007