In Michael Field’s poem The Birth of Venus, based on Sandro Botticelli’s painting of the same name, he describes the beauty of the newly born goddess. Venus has emerged from the sea and has come to begin her work as the Goddess of Love. Venus is seen in a pure light, which is represented in the painting by her stark white skin and the light that falls directly on her figure. While Venus may be seen as a pure being, the character of Dionea in Vernon Lee’s “Dionea” is the opposite. Dionea is also a beautiful character, but she has a negative effect on the people around her. The two figures share similarities but differ on love, which leads me to believe that Venus is the archetype of love while Dionea is her counterpart.
If we proceed with this line of reasoning, then Venus is the model for love. The first lines of the poem depict the characteristics necessary for a person in this position. Venus is a “new-born beauty with a tress/Gold about her nakedness” (Field 9-10). These lines state that Venus has just been born, which explains her naked state. The only thing covering her is her beautiful “gold” hair that is wrapped around her, aka the tress. While the reader is first introduced to Venus in this state, her nakedness suggests a level of purity. She has just been introduced to this world so nothing has marred her yet. She is pure and her purity can therefore be used as a model for others to aspire to.
In contrast, when readers first meet Dionea she does not live up to the same standards as Venus. Instead, Dionea is a “poor little waif…who is doubtless a heathen, for she had no little crosses or scapulars on, like proper Christian children…swaddled up close in outlandish garments” (Lee 3-4). This description of Dionea immediately differs from the one of Venus. Dionea is clothed in “outlandish garments” and has no symbols that mark her as a “proper Christian”. These two differences are very important as they signify Dionea as impure. Dionea is not naked or newly born into the world; rather she is wearing ridiculous clothes. She does not have anything marking her purity whereas Venus’s naked form automatically signifies hers. These differences between Venus and Dionea are then translated to their interactions with people and the feeling of love.
At the end of The Birth of Venus, Field describes Venus’s upcoming interactions with people. Venus is a “Virgin stranger, come to seek/Covert of strong orange-boughs/By the sea-wind scarcely moved,-/She is Love that hath not loved” (Field 37-40). These lines represent that Venus has “come to seek” or look for other symbols of purity, depicted in the orange-boughs. Venus has also never experienced love, which is ironic given her forthcoming title as the Goddess of Love. This is important though because Venus has not interacted with people yet, whereas Dionea’s negative qualities are revealed through her interactions with people. The people of the village have begun to tell stories about Dionea and how “where-ever she goes the young people must needs fall in love with each other, and usually where it is far from desirable” (Lee 10). Dionea’s presence around others causes them to “fall in love” with the wrong people. Dionea is affecting the “young people” and is changing their lives in a negative way.
Venus and Dionea are seen as figures that others look to when dealing with love. Both are depicted as beautiful people who are introduced to the reader through the water. Venus is born out of the water and Dionea is found washed ashore from a shipwreck. This is where their similarities end though as Venus is the model representation of Love and Dionea is not. Both characters suggest though that purity is contingent on interactions with others. Venus has not interacted with anyone yet, which is why she is pure. No one has had the chance to ruin her image or corrupt her. Meanwhile, readers know Dionea is supposedly negative or evil because of others interactions with her. This suggests that Venus and Dionea might not be too different as it initially appears they are.