The Christina Rossetti poem, “In an Artist’s Studio,” greatly disturbed me. The poem reads in a creepy way and the first two lines start with the word “one,” “one face,” “one selfsame figure” (Rossetti 1-2). This use of “one” creates a focus on the one character, the woman who the artist is painting, she is the focus of the poem. However, as the poem continues it mentions that she is “nameless,” this gives the idea that the person painting her does not really know her, even though she is his great focus. Does he really want to know her or does he just want to paint who he thinks she is on his canvas?
Looking at this poem through the relationship lens of the Norwegian play, A Doll’s House, this idea of not wanting to truly know a lover is very evident. In the play, the main male lead, Torvald, states “how warm and cosy our home is, Nora. Here is shelter for you; here I will protect you like a hunted dove that I have saved from a hawk’s claws” (Ibsen). In this quote, Torvald thinks he has saved his wife, Nora, because he has extreme wealth and provides her with an allowance. In his mind, he saved his wife from a life of poverty because she constantly spends money throughout the play and her lack of power is shown through this economic power he has over her life. In this way, he has become the hawk. The same can be said for the mentality of the painter in Rossetti’s poem. He seems to be obsessed with her and he is giving her “back all her loveliness.” He seems to believe that he has discovered her; she is his hunted dove. “He feeds upon her face by day and night, / And she with true kind eyes looks back on him” (Rossetti 9-10). In these lines, Rossetti creates a power imbalance. As the painter takes her all in, all she does is look at him. She does not feed upon his face like he does hers. By creating this point of comparison, it proves that he only sees her for who he believes she is, much like Torvald. The poem ends with the line “not as she is, but as she fills his dream” (Rossetti 14). The poem concludes in this way to drive home this idea that she is not her own person. She is just someone that inspires him; he only needs her to be his object or his muse. Luckily for Nora in the play, she ends up walking out on her husband as well as her children at the end. “I believe that I am first and foremost a human being, like you – or anyway, that I must try to become one.” (Ibsen). This assertion of herself creates space for her to leave and become her own person. Unfortunately, for the “muse” in Rossetti’s poem, this freedom is not found. When men believe they have power because of their art or wealth, they tend to see others as pawns in their life; they become the hawks.
Ibsen, Henrik. A Doll’s House. Dover ed. New York, Dover Publications, 1992.