Throughout Victorian literature, and even in the minds of Victorians, women were expected to uphold certain beauty standards. Specifically, the tuberculosis-chic idealization, ever-flowing hair, and pale/ghostly skin, became a figure that women aspired to achieve. Due to this spreading notion, women were then considered to be redundant, and self-same, especially in the eyes of those during the time period itself. In both “The Sleeping Venus” by Michael Field, and “In An Artist’s Studio” by Christina Rossetti, notions of sexuality and redundancy are spoken upon.
The Sleeping Venus, by Giorgione, courtesy of The Poems of Michael Field
The poem itself, as written by Michael Field, essentially depicted the way in Venus, lays amongst the grass in peace. However, within the text, Field exclaims that Venus is the embodiment of all women, and how the entire community (of women) shares a sense of togetherness with one another, due to their utmost sexual and redundant appearance. Field states,
“And her body has the curves,
The same extensive smoothness seen…
For the sex that forms them each
Is a bond, a holiness,
That unconsciously must bless
And unite them, as they lie
Shameless underneath the sky” (stanza 3).
Through word choice, we as the reader are able to both visualize the poem into life, or in this case, what is shown through a painting. The repetition of the body being put up to almost a microscope, ultimately shows how women are constantly being looked at, especially in a sexual manner. By having the words “same” and “extensive” be in the poem itself, allows for the reader to assume that this view of women is apparent in all sorts of literature, and in many tropes within. Furthermore, the ‘bond’ and sense of union they share, literally and figuratively, demonstrates how women are grouped together based on the physical appearance they are expected to uphold.
Alike, in Rossetti’s piece, “An Artist’s Studio”, the idea that women are shape-shifters of one another is prevalent. She states,
“One face looks out from all his canvases,
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream” (1).
In the excerpt, despite the role that these women play in society, ‘a queen’ or a ‘nameless girl’, Rosetti highlights that these women are in fact, the same, disposable beings. By having this man in particular, mold these women for his own pleasure, even if it is not in a sexual manner, it causes the reader to further make the connection between repetition of body standards, and how such can be harmful to the nature of women entirely.
Both pieces, “The Sleeping Venus” by Michael Fields and “In An Artists’ Studio” by Christina Rosetti exemplify how women during the Victorian era were seen as one-and-the-same, a union of figures that were ultimately deemed useless. Unfortunately, this was due to the beauty standard/ expectations of physical appearance during the Victorian era that kept this ideal in place for many years to come, even during contemporary times.