Since the 1881 premiere of Patience, the sixth Gilbert and Sullivan opera, there has been abundant speculation about the real-life models on whom Gilbert based his rival poets, the “Fleshy” Reginald Bunthorne and the “Idyllic” Archibald Grosvenor. But all conjectures have failed to take account of the fact that, in Bunthorne, Gilbert conflates the beliefs and practices of Pre-Raphaelitism with those of Aestheticism—two artistic movements that were diametric opposites. Gilbert himself certainly knew the difference between them, but the reasons for his conflation may lie in his and his public’s perception that both movements were rooted in rebelliousness against prevailing bourgeois norms. Inasmuch as Bunthorne represents both, Dante Gabriel Rossetti would be his most likely antecedent, but Gilbert’s poet is probably an amalgamation of many of the major figures associated with each of these movements. Grosvenor, meanwhile, becomes the conqueror of Bunthorne by throwing off aestheticism and adopting bourgeois norms himself—and therefore he ought ultimately to be identified with another writer whose poetic practices and championship of middle-class values much resemble Grosvenor’s. That writer is W. S. Gilbert himself, who made a very lucrative career out of flattering the prejudices of respectable Victorian society.

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