Carolyn Williams, “Parodies of the Pre-Raphaelite Ballad Refrain” (pp. 227–255)

Parodies of literary ballads changed over the course of the nineteenth century, as did their implicit commentaries on practices of poetic revival in general. In the 1870s and 1880s a focused reaction against the Pre-Raphaelite ballad refrain has much to show us about the function of the refrain, which operates as a timing device yet also guides a gradual increase in the ballad’s incrementally modulated sense of pain, making meaning by turning away from narrative progression and meaning-making. Debates about the poetics of revival, a subject across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, culminate in the great theorizations of Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, who both comment on the ballad refrain. The dynamics of literary history may also be illuminated by this attention to parodies of the ballad refrain, for the role of the refrain within any given ballad may be seen as homologous to the role of parody within literary history—simultaneously interrupting, turning away, and binding a sense of continuity. This essay glances at the ballads of “Bon Gaultier” (1845) and demonstrates the general parodic interest in—and defenses of—the Pre-Raphaelite ballad refrain later in the century, before attending to parodies of D. G. Rossetti’s “Sister Helen” (1870, 1881) by Robert Buchanan in 1871 and Henry Duff Traill in 1882.

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