Erika Kvistad


The idea of the dying Victorian woman as passive victim or object of desire has justly received critical attention, but this has meant a comparative neglect of the dying Victorian woman as an active, speaking, writing subject. In response, this article focuses on the death writing of Alice James and Christina Rossetti, reading the central role of death in their work as a way of articulating a space of possibility beyond what life has to offer. In Rossetti’s death poetry and James’s Diary, death is what gives form to the text, and represents the possibility for the text and its speaker to be read and understood. The article reads James and Rossetti’s death writing as neither definitively conforming to or subverting social norms about the links between death and femininity. It suggests, however, that reading these death explorations in terms of ventures into a promising unknown creates a more complex conception of the role of women as active participants in as well as victims of Victorian death culture, and of the strategies available to women writers facing the problem of an existence that could itself seem deathlike.