In his illustration of "Mariana" for the Moxon Tennyson (1857), John Everett Millais creates a very visual but totally static tableau in which the embowered woman appears trapped inside her own interior consciousness, continually longing for the beloved who will never come. In the Moxon Tennyson version, Millais depicts the figure of Mariana as wholly inward and despairing as opposed to the painted version in which she takes an discontented but expressive stretching pose. As a mood piece, the poem "Mariana" uses the desolation of the dreary, ramshackle surroundings to reflect the woman's hopeless state of mind. In the book illustration, Mariana's body lies slumped over in a twisted position as if she has been waiting longingly at the window for her beloved -- and has finally given up the empty vigil. In Tennyson's poem, Mariana expresses her emotions aloud, but in this image we cannot even see her face. Mariana's passive, collapsed body is balanced by the strong, upright poplar tree outside the window. Instead of stained glass windows depicting the annunciation, the two visual images present in this scene are ordinary, secular men painted in profile. For Millais, the medium of wood engraving limits the scope of artistic choices available to him. He must forgo the lush color and imagery and minute detail of the painted version.

The painted version creates an image of Mariana as restless, introspective and resigned. If an audience was unfamiliar with Tennyson's poem, they might believe Ruskin's assertion intended to protect Millais that she has grown tired of her "idolatrous artifacts" (Andrew Leng). Mariana's despairing state in the illustration, however, clearly corresponds with unrequited love. In this version, Millais depicts Mariana's grief in obvious terms.


In D.G. Rossetti's "The Blessed Damozel," the female also grieves for a beloved. This poem can be seen as the reverse of Mariana, because it presents a situation entirely from a male point of view. Mariana does have a voice in the poem, but in this illustration she silently weeps while the male portraits hang above her in a dominant position within the scene. Does Millais consciously assign symbolic meaning to these male portraits?

Does the illustration emphasize the landscape more in keeping with Tennyson's poem?

How does Millais use light and dark shading to add meaning or his own interpretation to the scene?

Would it be fair to criticize the Moxon Tennyson version for creating a caricatured or obvious depiction of the grieving woman?

In comparison with the more lavish painted version complete with Gothic trappings and religious symbolism, how does the simplicity of this scene either reinforce or de-emphasize the content of Tennyson's actual poem?


Poems by Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L., Poet Laureate. London: E. Moxon, 1857.


Last modified 1 October 2004