Decorative Initial Rossetti's changed emphasis, from faith to sensation, is revealed in interesting ways in his revisions of "Jenny." The earliest known version of "Jenny" was produced in 1847 or 1848, but it was so substantially revised in 1858 and again in 1869 that the poem printed in 1870 is vastly different from Rossetti's first conception. All versions are dramatic monologues in which the spreaker addresses a dozing harlot in her rooms, but unlike "The Portrait," the later version of "Jenny" draws more, not less, attention to the dramatic setting — not surprisingly, since Rossetti feared moral censure of the poem and wanted to make sure that the compromised speaker was not understood to be himself. Nevertheless, as with "the Portrait,' the revisions do emphasize the origin of the speaker's thoughts in experience, since the experience iteself is more fully developed, with additonal details about Jenny's room and about the speaker's character. In fact, the late version consciously calls attention to the disparity between conceptual thought and actual experience. The speaker recognizes his own absurdity as his "thoughts run on like this/With wasteful whims more than enough" (Poems, 64), characterizes his contemplation as "mere words" and an "empty cloud" (Poems, 66), and even, after a particularly fanciful simile comparing lust to a "toad within a stone," rebukes himself for replacing sense with thought:

Come, come, what use in thoughts like this?
Poor little Jenny, good to kiss, —
You'd not believe by what strange roads
Thought travels, when your beauty goads
A man to-night to think of toads!
[Poems, 70]

The speaker's realization that his thoughts do not well fit his situation, however, does not signify a change in Rossetti's original conception, but a new way of expressing it. Indeed a main point of the earlier poem had been that nineteenth-century man's attempt to replace sense with thought was ridiculous hypocrisy. One of the two original mottos for "Jenny" had been a ironic quotation from Shelley's translation of Goethe:

What, still here!
In this enlightened age,too, since you have been
Proved not to exist!

The body of the poem had satirized the nineteenth-century idea of progress, of evolutionary meliorism in which man would shed his gross, earthy nature and "perfect Man" would "be mind throughout."


David H. Riede, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and the Limits of Victorian Vision. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983, pp. 94-5.

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Last modified: 12 May 2004