‘Something strangely perverse’. Nature and Gender in J. E. Millais’s Ophelia
Keywords:Pre-Raphaelite painting, J. E. Millais, Ophelia, Gender, Femme fragile
This paper analyses J. E. Millais’s Pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia. Drawing on ideas formulated by Hermann Broch regarding the origins of romanticism and Adorno and Horkheimer’s theory of a dialectic of Enlightenment, the analysis focuses on the complex handling of gender and nature in the painting in order to show the shifting and contradictory constellations of meaning inherent in the subject. Central to the argument is the relationship between the characterization of Ophelia as a femme fragile and the nature that surrounds her, rendered with an almost hallucinatory clarity. Both nature and woman are shown to be capable of both conforming to and escaping from Millais’s painterly control. The painting turns out to be a vehicle for a young middle-class Victorian and his anxieties and yearnings.
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