Christina Rossetti's Maude : Self-Abnegation and Self-Expression of a Victorian Poet
Christina Rossetti's novella Maude displays Tractarian influences in terms of Holy Eucharist, Puseyism, and the doctrine of Reserve. Tractarianism is High Church revival movement of nineteenth century. In the story a teenage girl,Maude went through hard time receiving Holy Eucharist due to self-consciousness and internal guilt according to Puseyism. She felt guilty when she enjoyed worldly things and outward beauty. Due to guilt Maude refused to receive Holy Communion, which is complete connection to God. Her cousin,Agnes suggested that in refusing Holy Communion Maude is following her own will not God's will. Later Maude overcame Puseyite thought of self-hatred and reconciled with her identity as a poet and a woman.
Maude oscillates between concealing and revealing, secrecy and truth,sincerity and affectation, and modesty and display. Her marvelous poetic talent makes people praise her but she withholds private feelings and attempts to divert attention from herself. Like Maude herself, the meaning of her poems is at times reserved and withheld. This tendency goes with the doctrine of Reserve in Tractarianism. The doctrine of Reserve utilizes indirect methods to reveal divine attributes because finite human being can not accept infinite God. The doctrine of Reserve sees to it that the expression will be veiled, indirect, subdued and self-effacing. Rossetti adapts a poetic method of Reserve when Maude has anxiety over 'display and poetry' and generates the reticence, secrecy, mystery,renunciation, modesty and detachment. According to Mary Arseneau, by veiling and expressing herself through symbols she can rise above the self and employ the phenomenal to suggest a noumenal reality. Thus the poetry becomes an expression of longing for the divine.
The poem "Three Nuns" exemplifies Maude's maturity and gradual progress in the relationship with God. Rossetti suggests the vision full of hopes and promises of reuniting with God. In conclusion, in some sense, authoritative and conservative Tractarianism affects Rossetti both ways. On the one hand, it makes Rossetti abnegate herself and leads her to asceticism, on the other hand, it makes Rossetti express her faith in God and write amazing devotional poems such as "Three Nuns". A poem within the poem has three voices that are in perfect harmony. In the poem the first and second nun show hesitation to fully commit to God's will and the desire for the world prevents them from having heavenly joy. Third nun reveals spiritual maturity and sings new life in God where their hopes and joys begin. Rossetti expresses the procedure of spiritual growth through the poem "Three Nuns". For Rossetti, self-abnegation and self-expression both are involved in the doctrine of Reserve, Puseyism and Holy Communion.