Presentation on theme: " Belief in the power and viability of the sister community is common in the literature surrounding the Church Penitentiary Movement. Thomas Thellusson."— Presentation transcript:
Belief in the power and viability of the sister community is common in the literature surrounding the Church Penitentiary Movement. Thomas Thellusson Carter, founder and first warden of the Penitentiary at Clewer, believed that penitents ought to meet with as little temptation from the outside world--and their old ways of life--as possible; as a result, the Penitentiary system often took on an almost xenophobic and prison-like attitude, restricting the inmates' movements to within the Penitentiary walls. Such protectiveness and isolation are characteristic of the Church Penitentiary Movement.
In her 1865 diatribe against the Penitentiary system, Penitentiaries and Reformatories, Felicia Skene describes how "[o]ne of the cruellest parts of the system is their rigorous confinement to the house, and total want of exercise in the open air... it is a fact that not one breath of fresh air is allowed to these poor prisoners through the day; not one half hour is granted them in which to look on the blue sky and the sunshine, and to meet the cool breeze with its invigorating power."
But it was not only confinement with which the inmates had to contend. It was also believed that penitents should at all times be kept under strict observation, and so "penitents were never left without a 'sister present,'" and each inmate's sleeping chamber was placed in such a way that it could be watched by a Sister "whose sleeping chamber [was] so arranged to command it." This close surveillance carried with it sinister undertones of imprisonment, which, to a certain extent, is not surprising.
The Penitentiary was, after all, an institution based on transgression; because the nature of the penitents' transgressions was simultaneously sexual, spiritual, and moral, it was believed that, in order for a woman to commit such a break with contemporary standards of conduct, she must be "totally dead to all sense of right."
Rossetti worked at Highgate Penitentiary on and off from the summer of 1859 until 1870 She wrote “Goblin Market” and “The Convent Threshold” BEFORE this. She wrote “Sister Maude” and “Noble Sisters” AFTER this. Considering these poems in the context of Rossetti's work at Highgate reveals that her beliefs about the potential of women's communities changed after her experience working there.
What are the key differences in Rossetti’s presentation of the idea of Sisterhood in these two poems when compared with “Goblin Market”?
“Rossetti seems to advocate women's collective activity and friendship, insisting that women's communities are not only viable, but also that the instabilities that emerge within them are the direct result of male forces working outside the female community.” “The poems explore "the competing demands placed upon her sisters to support one another, to marry, and to pledge one's heart to God";” “The radically different treatment of sister relationships Rossetti offers in "Noble Sisters" and "Sister Maude" suggests that her attitude toward communities of women changed dramatically following her experience at Highgate.” “Rossetti shows the degree to which dissatisfaction with the sister community can be a component part of the temptation to leave it.” By the time she wrote “Sister Maude” and “Noble Sisters”, Rossetti had gained sufficient experience to recognize that the work of reclamation was not always as successful as she had imagined in "Goblin Market."