Much of what the Pre-Raphaelites did for art, poetry and literature is still relevant today and that’s why The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies, celebrating its 30th anniversary, still boasts subscribers from every continent, according to David Latham, York adjunct professor of English.
If it wasn’t for the Pre-Raphaelites – a 19th-century group of rebel poets and painters – people today might know little if anything about King Arthur and his knights of the round table, said Latham (PhD ’81), the journal’s editor.
"It was the Pre-Raphaelites that brought Arthur’s story to light and they went on to dominate art, poetry and arts & crafts. They were the beginning of the modernist movement in a lot of ways. It was a whole new paradigm of art and literature and it’s still so central to our way today," said Latham. "They emphasized that the artists had to be true to their art."
The Pre-Raphaelites began in the 1840s with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, William Holman Hunt and other young rebel poets and painters. It is now the rich, old rebels from the counter-culture of pop music – Roger Daltry of The Who, Paul McCartney of the Beatles and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin – who collect Dante Rossetti paintings, William Morris carpets and Edward Burne-Jones tapestries. Courtney Love of The Hole even sings a lyric from Rossetti’s sonnet 97: "Look into my face: my name is Might-have-been".
Right: La Belle Iseult by William Morris, 1857, Tate Gallery, London
Latham’s interest in the Pre-Raphaelites began when he was a grad student at York. He even had an article published in The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies during that time.
The journal was founded in 1977 by Francis Golffing at the University of Massachusetts and was originally called The Pre-Raphaelite Review, until 1980. It then moved to the University of British Columbia, to the University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University.
Latham took over as editor of the journal in 1994, while teaching at the University of Lethbridge and brought it with him to York one year later. It has been edited in York’s English Department ever since and is refereed by an editorial advisory board of international scholars.
"It’s prestigious for York to have a journal like this. I also think that it’s prestigious for the journal to be here at a big university like York, in a major centre," said Latham. "A big university like this attracts a lot of graduate students and can be a centre for 19th-century studies, and York has a long history of Pre-Raphaelite studies. William Whitla introduced a graduate course on the subject in the 1960s."
Two of the current scholars on the editorial advisory board were graduate students of York Professor Emeritus William Whitla, during the 1970s.
Latham teaches a fourth-year undergraduate course and a graduate course on the Pre-Raphaelites. He also provides students with an opportunity to oversee the editing and publishing of a successful magazine, including the printing, marketing, promotion, distribution and financial management as well as the editorial process.
Left: Millais’s Ophelia, 1851,Tate Gallery, London
"I feel like I’m in the centre of scholarship editing this journal. I get submissions from scholars all over the world," said Latham. "I see this as a real way of teaching. We teach our students in the classroom and our colleagues through journals like this."
Unlike many scholarly journals, The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies is self-sufficient because it has a large number of library subscribers – about 560 – in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America, Europe, North America and South Africa.
When Latham took over the journal, he decided the original 11 by eight-inch size was bulky and reduced it to a neat nine by six-inch size. The journal continues to explore all facets of the Pre-Raphaelites – the aesthetic and decadent art, culture and literature of the 19th century. There is still much interest in the subject. Latham says he receives far more articles for submission each year than he can publish. The journal is published every spring and fall and each issue contains six or seven articles.
"The Pre-Raphaelites period encompasses art, literature and culture. It captures the aesthetic and the decadence from [John] Ruskin to Oscar Wilde," said Latham.
Right: Fazio’s Mistress by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863, Tate Gallery, London
"In their literature, there is a jarring juxtaposition of incongruous subjects, of ethereal symbolism and earthly verisimilitude, of aesthetics and politics. In their paintings, they captured a combination of a decorative style, a naturalistic setting and a literary character that seemed almost real. The group shifted art to the reflexive – it doesn’t mirror nature, it doesn’t teach the audience and it doesn’t try to explore the self. It is art for the sake of art itself, and we’re still in that style. It is the idea that the artist has to be true to his art."
Latham hopes The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies will continue to be edited at York long after he has retired, which won’t be for a while yet. He doesn’t see the interest in the Pre-Raphaelite period waning anytime soon.
Latham is also the editor of several books, including Writing on the Image: Reading William Morris (University of Toronto Press, 2007), Haunted Texts: Studies in Pre-Raphaelitism (U of T Press, 2003), Scarlet Hunters: Pre-Raphaelitism in Canada (Penumbra, 1998), and is the co-editor of Magic Lies: The Art of W.O. Mitchell (U of T Press, 1997).
For more information about the journal, e-mail Latham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Sandra McLean, York communications officer.