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  The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (or PRB, as its members signed themselves) was a group of artists and writers in mid-19th-century England which included the painters Holman Hunt and Millais, the writers Christian Rossetti, D.G. Rossetti and William Morris, and the poet and sculptor Thomas Woolner. Their name indicates their artistic aim, which was to model their work on pre-Renaissance European styles, to find inspiration beyond the traditions which had ruled in the arts (and especially in the graphic arts) for 300 years. They saw themselves as similar to a medieval artistic guild, and all tried their hand at everything—for example enthusiastically helping, with varied success, to redesign the Oxford Union building. In fine art they favoured a flat, perspectiveless style, following that of medieval tapestries or manuscript illuminations, and with clear, bright colours and simple outlines. In design they favoured a kind of chunky simplicity, again reminiscent of medieval art. Morris in particular was an advocate of folk styles and the use of folk methods and manner, both to invigorate the machine-design of the early Industrial Revolution and to bring ‘fine’ style within the reach of ordinary working people.

In literature, the Pre-Raphaelites favoured a retreat from the realities of the world into a realm of pure, innocent and unpretentious fantasy based partly on a kind of mock-medievalism (influenced perhaps by the novels of Sir Walter Scott), and partly on memories of nursery rhymes, fairy stories and other schoolroom literature. Christina Rossetti\'s poem ‘Goblin Market’ (with its vision of ‘little people’ hustling and bustling) is typical. There is also a strongly moralizing, pietistic streak, as if the Metaphysical poets had abandoned their hard-edged realism for tweeness. The tendency would be little but deplorable were it not for the fact that writers of real ability (such as Hopkins, Tennyson, Yeats) learned much from Pre-Raphaelite ideas, and that one Pre-Raphaelite brother, William Morris, produced literary work of much more robustness, translating sagas, rewriting Arthurian legend and producing several Utopian, socialist novels of distinction. Pre-Raphaelite literature, for adults, hardly survived the ridicule of people like W.S. Gilbert on the one hand, and the flaccidity of the Decadents on the other. In children\'s literature, however, it had a rosy-spectacled influence which has persisted to the present day. JM KMcL



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