Saturday, October 18, 2008

Internal Conversion: Christ and Annie Miller by Holman Hunt

Holman Hunt is the subject of a new exhibit at the Manchester Art Gallery reviewed in the Guardian. Here is "The Finding of the Savior in the Temple" (1854-60) which Hunt saw as the Child's first consciousness of himself, as a revelation or conversion.

In the exhibit, three versions of "The Light of the World" are displayed side by side, juxtaposed with "The Awakening Conscience" (1853). Apparently the exhibit intends to describe Hunt's idea of making the conversion of a fallen woman his material embodiment of "The Light of the World." While reading the Bible he found Proverbs, "As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, so is he that singeth songs to a heavy heart." These words, "expressing the unintended stirring up of the deeps of pure affection by the idle sing-song of an empty mind, led me to see how the companion of the girl's fall might himself be the unconscious utterer of a divine message." (Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood II.429-30)

In his pictorial demonstration that God works in mysterious ways, the painter represents the girl's seducer as the ironically unintended means of her salvation. In singing Moore's "Oft in the Stilly Night" with her, the man unintentionally awakens "the memory of her childish home"; in response she suddenly breaks away "from her gilded cage with a startled holy resolve, while her shallow companion still sings on, ignorantly intensifying her repentant purpose" (II.430).

Hunt's Protestantism stresses internal conversion: here we see that of Christ and a woman, the model for which was Annie Miller.

"Oft in the Stilly Night" was also used by James Joyce. Here are the lyrics:

Oft, in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain has bound me,
Fond Memory brings the light
Of other days around me;
The smiles, the tears,
Of boyhood's years,
The words of love then spoken;
The eyes that shone,
Now dimm'd and gone,
The cheerful hearts now broken!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain hath bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

When I remember all
The friends, so link'd together,
I've seen around me fall
Like leaves in wintry weather;
I feel like one,
Who treads alone
Some banquet-hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed!
Thus, in the stilly night,
Ere Slumber's chain hath bound me,
Sad Memory brings the light
Of other days around me.

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