How is the story told in Jessie Cameron, by Cristina Rossetti? Told by a third person narrator, the poem begins in media res with dialogue from the persistent ‘neighbour’s son’, admirer of Jessie Cameron, repeating the titular character’s name with desire. This young lady who Rossetti creates as self-confident and stubborn is formed as a woman in her own right who is defiant enough to refuse the hand of a bachelor, multiple times. Subsequently, the setting of the beach becomes clearer, as the menacing sea draws nearer.
Jessie’s persistence becomes more forceful as the story progresses until she starts refusing to answer him. We then hear of the foot that would not fly, and the meaning of this becomes apparent when the poem moves into the second part, where rumours are discussed about the death of the pair, through reported narrative. The poem ends with the debate of possibilities about their deaths, and the distinct image of the ‘hand or hair’ in the In the first four stanzas, the setting of twilight on the beach is described at the start- ‘Day was verging towards the night, There beside the moaning sea’.
This setting then continues into the second half of the poem but the reader becomes aware of he attempt Rossetti is making for the setting of the sea, which represents society, to be almost up against Jessie Cameron’s character. Rossetti writes ‘But now her feet are in the foam, The sea-foam sweeping higher. ‘ The strength of the sea, or her opposition as society, is gaining power against her stubbornness, and will for independence. The setting then looks to the ‘darkening beach’. It is perhaps here that the reader is encouraged to assume that the pair drowned, as the darkening of the scene almost reflects the move from life into death.
Therefore, Rossetti primarily tells his story using the reinforcement of the powerful imagery that is linked to the setting, in order to reflect upon the rumours that structure the story. The poem of Jessie Cameron has a clear structure of two distinct halves. The first involves the dialogue and interaction between Jessie Cameron and her lover, the ‘neighbour’s son’. This is a specific event and shows this series of actions from the past in linear chronology. The dialogue between the two youths is argumentative. He cannot accept that she wants to be free of him.
Their conversation is portrayed like he sea, with to and fro’. The second half is structured mainly around rumours of what happened to Jessie Cameron and her lover. It involves a lot of words such as ‘some say and Whether’. There is therefore a contrast shown between the concrete, true details of the first section and the vague uncertainty of the events that followed in the second half. This section interestingly starts with the powerful fifth stanza, in which the most dramatic rumour is mentioned, that the lover used powerful gypsy magic to conjure the sea that drowned them together.
As the sea becomes more and ore aggressive, the speech of the lover echoes it with desperation, almost as if he is chanting a spell or a curse. This sudden change of tone makes the change between sections much more apparent. However, it is clear that the narrator is reserving judgement on the matter as Rossetti writes Yet he had gone through fire and flood, Only to win her smile. ‘ This almost biblical description makes him seem almost rumours that others are. By using this kind of narrator, Rossetti tells the story of the poem in an unbiased way, allowing the reader to make his own Judgement. This poem has a third person narrator.
They have no insight into the feelings of Jessie Cameron or her lover. There is however numerous references to the pressure of society in this poem, showing that the narrators perspective is heavily affected by these views in relation to Jessie Cameron’s character. The sea, as a theme brought to the foreground of the poem by the repeated mentions of it as an image, could be seen to represent the repressive society of the era. Jessie Cameron’s outgoing personality and readiness to speak stand in direct contrast to the traditional xpectations of a modern Victorian maiden who is demure, timid and slow to speak.
The sea is personified throughout the poem which enhances this impression, and also makes the theme of society more prominent. The two lines that seem most important are ‘The troubled sea for all its stir, Finds no voice to tell. ‘ We understand that society cannot find any ways to deal with women like Jessie Cameron who want independence. The sea, as society, keeps the secret story of Jessie Cameron to itself, yet at the end it has the last word, quashing the voice of Jessie Cameron which seemed so strong and defiant at the start.
Therefore, Rossetti uses this story, in the appropriate form of a ballad, to be told and passed between generations for years to come- armed against the traditional Victorian society in which it was written. To conclude, the aspects of narrative that are arguably dominant in the telling of this story are the setting, structure and narrative voice. There is a consistent use of thematic imagery and symbolism, but all of these techniques create a story that the reader can relate to and learn from, and it can be passed on through the centuries and generations as a well-known ballad.