Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Media, Art, and Text

First Advisor

Nicholas Frankel

Second Advisor

David Latane

Third Advisor

Bridget Camden

Fourth Advisor

Pamela Taylor


During the late 19th century, arts and literature had a surge of sensory awareness, made manifest through sensory analogy, intersensory metaphor, and synaesthesia. This dissertation explores this phenomenon through a study of five poets and artists: Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Barlas, and Julia Margaret Cameron. Using imaginative sensing, these artists transformed the relationship between artist and observer, assigning greater responsibility to their audience while simultaneously asserting artistic control of their work. Their fascination with sensory mixing and multisensory awareness demonstrates unique ideas about perception and embodiment, ideas that have sparked both controversy and imitation. I begin with a brief history of the condition known as synaesthesia, considering its position as an “abnormal” clinical condition, a desired artistic state of transcendence, and a simple transfer of metaphor. Chapter 1 describes how two French poems brought synaesthesia to public consciousness and prompted a literary movement. In Chapter 2, I explore how poet-painter Dante Rossetti used “acts of attention” and unheard music to demand viewers’ embodied participation. Chapter 3 introduces John Barlas, a relatively obscure British poet who crafted exotic, sensory-laden environments that hovered between the actual and imagined, insisting that the reader use his sensory imagination to participate. Moving to the realm of photography in Chapter 4, I consider Julia Margaret Cameron, whose “out-of-focus” pictures changed photography from a mechanistic technology to high art by incorporating the sense of touch. Historically, the senses have been ranked and separated, with priority given to vision, the sense most associated with reason. I argue that considering the senses as bundles of interconnected experiences and through imagination rather than as isolated methods of physical perception can show how the senses function culturally and give us a much greater understanding of how we process the world. While no time period has regarded the senses with the intensity of the late 19th century, the embodied approach of the era can be applied to our current “sensory revolution” and can impact how we regard technology, cultural studies, and interdisciplinarity. Evaluating how 19th century artists blended the senses through imaginative constructs gives a more thorough explanation of the characteristic sensuality of the period and provides a model for how sensing can function more fully in current endeavors.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2014

Available for download on Sunday, May 12, 2024