Roderick and Rosalba

Alternately titled: The Free Companions. A Tale of the Days of King Stephen

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1840, 1843
Genre: prose-tale


◦ Baum, ed., Manuscripts in the Duke University Library, 3-5.

◦ William T. Slayton Jr., “Roderick and Rosalba’: D. G. Rossetti's First Juvenile Work”, Victorians Institute Journal vol. 17 1989, 181-191.

Scholarly Commentary


This is one of DGR's earliest writings, a Gothic romance done in the manner of Scott and his many inheritors. It is quite a remarkable work, being far more than a simple “imitation” of this kind of romance. In fact, it is a self-conscious pastiche and parody of the genre, as DGR makes quite clear when the tale moves to its climax. Named “Rosalba” to that point in the tale, she suddenly appears as “the fainting figure of the lady Christabel”. The final paragraph of the work brings in Lord Byron, addresses the reader directly and ironically, and concludes the tale with a parodic glance at the moralistic ending of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. These narrative moves indicate why DGR is so assiduous in adhering to every aspect of the genre's conventions, from character, incident, and plot down to the basic elements of style and rhetoric (the work begins, outrageously, “It was a dark and stormy night”—a move that signals the pastiche style governing the work until the moment of climactic irony toward the end).

Textual History: Composition

The only known manuscript is the heavily corrected draft in the Duke University Library, which DGR composed in 1840. Oddly, when William T. Slayton Jr. first published this work, he headed it with the cancelled title, not the revised title that DGR gave it in 1843, when he labored at correcting and revising the tale. It is clear that DGR conceived this as a work to be illustrated (see commentary below). Indeed, surviving drawings for a decorated title page suggest that the plan was to print“privately on his gradfather's printing press”a book comprising four short novels, one written by each of the four Rossetti siblings.

Printing History

First printed in 1989 by Slayton (see below), whose transcription is not complete, lacking in particular many of the cancelled readings. Slayton remarks on the difficulties of deciphering the manuscript and consequently leaves much untranscribed, but with patience and care one can recover nearly all of it.


DGR's finished drawings for a decorated title page survive. In addition, the manuscript of DGR's tale displays illustrations at the beginning and near the end—a series of sketches that point to the characters in the story. The villain of the piece, the castellan, is clearly visible on page [1r] as the head with bushy hair and heavy beard.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 1-1840.raw.xml