Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. Her hand and wrist were so finely formed that she could wear sleeves not less bare of style than those in which the Blessed Virgin appeared to Italian painters; and her profile as well as her stature and bearing seemed to gain the more dignity from her plain garments, which by the side of provincial fashion gave her the impressiveness of a fine quotation from the Bible,—or from one of our elder poets,—in a paragraph of to-day’s newspaper.
——George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)
The word “that” in the first sentence of the novel immediately suggests restriction: not just any kind of beauty, not some kind of beauty left to the vagaries of the reader’s imagination, but a specific kind of beauty that, if the reader does not recognize it from the data in the first paragraph, will be explicated further in several of those that follow.
[…] In order to understand the kind of beauty that poor dress throws into relief, we have to imaginatively place Dorothea’s hand and wrist into the sleeves of the garment of the Blessed Virgin as she appears in Italian paintings. If we have never seen Italian paintings of the Virgin, we may be more than a bit stuck. Allusion performs a rhetorical and a social function here: it takes us to the right metaphor; it escorts us, as well, to the right sense of our own social and cultural place.
——Elaine Freedgood, Ideas in Things: Fugitive Meaning in the Victorian Novel
The gesture of allusion is shaped by a nostalgia for the lost event; the object serves only as a souvenir of our knowing. In allusiveness we seek to follow the trace of the event to its origin, an origin which eludes us. The impossibility of repetition precludes an authentic engagement with the text of the event. We move, therefore, from the authentic to the aesthetic. The impossibility of recapturing the point of origin produces a desire which is sublimated by a transformation of the self.
[…] the allusive relationship is a conjunctive one—the author cannot proceed without a mutual knowledge held with his readers regarding the referentiality of the text. In allusion, the indirectness of reference is used not to trick the reader so much as to signal to the reader that he is in on the trick.
Thus every allusion, from “Brush up your Shakespeare” to Thackeray’s “Had Caroline read of Valancourt and Emily for nothing?” (A Shabby Genteel Story, Chapter V), is the articulation of a statement of membership.
——Susan Stewart, “The Pickpocket: a Study in Tradition and Allusion”
She was thinking of a passage in that letter which George had written to her during his honeymoon—a passage in which he said: “My childish little wife is watching me as I write this—Ah! how I wish you could see her, Clara! Her eyes are as blue and as clear as the skies on a bright summer’s day, and her hair falls about her face like the pale golden halo you see round the head of a Madonna in an Italian picture.”
I am afraid the young man belonged to the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, for he had spent a most unconscionable time upon the accessories of this picture—upon my lady’s crispy ringlets and the heavy folds of her crimson velvet dress.
Yes, the painter must have been a pre-Raphaelite. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have painted, hair by hair, those feathery masses of ringlets, with every glimmer of gold, and every shadow of pale brown. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid brightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite could have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait.
It was so like, and yet so unlike. It was as if you had burned strange-colored fires before my lady’s face, and by their influence brought out new lines and new expressions never seen in it before. The perfection of feature, the brilliancy of coloring, were there; but I suppose the painter had copied quaint mediaeval monstrosities until his brain had grown bewildered, for my lady, in his portrait of her, had something of the aspect of a beautiful fiend.
Her crimson dress, exaggerated like all the rest in this strange picture, hung about her in folds that looked like flames, her fair head peeping out of the lurid mass of color as if out of a raging furnace. Indeed the crimson dress, the sunshine on the face, the red gold gleaming in the yellow hair, the ripe scarlet of the pouting lips, the glowing colors of each accessory of the minutely painted background, all combined to render the first effect of the painting by no means an agreeable one.
——M. E. Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)