Authors: Christina Rossetti

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

English poet associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

December 5, 1830

London, England

December 29, 1894

London, England

Biography

Christina Georgina Rossetti, born in London on December 5, 1830, to Frances Polidori and Gabriele Rossetti, a Neapolitan political refugee who had settled in England and later became a professor of Italian at King’s College, London. She was the youngest of four children; she had two older brothers, poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and writer William Michael Rossetti, and an older sister, writer Maria Francesda Rossetti. Christina Rossetti began to write poetry very early in life, and in 1847, when she was seventeen, a small volume of her work was printed at the private press of her grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, in honor of her mother. A year later, in 1848, one of her lyrics was published in the Athenaeum. When Dante Gabriel Rossetti founded the Pre-Raphaelite magazine the Germ in 1850, she became one of its frequent contributors, using the pseudonym Ellen Alleyn.

Portrait of Christina Rossetti

By Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Twelve years later Rossetti's second volume, Goblin Market, and Other Poems (1862), was published. The title poem received mixed reviews for its fantastic qualities, but her devotional poems were widely praised. Rossetti continued to write until the end of her life. Her third book of poetry, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems (1866), brought her recognition as a rising poet, while Sing-Song (1872) was widely appreciated for its musical qualities and playful images for children. Her reputation reached its greatest height with the publication of her fifth book of original verse, A Pageant, and Other Poems (1881), which caused her to be compared with Elizabeth Barrett Browning. During this time, she also published a collection titled Poems (1866, rev. 1888) in the United States, as well as a volume collecting poems from Goblin Market and The Prince’s Progress in 1875.

Although her creative life extended over a long period, her output, in terms of quantity, was not extensive for two reasons. The first had to do with the form of the poetry she wrote and the fact that she was essentially a composer of brief lyrics. Like precious gems, her poems are small but clear and of exceeding value, but because she wrote only when she felt the possibility of perfection, her work is limited. The other reason for her small poetic output was her extreme religious devotion. As she grew older she turned more and more from her poetry to the writing of her religious prose. Her religious interests enhanced her poetry, for the poetry itself is imbued with her religious feelings. Her religious poems often speak of the vanity of earthly life, the expectation of early death, and the hope for heaven as one journeys toward God. Some poems, such as “Three Enemies,” “Weary in Well-Doing,” and “A Better Resurrection,” are specifically religious in theme and subject matter. In all she wrote, at the root—if not in stalk and branch—is her religious preoccupation.

This preoccupation was dominant in her personality as well. Sickly most of her life and an invalid during her last years, she turned more and more from the world until she became almost a complete recluse. In her youth she had refused two different suitors because they did not conform to her Church of England beliefs,choosing instead to remain with her equally devout mother. Having channeled all her emotional energies into her religion, nevertheless in the end she was tormented by doubt, not of her beliefs but of her own worthiness. In this spirit she cried out, in “A Better Resurrection,” “My life is like a faded leaf / My harvest dwindled to a husk.” Her poetry sprang from her inner conflicts over the love of earthly life in tension with a love for the spiritual life beyond the material world. Rossetti died in London on December 29, 1894.

Author Works Poetry: Verses: Dedicated to Her Mother, 1847 Goblin Market, and Other Poems, 1862 The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems, 1866 Poems, 1866, 1888 Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book, 1872, 1893 Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems, 1875 A Pageant, and Other Poems, 1881 Poems, 1890 Verses, 1893 New Poems, Hitherto Unpublished or Uncollected, 1896 (William Michael Rossetti, editor) The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, 1904–5 (2 volumes; William Michael Rossetti, editor) Short Fiction: Commonplace, and Other Short Stories, 1870 (published in US as Commonplace, a Tale of To-day, and Other Stories, 1870) Speaking Likenesses, 1874 Maude: A Story for Girls, 1897 (novella; published in US as Maude: Prose and Verse, 1897) Nonfiction: Annus Domini: A Prayer for Each Day of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture, 1874 Seek and Find: A Double Series of Short Studies of the Benedicite, 1879 Called to Be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied, 1881 Letter and Spirit: Notes on the Commandments, 1883 Time Flies: A Reading Diary, 1885 The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse, 1892 Bibliography Chapman, Alison. The Afterlife of Christina Rossetti. St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Analyzes Rossetti’s work and considers the history of her reception. Charles, Edna Kotin. Christina Rossetti: Critical Perspectives, 1862–1982. Susquehanna UP, 1985. Shows how literary criticism has changed in the last 120 years and how these changing attitudes have affected the way in which Rossetti’s poems are perceived. Many nineteenth century reviewers concentrated on her religious poems, whereas modern critics focus on her works of fantasy. Suitable for graduate students and advanced undergraduates. Jones, Kathleen. Learning Not to Be First: The Life of Christina Rossetti. Windrush, 1991. An illuminating biography of Rossetti, both product and victim of the Victorian era’s social and religious standards. Includes bibliography and index. Marsh, Jan. Christina Rossetti: A Writer’s Life. Viking Press, 1995. A biography that explains Rossetti’s recurrent bouts of depression, traces her ties to London’s literati, and discusses her place in the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Mayberry, Katherine J. Christina Rossetti and the Poetry of Discovery. Louisiana State UP, 1989. Mayberry maintains that Rossetti was a meticulous professional writer and not merely a talented amateur. She argues that Rossetti wrote about her role as a woman and therefore was an early feminist. Includes an index and a bibliography. Rosenblum, Dolores. Christina Rossetti: The Poetry of Endurance. Southern Illinois UP, 1986. Rosenblum is the first to analyze thoroughly the text of Rossetti’s poetry in the light of the new feminist criticism. She especially examines the significance of “Goblin Market,” the themes of which are central to all Rossetti’s works. This book is dense and technical and is appropriate only for advanced students of Rossetti.

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