Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (Christina Georgina Rossetti, 5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet.

She was the youngest of four children of Gabriele Rossetti, an Italian political refugee who had moved to London in 1824. Banned from Italy, he started to teach Italian at King’s College in 1831, and married Frances Polidori, the sister of John William Polidori, one of Lord Byron’s friends. Christina’s brothers, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a poet and painter, and William Michael Rossetti, a literary and art critic, were the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Christina sat as a model for several of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings.

She was educated at home by her mother. From an early age, she was drawn to the writings of Dante Alighieri, Keats, Augustine, Ann Radcliffe, George Herbert and John Donne. In October 1848, she published two poems, “Death’s Chill Between” and “Heart’s Chill Between”, in the literary weekly Athenaeum. In 1850, under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyne, she contributed seven poems to the short-lived Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, which was founded by her brother William.

In 1848, Christina became engaged to James Collinson, one of the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but declined the engagement after he converted to Roman Catholicism. She was a devout High Anglican, later influenced by the Tractarian Movement.

When her father’s failing eyesight forced him into retirement in 1853, Christina and her mother attempted to support the family by starting a school, at Frome, Somerset. The school lasted only one year, and they returned to London in 1854.

That same year, she forwarded six new poems to Blackwood’s Magazine, in a letter to its contributing editor: “I hope that I shall not be misunderstood as guilty of egotism or foolish vanity, when I say that my love for what is good in the works of others teaches one that there is something above the despicable in mine; that poetry is with me, not a mechanism, but an impulse and a reality; and that I know my aims in writing to be pure, and directed to that which is true and right.”

In 1859, Christina started volunteering at the St Mary Magdalene Penitentiary for ‘fallen women’ in Highgate, an institution dedicated to the social rehabilitation of prostitutes. While there, she started writing her most famous poem, Goblin Market.

Encouraged by her family, she eventually published a collection of poetry, Goblin Market and Other Poems, in 1862.  Her book was received with widespread critical praise, and her poems were lauded by Swinburne and Tennyson, among others. The collection The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems appeared in 1866, followed by Sing-Song, a collection of verse for children, in 1872. Christina was considered a possible successor to Alfred Tennyson as poet laureate, but was never appointed.

In 1866, she rejected another marriage proposal, this time with linguist Charles Cayley, because he was not a Christian. In the 1870s, she worked on a voluntary basis for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Christina never married and lived with her mother for most of her life. She suffered from a recurring illness which has been diagnosed as angina, neuralgia, or possibly tuberculosis. When she was 14, she started suffering from bouts of depression. In 1871, she fell seriously ill with Graves’ disease, a rare form of thyroid disorder which causes protruding eyes, vomiting, and heart attacks. For the rest of her life, she required narcotics to withstand the pain.

She continued to write and published another collection, A Pageant and Other Poems (1881). Rossetti also wrote religious prose works: Seek and Find (1879), Called To Be Saints (1881) and The Face of the Deep (1892).

With her brother Dante’s breakdown in 1872, her bouts of depression increased. After his death in 1882, Christina started to live as a recluse at home, and rarely received visitors or went outside. In 1891, she developed a fatal breast cancer, and died in 1894, at 64 years old. Rossetti’s brother, William Michael, edited her collected works in 1904, and her Complete Poems started to be published in 1979.

According to Ford Madox Ford, “Christina Rossetti seems to us to be the most valuable poet that the Victorian Age produced.”

Books

Poetry collections

  • Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
  • The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866)
  • Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872)
  • A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
  • The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, edited by William Michael Rossetti (1904)
  • The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, edited by Rebecca W. Crump, 3 vols. (1979–1985)

Fiction

  • Commonplace and Other Stories (1870)
  • Speaking Likenesses (1874)

Non-fiction

  • Seek and Find: A Double Series of Short Studies of the Benedicite (1879)
  • Called to Be Saints (1881)
  • Time Flies: A Reading Diary (1885)
  • The Face of the Deep (1893)
  • The Family Latters of Christina Rossetti, edited by William Michael Rossetti (1908)
  • The Letters of Christina Rossetti: 1843-1873, edited by Antony H. Harrison (1997)
  • Selected Prose of Christina Rossetti, edited by D. Kent and P. Stanwood (1998)
  • The Letters of Christina Rossetti: 1874-1881, edited by Antony H. Harrison (1999)

About her

  • Christina Rossetti, a Biographical and Critical Study by MacKenzie Bell (1930)
  • Christina Rossetti by Marya Zaturenska (1970)
  • Christina Rossetti by Dorothy M. Stuart (1971)
  • Christina Rossetti and Her Poetry by Edith Birkhead (1974)
  • The Bible and the Poetry of Christina Rossetti by Nilda Jimenez (1979)
  • A Divided Life by G. Battiscombe (1981)
  • Christina Rossetti: Critical Perspectives, 1862-1982, edited by Edna Charles (1985)
  • Christina Rossetti: The Poetry of Endurance by Dolores Rosenblum (1987)
  • Christina Rossetti and the Poetry of Discovery by Katherine J. Mayberry (1989)
  • Learning Not to Be First: The Life of Christina Rossetti, by Kathleen Jones (1992)
  • Christina Rossetti: A Writer’s Life by Jan Marsh (1995)
  • Christina Rossetti by Sharon Smulders (1996)
  • The Culture of Christina Rossetti: Female Poetics and Victorian Contexts, edited by Mary Arseneau (1999)
  • Christina Rossetti: Faith, Gender, and Time by Diane D’Amico (1999)
  • Women’s Poetry and Religion in Victorian England by Cynthia Scheinberg (2002)
  • Christina Rossetti’s Feminist Theology by Lynda Palazzo (2002)
  • Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now, by David Clifford and Laurence Roussillon (2004)
  • The Demon and the Damozel: Dynamics of Desire in the Works of Christina Rossetti and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, by Suzanne B. Waldman (2009)
  • Christina Rossetti – BBC Radio 4 (2011)

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