Christina Rossetti, Enduring Victorian Poet

Christina Rossetti-1877

Christina Georgina Rossetti (December 5, 1830 – December 29, 1894) is one of the most enduring and beloved of Victorian poets. Born in London, she was the youngest of four artistic and literary siblings.

She is known for her long poem “Goblin Market,” her love poem “Remember,” and the lyrics to the popular Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

Algernon Charles Swinburne and Lord Tennyson praised her work and she was hailed as the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Christina’s poetry and prose reflected her pensive, passionate, devotional, and, at times, playful personality.

Christina Rossetti used lyricism and symbolism to contemplate themes like earthly and divine love, nature, death, gender, and sexuality, and drew inspiration from the Bible, folk stories and the lives of the saints.


Early life and family

Christina’s father, Gabriele Rossetti, escaped post-Napoleonic Italy to find political asylum and a career as a Dante scholar in England. Her intensely religious mother, Frances Polidori, was English born, the daughter of an Italian expatriate. 

Christina, her sister and two brothers — the most famous being the Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti — grew up in a happy, loving home in London’s Fitzroy square, a gathering place for the city’s Italian refugees, among them scholars, painters, poets, and revolutionaries.

The Rossetti children were exposed to discussions of politics, literature, and art, and were all avid readers and writers, educated at home by their mother. Christina was a precocious child, and along with her siblings, received a bilingual education in English and Italian. She was often in poor health and regarded as an invalid within the family.

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12 Poems by Christina Rossetti, Victorian Poet
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Early poems of Christina Rossetti

By the age of sixteen Christina had written more than fifty poems, experimenting with sonnets, hymns and ballads. Her first published poems appeared in the Athenaeum, a prestigious literary magazine, and under the pen name “Ellen Alleyne,” she contributed to The Germ, a periodical of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

When she sent a number of new poems to Blackwood’s Magazine, she declared her commitment to writing poetry, for her “not a mechanism, but an impulse and reality” and “directed to what is right and true,” contradicting her brother William’s “Memoir” that asserted her poetry was spontaneous and unrevised, and casting her as a pious introverted woman who was unconcerned with worldly achievement.

In actuality, for most of her life, she was fully devoted to her writing and not averse to receiving recognition for it.

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Christina Rossetti

The Poetry of Christina Rossetti: A 19th-Century Analysis
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Deeply devoted to her faith

Christina’s tranquil beauty made her an ideal model for Dante Gabriel’s first completed oil painting, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, and his depiction of the AnnunciationEcce Ancilla Domini.

Although a vivacious child despite being somewhat sickly, she matured into a quiet young woman deeply devoted to her Anglican faith and suffered depression throughout her life. She remained unmarried, turning down three marriage proposals — to the artist James Collinson, the linguist Charles Cayley and the painter John Brett — due to religious differences.

She helped support her family by writing biographical articles on Italians, proofreading, and translating.


Goblin Market, and a prolific output

“Goblin Market” is arguably her best-known poem, as well as being considered her best.This long narrative poem, filled with eerie symbolism, was part of her first volume of published poems, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862). It was a great success in the realm of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

From there, her output proceeded prolifically. According to the Penguin Companion to English Literature (1971):

“She was a voluminous writer and this, together with the nature of her religious beliefs and her love of simplicity, many have contributed to the thin texture of some of her verse. She wrote sonnets, ballads, carols, and much religious verse, of which her carol ‘In the Bleak Mid-Winter is one of the most successful and characteristic.

Her volumes of poems included The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866); a collection of children’s poems and nursery rhymes, Sing Song (1872); A Pageant and Other Poems (1881); and Verses (1893).”

Among her best-known poems is “Up-Hill,” drawing a picture of an ascent on a difficult road, with religious salvation as the reward for the effort.

Christina Rossetti also wrote religious tracts, and in The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (1892) she shows her concern with contemporary social problems such as prostitution, vivisection, unemployment, and destitution.”

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Rossetti illustration for Goblin Market

Illustration from “Goblin Market” by Christina Rossetti
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Rejection of marriage

In 1848, James Collinson, a Catholic Pre-Raphaelite, proposed marriage to Christina. She at first accepted, then refused him on account of a difference in religious belief. She refused another offer of marriage on the same basis.

These experiences seeped into her poetry: A Pageant and Other Poems (1881) included a sonnet-sequence, Monna Innominata, which is one of the places in which she celebrates her denial of love for religious purity.

Though her rejection of marriage seemed purposeful, she still expressed the idea of lost love in her poems.


Illness and death

At the age of forty-twe, Christina Rossetti was diagnosed with Graves Disease, a thyroid condition that at one point brought her near death. She rallied and continued to write, though she rarely left home, and in her later years was a virtual recluse.

Her works touched on a number of topics; religion and devotion were topmost, but she also addressed poverty, politics, and prostitution.

She died from a reoccurrence of breast cancer on December 29, 1894, at the age of nearly 64, and is buried in Highgate Cemetery in north London. 

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The dove upon her branch - a novel of Christina Rossetti by DM Denton

Contributor DM Denton is the author of
A Dove Upon Her Branch: A Novel Portrait of Christina Rossetti
(available on Amazon*)
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Contributed by DM (Diane) Denton, a native of Western New York, is a writer and artist inspired by music, nature, and the contradictions of the human and creative spirit.

Her historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, which is set in 17th century Genoa and imagines an intimacy with the charismatic composer Alessandro Stradella, and its sequel To A Strange Somewhere Fled, which takes place in late Restoration England, were published by All Things That Matter Press, as were her Kindle short stories, The Snow White Gift and The Library Next Door. 

Diane has done the artwork for both her novels’ book covers, and published an illustrated poetry flower journal, A Friendship with Flowers. Visit her on the web at at DM Denton Author & Artist and  BardessMDenton.

More about Christina Rossetti

On this site

Major Works

Poetry Collections

  • Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
  • The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866)
  • Speaking Likenesses (1874)
  • A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
  • New Poems (1896)

Fiction and nonfiction

  • Commonplace and Other Stories (1870)
  • Called to Be Saints  (1881)
  • The Face of the Deep (1893)
  • Time Flies: A Reading Diary (1885)
  • The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (1892)

More Information

Read and Listen Online

* This is an Amazon Affiliate link. If an item is purchased after linking through, Literary Ladies Guide receives a modest commission, which helps us to keep growing!

2 Responses to “Christina Rossetti, Enduring Victorian Poet”

  1. Thank you Diane for this wonderful article about my favourite poet.
    I am quite surprised to know Christina never married, as she understood all aspects of love perfectly.
    To think I used to walk through Highgate Cemetery each day to school in the 1950s, and probably passed her resting place. But at the age of 13 I would not have known then that I would so love her poetry.
    Thank you also for all the links. I really enjoyed reading this …. Rosy

    • You’re so very welcome, Rosy! Thank YOU for coming over and taking the time to read and for your engaging comment.

      As far as Christina’s understanding of the aspects of love, I look forward to exploring that further as I write my fiction about her, but at this point I believe her feelings were intense and her heart devoted, albeit it in the end more to divine than earthly love. Regarding Charles Cayley, the scholarly translator of Dante – who offered the second marriage proposal she refused because he didn’t share the religious faith so important to her – her brother William wrote ‘Although she would not be his wife, no woman ever loved a man more deeply or more constantly.’ It seems they remained lifelong friends and when Cayley died he left many treasured possessions to her. In her world and aesthetic sensibilities, the joys, disappointments, pain and even commitment of loving could exist outside the framework of marriage and sexual experience.

      It is strange how sometimes we are connected to a place and its relevance doesn’t always reveal itself until later. I love that you walked through Highgate Cemetery as a teenager and ended up loving Christina Rossetti’s poetry!

      I wrote the bio, but Nava, the owner of this site found the links and quotes, which I have been enjoying, too! Best regards, Diane

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