By Diane Denton | On August 30, 2015 | Comments (2)
Christina Georgina Rossetti (December 5, 1830 – December 29, 1894), one of the most enduring of Victorian poets, was born in London, the youngest of four artistic and literary siblings.
Best 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.
She 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.
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 adverse to receiving recognition for it.
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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 Annunciation, Ecce 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 remains 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). A Pageant included a sonnet-sequence, Monna Innominata, which is one of the places in which she celebrates her denial of love for religious purity, in her rejection in 1866 of a proposal of marriage.
Christina Rossetti 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.”
Illness and death
At the age of 42 Christina Rossetti was diagnosed with Graves Disease, a thyroid condition that at one point brought her near death, but she rallied and continued to write, mostly devotional and children’s pieces. 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.
Christina Rossetti page on Amazon
More about Christina Rossetti on this site
- 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)
Read and Listen Online
Contributed by DM (Diane) Denton, a native of Western New York, 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.