Christina Georgina Rossetti (December 5, 1830 – December 29, 1894) was an English poet. Her siblings were the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti and Maria Francesca Rossetti. Their father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian poet and a political asylum seeker from Naples, and their mother, Frances Polidori, was the sister of Lord Byron's friend and physician, John William Polidori.
Rossetti was born in London and educated at home by her mother. In the 1840s her family was stricken with severe financial difficulties due to the deterioration of her father's physical and mental health. He allegedly sexually abused Christina
. When she was 14, Rossetti suffered a nervous breakdown which was followed by bouts of depression and related illness. During this period she, and her mother and sister, became seriously interested in the Anglo-Catholic movement that was part of the Church of England. This religious devotion played a major role in Rossetti's personal life: in her late teens she became engaged to the painter James Collinson but this ended because he reverted to Catholicism; later she became involved with the linguist Charles Cayley but did not marry him, also for religious reasons.
Illustration for the cover of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market and Other Poems
(1862), by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Rossetti began writing at an early age but she was 31 before her first work was published — Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862). The collection garnered much critical praise and, according to Jan Marsh, "Elizabeth Barrett Browning's death two months later led to Rossetti being hailed as her natural successor as 'female laureate'." The title poem from this book is Rossetti's best known work and, although on first glance it may seem merely to be a nursery rhyme about two sisters' misadventures with goblins, the poem is multi-layered, challenging, and complex. Critics have interpreted the piece in a variety of ways: seeing it as an allegory about temptation and salvation; a commentary on Victorian gender roles and female agency; and a work about erotic desire and social redemption. Some readers have noted its likeness to Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" given both poems' religious themes of temptation, sin and redemption by vicarious suffering. She also wrote the lyrics to the well-known Christmas carol 'In the Bleak Midwinter'.
Rossetti continued to write and publish for the rest of her life although she focused primarily on devotional writing and children's poetry. She maintained a large circle of friends and for ten years volunteered at a home for prostitutes. She was ambivalent about women's suffrage but many scholars have identified feminist themes in her poetry. Furthermore, as Marsh notes, "she was opposed to war, slavery (in the American South), cruelty to animals (in the prevalent practice of animal experimentation), the exploitation of girls in under-age prostitution and all forms of military aggression."
Portrait of Christina Rossetti, by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti
In 1893 Rossetti developed cancer and Graves' disease then died the following year, due to the cancer, December 29, 1894; she is buried in Highgate Cemetery. In the early 20th century Rossetti's popularity faded as many respected Victorian writers' reputations suffered from Modernism's backlash. Rossetti remained largely unnoticed and unread until the 1970s when feminist scholars began to recover and comment on her work. In the last few decades Rossetti's writing has been rediscovered and she has regained admittance into the Victorian literary canon.
- Clifford, David and Roussillon, Laurence. Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now. London: Anthem, 2004.
- Marsh, Jan. Introduction. Poems and Prose. By Christina Rossetti. London: Everyman, 1994. xvii – xxxiii.
- Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
- The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1856)
- Commonplace (1870)
- Sing-Song: a Nursery Rhyme Book (1872, 1893)
- A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
- Verses (1893)
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