The Life, Art, and Poetry of Christina Rossetti

Updated on June 18, 2019
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An Arts, Literature and History Buff, Humanities Major, Published Indie Writer, Avid Photographer, and World Foodie & Travel Enthusiast

Christina Georgina Rossetti entered the world in 1830 and destined for a life of literary influence. As the daughter of an exiled Italian poet, Gabriele Rossetti and sister to a rising artist, Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Christina had every advantage to succeed, while living at Charlotte Street in the brownstone rows of upper-class London.

Here she learned the foundations that would propel her on an unusual journey for a woman of her day. Not many females in Victorian England at that time had the opportunity to separate themselves from the confines of society’s restrictions when it came to the proper expectations of a well-bred young woman where women were seen and not heard. However, Christina managed to walk the boundaries of societal acceptance, and her controversial role overlooked given the fame of her artist brother.

Rossetti started her literary excellence at an early age. Before her parents had ever tutored her in the arts of writing, she had already dictated her stories, showing her aptitude for literature. Influenced by the works of Keats and Dante Alighieri, Christina developed her writing style that would, later on, set the tone in her work, placing great importance on poetry.

Portrait of Christina Rossetti
Portrait of Christina Rossetti | Source

She is the finest woman-poet since Mrs. Browning, by a long way; and in artless art, if not in intellectual impulse, is greatly Mrs. Browning’s superior

— William Sharp in The Atlantic Monthly (June 1895)

Young Lovers Spurned

Christina found love in her late teens. James Collinson, an artist and member of her brother Dante’s Pre-Raphaelite movement was the first of several suitors to win over her hand. The couple became engaged in 1850, but the union did not last long due to his choice in a religious pursuit which did not align with Christina’s revolutionary stance.

Another suitor, Charles Cayley, a Linguist with whom she had a brief romance, but also ended the relationship on the grounds of his religious pursuit. Though there’s not much information about her love affair with the artist John Brett, the relationship ended with her resolute refusal and most likely because Christina wanted to concentrate on her future writing career.

Pre-Raphaelite Art Model

On occasion, Christina posed for her brother, Dante Gabriel in the early days of his artist profession. Along with their mother, Frances Polidori Rossetti, both women sat for one of his very first paintings, the grand depiction of The Girlhood of Mary Virgin where Christina took on the role of Mary, while her mother posed as St. Anne, the mother of Mary.

Another painting Oh, What’s That in the Hollow, so Pale I Quake to Follow? By the accomplished artist, Edward Robert Hughes, a friend of William Holman Hunt who co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood became inspired by Christina’s poem “Amor Mundi”.

Though Christina most likely enjoyed basking in the glow of her brother’s famous works of art, she still harbored contrasting views about male artists and the female models who sat for their canvases as is evident in a poem she wrote about objectifying women titled, In an Artist’s Studio.

“Oh, What’s That in the Hollow, so Pale I Quake to Follow?”  Macabre Painting by Pre-Raphaelite Artist Edward Robert Hughes who was inspired by Christina Rossetti’s poem “Amor Mundi”
“Oh, What’s That in the Hollow, so Pale I Quake to Follow?” Macabre Painting by Pre-Raphaelite Artist Edward Robert Hughes who was inspired by Christina Rossetti’s poem “Amor Mundi” | Source

Rossetti’s work is unequaled for its objective expression of happiness denied and a certain unfamiliar, steely stoicism.

— Phillip Larkin

Rossetti’s Literary Career and Recognition

Rossetti’s first real break in the literary world happened in 1862 when she entered her early thirties. Goblin Market and Other Poems, which the critics praised her work and set the stage for a literary career as a female poet. Stuck in the shadows of her greatest poetic work, Rossetti found it hard to overcome the rave review success of Goblin Market and to follow, any other poems which she published did not measure up to her first work. As an alternative, she took another path, writing children’s stories and Christian themed prose. Some of her recognized work in these genres included: Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872) and Called to be Saints (1876). Even though Rossetti switched the tone of her literary career, she did not wholly stop writing poetry. In 1881, she compiled and published A Pageant and Other Poems, which gained notoriety after years focusing on the last craft.

Examples of Published Works:

Portrait of Christina Rossetti in Her Later Years 1877
Portrait of Christina Rossetti in Her Later Years 1877 | Source

The Final Days

Like her brother and father, Christina suffered from bouts of depression. Literary historians suggest that the poet might have been a victim of incestuous relations with her father, which may have triggered her emotional inconsistency. Whether or not an unwanted liaison between daughter and father had ever occurred, the theorist’s rumors have little documentation and altogether proven although much of her poetry hints at its possibility and leaves us questioning the reason as to why she never married.

In later years, the poet also suffered from Graves Disease which eventually wore her down along with a reoccurring breast tumor which ultimately caused her death in 1893.

Cited Sources & Works

© 2019 ziyena


Submit a Comment
  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    13 months ago from UK

    This is developing into an interesting series of articles.

  • John Welford profile image

    John Welford 

    13 months ago from Barlestone, Leicestershire

    A very interesting and well-written account - thank you!


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