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The Pre-Raphaelite Poet: Christina Rossetti

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An arts major and published indie author who writes on various subjects pertaining to humanities.

Portrait of Christina Rossetti

Portrait of Christina Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti entered the world in 1830 and was 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 where she learned the foundations that would propel her on an unusual journey for a woman of her day. Few females in Victorian England separated themselves from the confines of society’s restrictions for the proper expectations of a well-bred young woman where women remained unheard. However, Christina walked the boundaries of societal acceptance, and her controversial role was overlooked given the fame of her artist brother.

Rossetti started her literary excellence at an early age. She had received tutelage in the arts of writing, dictating her stories, and showing an 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.

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)

Fleeting Happiness For Rossetti

Christina found love in her late teens. James Collinson, an artist and a member of her brother Dante’s select group of friends, was the first of several suitors to win over her hand. The couple celebrated their engagement in 1850. However, the union did not last long because of Collinson’s religious pursuits, which did not align with Christina’s revolutionary stance.

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

Art Modeling Career

Christina often 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, was 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 clear 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”

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

— Phillip Larkin

Literary Career and Recognition

Rossetti’s first actual break in the literary world happened in 1862 when she entered her early thirties. Goblin Market and Other Poems, which the critics praised 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. 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 stop writing poetry. In 1881, she compiled and published A Pageant and Other Poems, which gained notoriety after years of focusing on the last craft.

Examples of Published Works:

Portrait of Christina Rossetti By Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

Portrait of Christina Rossetti By Artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1877

Rossetti's Final Years

Christina suffered from bouts of depression like her brother, Dante Gabriel. Literary historians suggest the poet might have been a victim of incestuous relations with her father, which may have triggered her emotional inconsistency. Theorist’s rumors have little to no documentation to prove an unwanted liaison between daughter and father had ever occurred, although much of her poetry hints at its possibility and leaves us questioning the reason she never married. In later years, the poet also suffered from Graves Disease, which wore her down along with a reoccurring breast tumor which caused her death in 1893.

Cited Sources & Works

  • Academy of American Poets: Christina Rossetti
  • Clifford, David, and Roussillon, Laurence. Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now. London: Anthem, 2004.
  • The Poetry Foundation: Christina Rossetti
  • Kirsty Stonell Walker. Pre-Raphaelite Girl Gang: Fifty Makers, Shakers and Heartbreakers from the Victorian Era – Unicorn Publishing Group, February 15, 2020
  • Jones, Kathleen. Learning Not to be First: A Biography of Christina Rossetti. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Interesting Literature. A Short Analysis of Christina Rossetti’s ‘In an Artist’s Studio

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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