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Stories, Poems and Humor
Left Book Author Profile
Rossetti, Christina G.
Left Book

All Titles

Authored by:
Rossetti, Christina G.

Before the Paling of the Stars [Poetry]
Christmas Carol, A [Poetry]
Love Came Down at Christmas [Poetry]
Shepherds Had An Angel, The [Poetry]
What Can I Give Him? [Poetry]



Biography

One of the most important of English woman poets, who was the sister of the painter-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and a member of the Pre-Raphaelite art movement. 'A Birthday,' 'When I Am Dead,' and 'Up-Hill' are probably Rossetti's best-known single works. After a serious illness in 1874, she rarely received visitors or went outside her home. Her favorite themes were unhappy love, death, and premature resignation. Especially her later works deal with somber religious feelings.


Christina Rossetti was born in London, one of four children of Italian parents. Her father was the poet Gabriele Rossetti (1783-1854), professor of Italian at King's College from 1831. He resigned in 1845 because of blindness. All the four children in the family became writers, Dante Gabriel also gained fame as a painter. Christina was educated at home by her mother, Frances Polidori, a former governess, an Anglican of devout evangelical bent. She shared her parents' interest in poetry and was portrayed in the paintings and drawings of the Pre-Raphaelites. Christina was the model for his brother's picture The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849), which was the first picture to be signed P.R.B. Jan Marsh has proposed in her biography Christina Rossetti: A Writer's Life (1995) that Christina was sexually abused by her father, but "perhaps like many abuse victims she banished the knowledge from conscious memory." However, this kind of speculative claims become highly popular in biographies in the 1990s.


Rossetti's first verses were written in 1842 and printed in the private press of her grandfather. In 1850, under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyne, she contributed seven poems to the short-lived Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, which was founded by her brother William Michael and his friends. When the family was in a financial trouble, she helped her mother to keep a school at Frome, Somerset. The school was not a success, and they returned in 1854 to London. Except for two brief visits abroad, she lived with the mother all her life.


Rossetti's deeply religious temperament left its marks on her writing. She was a devout High Anglican, much influenced by the Tractarian, or Oxford, Movement. Rossetti broke engagement to the artist James Collison, an original member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, when he joined the Roman Catholic church. She also rejected Charles Bagot Cayley for religious reasons.


By the 1880s, recurrent bouts of Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder, had made Rossetti an invalid, and ended her attempts to work as a governess. Rossetti's illness restricted her social life, but she continued to write sonnets and ballads. Especially she was interested the apocalyptic books, and such religious writers as Augustine and Thomas Kempis. She also admired George Herbert and John Donne. Among her later works are A PAGEANT AND OTHER POEMS (1881), and THE FACE OF THE DEEP (1892). She was considered a possible successor to Alfred Tennyson as poet laureate. To accept the challenge, she wrote a royal elegy. However, Alfred Austin was appointed poet laureate in 1896. Rossetti developed a fatal cancer in 1891, and died in London on December 29, 1894.


In 'After Death', which she wrote in 1849, the poet-speaker lays on a bed, with a shroud on her face, observing the surroundings before the burial. "He did not love me living; but once dead / He pitied me; and very sweet it is / To know he still is warm tho' I am cold." The theme of death appears next year also in her brother's poem 'My Sister's Sleep', (1850), in which death visits a family on a Christmas Eve. Rossetti's best-known work, GOBLIN MARKET AND OTHER POEMS, was published in 1862. The collection established Rossetti as a significant voice in Victorian poetry. The title poem is a cryptic fairy-tale and tells the story of two sisters, Lizzie and Laura, who are tempted the eat the fruit of the goblin men. After eating the fruit, Laura cannot see the goblins. Lizzie, whose refusal have angered the goblins, is attacked by them, and she saves her sister in an act of sacrifice. Laura, longing to taste again the fruit, licks the juices with which Lizzie is covered. "For there is no friend like a sister / In calm or stormy weather." THE PRICE'S PROGRESS, AND OTHER POEMS, appeared in 1866. SING SONG. A NURSERY RHYME BOOK was illustrated by Arthur Hughes in 1872. Rossetti also wrote religious prose works, such as SEEK AND FIND (1879), CALLED TO BE SAINTS (1881) and THE FACE OF THE DEEP (1892).


Rossetti's brother William Michael edited her complete works in 1904. He once said that "Christina's habits of composing were eminently of the spontaneous kind. I question her having ever once deliberated with herself whether or not she would write something or other, and then, after thinking out a subject, having proceeded to treat it in regular spells of work. Instead of this, something impelled her feelings, or "came into her head," and her hand obeyed the dictation. I suppose she scribbled lines off rapidly enough, and afterwards took whatever amount of pains she deemed requisite for keeping them in right form and expression." Rossetti's work has suffered from reductive interpretations, but she is increasingly being reconsidered as a major Victorian poet.




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