In This Article Christina Rossetti

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Biographies
  • Bibliographies and Reference Works
  • Editions and Primary Materials
  • Essay Collections and Journals
  • “Monna Innominata”
  • The Prince’s Progress, Speaking Likenesses, and Other Works
  • Poetics
  • The Pre-Raphaelites
  • Comparative Studies
  • Reception

Victorian Literature Christina Rossetti
by
Sharon Aronofsky Weltman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0059

Introduction

Christina Georgina Rossetti (b. 1830–d. 1894) was a major Victorian poet, arguably the best of the Pre-Raphaelites. She was born in London to Gabriele Rossetti, an Italian poet and professor at King’s College London, and Frances Polidori Rossetti, a religious Italian-Englishwoman from a literary family. The youngest child of four, Christina Rossetti’s siblings included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the great Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet; William Michael Rossetti, a critic, editor, biographer, and historian; and Maria Francesca Rossetti, who translated Dante and belonged to the Anglican All Saints sisterhood. Christina Rossetti was engaged in 1848 to the Pre-Raphaelite painter James Collinson; that relationship broke up in 1850 when he returned to the Roman Catholic faith. She later fell in love with the linguist Charles Bagot Cayley, whom she declined to marry in 1866, also because of religious differences. In 1871 Rossetti was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. In spite of her being a semi-invalid in the last decades of her life, she remained remarkably productive. Breast cancer struck in early 1892, and—despite surgery—she died in December 1894. Although the narrative poem Goblin Market is her most famous and most anthologized work (even having been made into an off-Broadway musical), all her volumes of poetry and fiction were highly praised in her own time, both in Britain and America; many of her sonnets and other lyrics have become part of the cannon. In addition to separately published poems and prose pieces, Rossetti’s publications (many also published in Boston, New York, or Chicago) include Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems (1866), Commonplace and Other Stories (1870), Sing-Song: A Nursery Book (1872), Anno Dominus: A Prayer for Each Day of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874), Speaking Likenesses (1874), Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems (1875), Seek and Find: A Double Series of Short Studies of the Benedicite (1879), Called to be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied, (1881), A Pageant and Other Poems (1881), Letter and Spirit: Notes on the Commandments (1883), Time Flies: A Reading Diary (1885), Poems: New and Enlarged Edition (1890), The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse (1892), Verses (1893), and the posthumous New Poems, Hitherto Unpublished or Collected (1896) and Maude: A Story for Girls (1897). All of her books of poetry were dedicated to her mother.

General Overviews

In addition to the book-length general overviews mentioned here, the introductions to various editions of Rossetti’s poetry and prose are also very helpful and have the advantage of brevity. In particular, the introductions by Betty S. Flowers, Simon Humphries, and Jan Marsh are engaging, learned, and illuminating (see Editions and Primary Materials). Also brief is Leighton’s chapter on Rossetti in Victorian Women Poets (Leighton 1992). D’Amico 1999 and Mayberry 1989 operate from particular points of view and aim to fill certain critical gaps; nevertheless, each skillfully offers enough general information in the midst of their specific arguments to serve usefully as general overviews. The best book in this vein is Harrison 1988. Much of it is excerpted on the Victorian Web Christina Rossetti page.

  • D’Amico, Diane. Christina Rossetti: Faith, Gender, and Time. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.

    E-mail Citation »

    A vital contribution to Rossetti scholarship, offering the first full-length study using her religious prose to interpret her poems, balancing gender and faith with a meticulously historical approach.

  • Harrison, Antony H. Christina Rossetti in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

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    The best general overview, this often-cited book-length study helped to propel the late 20th-century reevaluation of Christina Rossetti’s work, drawing on an eclectic and always well-justified mix of theoretical and historicist approaches. Christina Rossetti in Context traces the tension between the aesthetic and ascetic impulses in Rossetti’s work, as well as situating her within the Pre-Raphaelite movement (and its relationship to Ruskin), Victorian medievalism, Romanticism, and high church Anglicanism.

  • Leighton, Angela. Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992.

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    For readers wanting a short introduction, this book includes a reliable and readable chapter on Rossetti that provides solid information on her life and works.

  • Mayberry, Katherine J. Christina Rossetti and the Poetry of Discovery. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.

    E-mail Citation »

    This self-proclaimed New Critical book rejects earlier biographical readings and concentrates on straightforward analyse du texte. Reviewers generally applaud Mayberry’s readings while pointing out that she contradicts herself by making numerous biographical claims in violation of her own New Critical principles; nevertheless, Mayberry demonstrates that Rossetti succeeds in developing the aesthetic (and a remarkably Ruskinian one) that she is “justified as a poet as long as she felt her poetry expressed moral truth” (p. 108).

  • Victorian Web. Christina Rossetti: An Overview.

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    The best and most accessible general overview of Christina Rossetti is her entry on the Victorian Web. Much of it is excerpted from the stellar Harrison 1988. George Landow, the founder of the Victorian Web and a world-famous Pre-Raphaelite scholar, also provides significant material on Rossetti, as do many others. But while it is mostly very reliable, it is occasionally out of date, such as identifying Crump’s standard edition as two volumes even though a third has now appeared.

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