Jump to content

Christina Rossetti

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Christina Georgina Rossetti)

Christina Rossetti
BornChristina Georgina Rossetti
(1830-12-05)5 December 1830
London, England
Died29 December 1894(1894-12-29) (aged 64)
London, England
Literary movementPre-Raphaelite
Notable worksGoblin Market; lyrical poems; hymns

Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English writer of romantic, devotional and children's poems, including "Goblin Market" and "Remember". She also wrote the words of two Christmas carols well known in Britain: "In the Bleak Midwinter", later set by Gustav Holst, Katherine Kennicott Davis, and Harold Darke, and "Love Came Down at Christmas", also set by Darke and other composers. She was a sister of the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and features in several of his paintings.

Early life and education[edit]

Christina Rossetti was born in 38 Charlotte Street (now 110 Hallam Street), London, to Gabriele Rossetti, a poet and a political exile from Vasto, Abruzzo, Italy, since 1824, and Frances Polidori, the sister of Lord Byron's friend and physician John William Polidori.[1] She had two brothers and a sister: Dante Gabriel became an influential artist and poet, and William Michael and Maria both became writers.[1] Christina, the youngest, and a lively child, dictated her first story to her mother before she had learnt to write.[2][3][4]

Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and father through religious works, classics, fairy tales and novels. Rossetti delighted in the works of Keats, Scott, Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis.[5] The influence of the work of Dante Alighieri, Petrarch and other Italian writers filled the home and influenced Rossetti's later writing. Their household was open to visiting Italian scholars, artists and revolutionaries.[3] The family homes in Bloomsbury at no.38 and later no.50 Charlotte (Hallam) Street (now demolished)[6] were within easy reach of Madame Tussauds, London Zoo and the newly opened Regent's Park, which she visited regularly. Unlike her parents, Rossetti felt at home in London and was seemingly happy.[3][5]

Christina Rossetti, by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In the 1840s, Rossetti's family faced financial troubles due to a deterioration in her father's physical and mental health. In 1843, he was diagnosed with persistent bronchitis, possibly tuberculosis, and faced losing his sight. He gave up his teaching post at King's College and though he lived another 11 years, suffered from depression and was never physically well again. Rossetti's mother began teaching to support the family, and Maria became a live-in governess, a prospect that Christina Rossetti dreaded. At the time her brother William was working for the Excise Office and Gabriel was at art school, leaving Christina increasingly isolated at home.[7] When she was 14, she suffered a nervous breakdown and left school. Bouts of depression and related illness followed. During this period she, her mother and her sister became absorbed in the Anglo-Catholic movement that developed in the Church of England. Religious devotion came to play a major role in her life.

In her late teens, Rossetti became engaged to the painter James Collinson, the first of three suitors. He, like her brothers Dante and William, was a founding member of the avant-garde Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, established in 1848.[8] The engagement ended in 1850 when he reverted to Catholicism. In 1853, when the family had financial difficulties, Christina helped her mother keep a school in Fromefield, Frome, but it did not succeed. A plaque marks the house.[9] In 1854 the pair returned to London, where Christina's father died.[10] She later became involved with the linguist Charles Cayley, but declined to marry him, also for religious reasons.[8] A third offer came from the painter John Brett, whom she likewise refused.[3]

Rossetti sat for several of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's paintings. In 1848, she sat for the Virgin Mary in his first completed oil painting, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, and the first work he inscribed with the initials "PRB", later revealed as standing for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.[11] The following year she modelled for his depiction of the Annunciation, Ecce Ancilla Domini. A line from her poem "Who shall deliver me?" inspired a painting by Fernand Khnopff called I lock my door upon myself. In 1849 she again became seriously ill with depression, and around 1857 had a major religious crisis.[3]


Up Hill

Does the road wind up hill all the way?
       Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
       From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
       A roof for when the slow dark hours begin?
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
       You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
       Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
       They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
       Of labor you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
       Yea, beds for all who come.

By Christina Georgina Rossetti[12]

Illustration for the cover of Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), by her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti

From 1842 onward Rossetti began writing down and dating her poems. Most of them imitated her favoured poets. In 1847 she began experimenting with verse forms such as sonnets, hymns and ballads, while drawing on narratives from the Bible, folk tales and the lives of saints. Her early pieces often meditate on death and loss in the Romantic tradition.[5] Her first two poems published were "Death's Chill Between" and "Heart's Chill Between", in the Athenaeum magazine in 1848.[13][14] She used the pseudonym "Ellen Alleyne" in the literary periodical, The Germ, published by the Pre-Raphaelites from January to April 1850 and edited by her brother William.[1] This marked the beginning of her public career.[15]

Rossetti's more critical reflections on the artistic movement her brother had begun were expressed in an 1856 poem "In the Artist's Studio". Here she reflects on seeing multiple paintings of the same model. For Rossetti, the artist's idealised vision of the model's character begins to overwhelm his work, until "every canvas means/ the one same meaning."[16] Dinah Roe, in her introduction to the Penguin Classics collection of Pre-Raphaelite poetry, argues that this critique of her brother and similar male artists is less about "the objectification of women" than about "the male artist's self-worship".[17]

Rossetti's first commercially printed collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was published under her own name by Macmillan & Co. in 1862, when she was 31.[18] Dante Gabriel Rossetti became his sister's collaborator and created much-praised woodcut illustrations to the book which enhanced the effect of the work and emphasised its sensuality.[19] Goblin Market was widely praised by critics, who placed her as the foremost female poet of the day; sales, however, were disappointing. She was lauded by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Algernon Swinburne and Tennyson.[15] After its publication, Rossetti was named the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who had died the year before in 1861.[15] The title poem, one of her best known, is ostensibly about two sisters' misadventures with goblins, but critics have seen it in various ways including an allegory of temptation and salvation, a comment on Victorian gender roles and female agency, and a work of erotic desire and social redemption.[19]

Rossetti worked voluntarily in 1859–1870 at the St Mary Magdalene house of charity in Highgate, a refuge for ex-prostitutes. It is suggested that Goblin Market may have been inspired by "fallen women" she came to know.[20] There are parallels with Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in religious themes of temptation, sin and redemption by vicarious suffering.[21] Swinburne in 1883 dedicated A Century of Roundels to Rossetti, as she adopted his roundel form in a number of poems, for instance in Wife to Husband.[22] She was ambivalent about women's suffrage, but many have found feminist themes in her work.[23] She opposed slavery in the United States, cruelty to animals in prevalent vivisection, and exploitation of girls in under-age prostitution.[24]

Rossetti kept a wide circle of friends and correspondents. She continued to write and publish for the rest of her life, mainly devotional work and children's poetry. In the years just before her death, she wrote The Face of the Deep, (1892) a book of devotional prose, and oversaw an enlarged edition of Sing-Song, originally published in 1872, in 1893.[25] She died late the next year.

Grave of Christina Rossetti in Highgate Cemetery (West side)

Rossetti was one of the first female stamp collectors, beginning her collection in 1847, just seven years after the first stamp was issued.[26]

Later life[edit]

When I am dead, my dearest,
 Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
 Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
 With showers and dewdrops wet:
And if thou wilt, remember,
 And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
 I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
 Sing on as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
 That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
 And haply may forget.


In her later decades, Rossetti suffered from a type of hyperthyroidismGraves' disease – diagnosed in 1872, suffering a near-fatal attack in the early 1870s.[1][3] In 1893, she developed breast cancer. The tumour was removed, but there was a recurrence in September 1893.

Christina Rossetti died in great pain and anguish of cancer on 29 December 1893 and was buried on 2 January 1894 in the family grave on the west side of Highgate Cemetery, which, notoriously had been opened in October 1869 so that Gabriel could retrieve a volume of poems he had buried with his wife.[18][25][28] There she joined her father, mother and Elizabeth Siddal, wife of her brother Dante Gabriel. Her brother William was also buried there in 1919, as were the ashes of four subsequent family members.

There is a stone tablet on the façade of 30 Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, marking her final home, where she died.[29]


Rossetti's popularity in her lifetime did not approach that of her contemporary Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but her standing remained strong after her death. Her popularity faded in the early 20th century in the wake of Modernism, but scholars began to explore Freudian themes in her work, such as religious and sexual repression, reaching for personal, biographical interpretations of her poetry.[3]

Academics studying her work in the 1970s saw beyond the lyrical sweetness to her mastery of prosody and versification. Feminists held her as symbol of constrained female genius and a leader among 19th-century poets.[1][3] Her writings strongly influenced writers such as Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Elizabeth Jennings, and Philip Larkin. The critic Basil de Sélincourt called her "all but our greatest woman poet... incomparably our greatest craftswoman... probably in the first twelve of the masters of English verse."[3][30]

The year stood at its equinox,
  And bluff the North was blowing.
A bleat of lambs came from the flocks,
  Green hardy things were growing.
I met a maid with shining locks,
  Where milky kine were lowing.

She wore a kerchief on her neck
  Her bare arm showed its dimple.
Her apron spread without a speck
  Her air was frank and simple.

From "The Milking-Maid" poem by Christina Georgina Rossetti[31]

Rossetti's Christmas poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" became widely known in the English-speaking world after her death, when set as a Christmas carol by Gustav Holst and later by Harold Darke.[32] Her poem "Love Came Down at Christmas" (1885) has also been widely arranged as a carol.[33][34]

British composers receptive to Rossetti's verse included Alexander Mackenzie (Three Songs, Op. 17, 1878), Frederick Cowen, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Six Sorrow Songs, Op. 57, 1904), Hubert Parry, Hope Squire,[35] Charles Villiers Stanford, and Jack Gibbons (sixteen song settings).[36][37] In 1918, John Ireland set eight poems from her Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book to music in his song cycle Mother and Child.[38][39] The first verse of Yoko Ono's song "Who Has Seen the Wind?" (1970) was taken from Rossetti's homonymous poem.[40][41][42]

The poem "Song" was an inspiration for Bear McCreary's composition When I Am Dead, published in 2015.[43] Two of Rossetti's poems, "Where Sunless Rivers Weep" and "Weeping Willow", were set to music by Barbara Arens in her All Beautiful & Splendid Things: 12 + 1 Piano Songs on Poems by Women (2017, Editions Musica Ferrum). Rossetti's "Love is Like a Rose" was set to music by Constance Cochnower Virtue;[44] "Love Me, I Love You," was set to music by Hanna Vollenhoven;[45] and "Song of the Dawn" was set to music by Elise Fellows White.[46]

In 2000, one of many Millennium projects across the country was a poetry stone placed in what had been the grounds of North Hill House in Frome. On one side is an excerpt from her poem, "What Good Shall My Life Do Me": "Love lights the sun: love through the dark/Lights the moon's evanescent arc:/Same Love lights up the glow-worms spark." She wrote about her brief stay in Frome, which had "an abundance of green slopes and gentle declivities: no boldness or grandeur but plenty of peaceful beauty".[47]

In 2011, Rossetti was a subject of a Radio 4 programme, In Our Time.[48]

The title of J. K. Rowling's novel The Cuckoo's Calling (2013) follows a line in Rossetti's poem A Dirge.[49]

Christina Rossetti is commemorated in the Church of England calendar on 27 April.[50]


The Rossetti Family by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)


Poetry collections[edit]




  1. ^ a b c d e Poets, Academy of American. "About Christina Rossetti | Academy of American Poets". poets.org. Archived from the original on 2 October 2023. Retrieved 18 April 2023.
  2. ^ "Author Profile: Christina Rossetti", Literary Worlds, BYU.edu, Web, 19 May 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Lindsay Duguid: "Rossetti, Christina Georgina (1830–1894)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: OUP, 2009. Retrieved 15 October 2018.". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24139. Archived from the original on 9 November 2023. Retrieved 15 October 2018. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Thomas 1994.
  5. ^ a b c Packer, Lona Mosk (1963) Christina Rossetti University of California Press, pp. 13–17.
  6. ^ "Dante Gabriel Rossetti | Poet | Blue Plaques". English Heritage. Archived from the original on 5 March 2023. Retrieved 5 March 2023.
  7. ^ Packer, Lona Mosk (1963) Christina Rossetti University of California Press, p. 20.
  8. ^ a b Packer, Lona Mosk (1963) Christina Rossetti University of California Press, p. 29.
  9. ^ "Plaques". 16 June 2016. Archived from the original on 17 April 2019. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  10. ^ "Christina Rossetti | English poet". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 17 April 2019. Retrieved 2 June 2019.
  11. ^ "Tate Gallery". Retrieved 31 December 2023.
  12. ^ A Library of Poetry and Song: Being Choice Selections from The Best Poets. With An Introduction by William Cullen Bryant, New York, J.B. Ford and Company, 1871, pp. 261-262.
  13. ^ "Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)," eNotes.com, Web, 19 May 2011.
  14. ^ Jan Marsh, Christina Rossetti and the Pre–Raphaelite Brotherhood Archived 30 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ a b c The Cambridge Companion to English Poets (2011), Claude Rawson, Cambridge University Press, pp. 424–429.
  16. ^ Roe, Dinah (2010). The Pre-Raphaelites: From Rossetti to Ruskin. Penguin Classics. p. 182.
  17. ^ Roe, Dinah (2010). The Pre-Raphaelites: From Rossetti to Ruskin. Penguin Classics. p. xxvii.
  18. ^ a b "Rossetti, Christina Georgina (1830–1894), poet". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24139. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  19. ^ a b Snow, Emily (22 August 2023). "Christina Rossetti: Interweaving Poetry and Art". Daily Art Magazine. Archived from the original on 24 August 2023. Retrieved 24 August 2023.
  20. ^ Lona Mosk Packer, (1963), Christina Rossetti, University of California Press, p. 155.
  21. ^ Constance W. Hassett, (2005), Christina Rossetti: the patience of style, University of Virginia Press, p. 15.
  22. ^ Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems, Penguin Books, London, 2001 ISBN 978-0-14-042366-2.
  23. ^ Pieter Liebregts and Wim Tigges, eds. (1996) Beauty and the Beast: Christina Rossetti. Rodopi Press, p. 43.
  24. ^ Hoxie Neale Fairchild (1939), Religious Trends in English Poetry, Vol. 4, Columbia University Press.
  25. ^ a b Antony H. Harrison (2004), The Letters of Christina Rossetti Volume 4, 1887–1894, University of Virginia Press, ISBN 0-8139-2295-X.
  26. ^ Fine books and manuscripts sothebys.com Archived 15 April 2023 at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ The Norton Anthology of Poetry (revised shorter edition), ISBN 0-393-09251-8.
  28. ^ Scott Wilson, Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3rd ed.: 2 (Kindle Locations 40725-40726). McFarland & Company, Inc., publishers. Kindle Edition.
  29. ^ "Christina Rossetti: London Remembers". londonremembers.com. Archived from the original on 21 February 2014. Retrieved 22 November 2013.
  30. ^ TLS, 4 December 1930.
  31. ^ A Gallery of English and American Women Famous in Song (1875), J.M. Stoddart & Company, pp. 205-207.
  32. ^ "Bleak Midwinter named best carol". 27 November 2008. Archived from the original on 18 April 2023. Retrieved 18 April 2023 – via news.bbc.co.uk.
  33. ^ Hymns and Carols of Christmas Archived 29 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine(2003) Brother Tristam, Hymns Ancient and Modern Ltd, p. 172 ISBN 978-1-85311-479-3(Episcopal Church (United States))#April|honoured with a feast day]] on the liturgical calendar of the Anglican Church on 27 April.
  34. ^ "ChurchofEngland.org, Holy Days calendar". Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  35. ^ Merrick, Hope. "Hope Squire". www.worldcat.org. Archived from the original on 28 December 2021. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  36. ^ My Heart is Like a Singing Bird: Song settings of poetry by Christina Rossetti Archived 10 September 2021 at the Wayback Machine, Sheva CD SH076 (2013)
  37. ^ "Christina Rossetti in Music". Retrieved 30 March 2024.
  38. ^ "Texts to Mother and Child: Song Cycle by John Ireland". The LiederNet Archive. Retrieved 29 April 2015.
  39. ^ Christina Rossetti: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
  40. ^ Spizer, Bruce (2005). The Beatles Solo on Apple Records. 498 Productions. pp. 20, 28–29. ISBN 0966264959.
  41. ^ Aronoff, Herbert (7 March 1970). "Pop Music". The Gazette. p. 44. Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  42. ^ Rossetti, Christina. "Who Has Seen the Wind?". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 4 August 2021.
  43. ^ McCreary, Bear (24 February 2015). ""When I Am Dead"". BearMcCreary.com. Archived from the original on 2 September 2023. Retrieved 2 September 2023.
  44. ^ "Constance Virtue - Vocal Texts and Translations at the LiederNet Archive". www.lieder.net. Archived from the original on 7 March 2021. Retrieved 23 August 2021.
  45. ^ "Hanna Von Vollenhoven - Vocal Texts and Translations at the LiederNet Archive". www.lieder.net. Archived from the original on 18 June 2021. Retrieved 23 August 2021.
  46. ^ Cohen, Aaron I. (1987). International encyclopedia of women composers (Second edition, revised and enlarged ed.). New York. ISBN 0-9617485-2-4. OCLC 16714846.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  47. ^ "Poetry on the Millennium Green". Discover Frome. 29 September 2016. Archived from the original on 28 January 2021. Retrieved 14 August 2019.
  48. ^ "BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, Christina Rossetti". BBC. Archived from the original on 9 November 2023. Retrieved 18 April 2023.
  49. ^ Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  50. ^ "The Calendar". The Church of England. Archived from the original on 15 December 2021. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  51. ^ "Rossetti family tree". Archived from the original on 4 December 2019. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  52. ^ "Pietrocola family of Vasto". Archived from the original on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  53. ^ Manfredi, Marco. "Polidori, Gaetano" (in Italian). Treccani. Archived from the original on 29 June 2018. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  54. ^ a b c d e f g h "Christina Rossetti Bibliography Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine – UK First Edition Books," Bookseller World, Web, 19 May 2011.
  55. ^ "Sing-Song (1893) by Christina Rossetti". digital.library.upenn.edu. Archived from the original on 25 March 2020. Retrieved 26 November 2005.
  56. ^ "'When I am Dead my Dearest' by Christina Georgina Rossetti | Major English | Class 12". Archived from the original on 13 September 2021. Retrieved 6 April 2021.


  • David Clifford and Laurence Roussillon, Outsiders Looking In: The Rossettis Then and Now. London: Anthem, 2004
  • Gosse, Edmund William (1911). "Rossetti, Christina Georgina" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 23 (11th ed.). pp. 746–747.
  • Antony Harrison, Christina Rossetti in Context. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1988
  • Maura Ives, Christina Rossetti: A Descriptive Bibliography. New Castle, D.E.: Oak Knoll, 2011
  • Kathleen Jones, Christina Rossetti: Learning Not To Be First
  • Kathleen Jones, Learning Not to be First: A Biography of Christina Rossetti. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991
  • Jan Marsh, Introduction, Christina Rossetti, Poems and Prose. London: Everyman, 1994. xvii–xxxiii
  • Jan Marsh, Christina Rossetti: A Writer's Life. New York: Viking, 1994

External links[edit]