Christina Rossetti in context--discourse, power and subject
Poetry of Reticence-- the women in her poems;
Poems on death
Poetry of Social Criticism and Sensuality--"Goblin
Christina Rossetti in context
Christina Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and PRB--not accepted as a member,
--serve as Dante Gabriel Rossetti's model for virgin
--contradictory images produced by DGR
images of a timid virgin and
a defensive one
images of a serious woman (Below) and tempestous one (Right).
Christina Rossetti, 1866
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; from Faxon p. 11.
What do you make of this expressionless face?
Why are the former ones of the two more publicized?
Christina Rossetti in a Tantrum 1862
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; from Faxon p. 144
Regarded as a Woman Poet-- "Though evidence of [C Rossetti's and
Emily Dickenson's] creative process was available in the form of drafts
of poems and worksheets, the image of the inspired child/woman who does
not labor over her production was more congenial to male critics" (Leder
187) e.g. Christina considered as "at best a spontaneous and at worst a
Regarded as a Poet-Saint (1862-1899)--e.g. "Up-Hill"
Arthur Symons's review in July 1887 sees "sincere piety" in this poem
the tradition of the Aesthetes--Christina Rossetti's medievalist
combination of eros and agape, of the phenomenal and the
ideal, of the sensual and the spiritual, became central to the art of the
aesthetes in the 1880s and 1890s (Harrison
55). --decadent or religious?
the tradition of Romantic love--Many of Rossetti's love poems, ...serve
to expose misguided, that is, transient earthly ideals of love; in so doing,
they savor love's absence, love's decay, or its demise; often they express
the laments of love's deluded victim (Harrison
Throughout much Pre-Raphaelite love poetry, a dialectic of desire and
renunciation is at work thematically. Whether a depicted passion
is visceral or idealized, its object and therefore any fulfillment of desire
are almost always unattainable. [In Christina Rossetti's poems,]
renunciation, or at least withdrawal from teh active pursuit of love, follows
disilusionment; often the speaker craves death, either as an anodyne or
as a transposition to an afterlife of absolute Love..." (Harrison
feminist readings--from poetry of renunciation and reticence, to
that of exclusion, sexual fantary and social criticism.
Poetry of Reticence--Poems on death:
self-renunciation or Self-preservation?
Many women in her poems are observed, fixed in a place and silent--e.g.
"Twice," "The Prince's Progress," "Portrait."
The heroine's self-assertion in "The Royal Princess"
Her strong criticism in "The Prince's Progress," "Songs in a Cornfield"
and "In the Artist's Studio"
Her self-preservation: she leaves an empty space in the center of her subjective
lyrics so that she herself is not to be known, not to be seen. e.g. "The
Bourne," "Memory" "Autumn," "Winter: My Secret," "May."
reticence and/or self-preservation?
"I cannot tell you what it was;
But this I know: it did but pass.
It passed away with sunny May,
With all sweet things it passed away,
And left me old, and cold, and grey"
I nursed it in my bosom while it lived,
I hid it in my heart when it was dead;
In joy I sat alone, even so I grieved
Alone and nothing said. ...
I broke it at a blow, I laid it cold
Crushed in my deep heart where it used to live.
My heart dies inch by inch; the time grows old,
Grows old in which I grieve.
Underneath the growing grass,
Underneath the living flowers,
Deeper than the sound of showers
There we shall not counter the hours
By the shadows as they pass.
Youth and health will be but vain
Beauty reckoned of no worth:
There a very little girth
Can hold round what once the earth
Seemed too narrow to contain (underline added).
poems on death and loss: "At Home," "Shut Out," "When I am dead,
my dearest," "Dead before Death," "Up-Hill," "After Death"
"After Death" as a dramatic monologue; its use of boundaries
(curtain, lattice); the speaker's attitudes toward the man (compared with
"Porphyria's Lover" by Browning)
Illustrated by Florence Harrison
from Poems of Christina Rossetti
NY: Gramercy 1994: 105
"Goblin Market"--the most popular
one but receiving mixed reviews by contemporary criticis
(Cf. Charles 32).
1. Goblins & fruits (with illustrations)
2. Women's roles
context: written in 1859, around the time that Christina started
at the penitentiary (Highgate), helping to reclaim and re-habilitate young
the first volume of her poems was published in 1862.
now read as "commentary on the capitalist market-place, as tale of sexual,
sometimes homoerotic yearning, as feminist glorification of sisterhood;
and perhaps most often as Christian allegory of temptation and redemption,
'inescapably a Genesis story.'" (Grass 356)
"On a social/historical level, 'Goblin Market is about women's encounter
with the male-dominated marketplace and their different accomodations to
it. Lizzie, Laura, and Jeanie represent scores of young country and
village women whose lives were displaced by capitalism, signified
in the poem by the goblin-merchant men. (Leder
126 underlines added)
the luscious fruits
Illustrations for "Goblin Market"--from George Landow's Victorian Web
--16 kinds in the first 14 lines! a lot more various than the Apple
--as commodities, as female sexuality,
"One had a cat's face,/ One whisked a tail,/ One tramped
at a rat's pace,/ One crawled like a snail,/
One like a wombat prolweldge obtuse and furry,/ One like
a ratel tumbled hurry skurry./
She heard a voice like voice of doves/
Cooing all together: /They sounded kind and full of loves/ In hte
pleasant weather." (underline added)
Charles, Edna Kotin. Christina Rossetti:
Critical Perspectives, 1982-1982. Toronto: Associated UP, 1985.
Grass. Sean C. "Nature's Perilous Variety
in Rossetti's 'Goblin Market.'" Nineteenth-Century Literature
51:3 (1996): 356-76.
Harrison, Anthony H. Christina Rossetti
in Context. Brighton, UK: Harvester, 1988.
Leder, Sharon with Andrea Abbott. The
Language of Exclusion: The Poetry of Emily Dickenson and Christina Rossetti.
NY: Greenwood P, 1987.