Christina Rossetti – British poet, 1830-1894
Christina Rossetti, the youngest child in a family of scholars and writers, Christina Rossetti grew up in a literary household. Her father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a renowned Italian poet before he immigrated to London, England, for political reasons; her older brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a poet and artist, helped form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; and her other siblings became scholars.
Very early in life, inspired by the visitors to her home, Christina began writing poetry, some of which she shared with her family in journals compiled by the Rossetti children, and at age seventeen a volume of her poetry was published by her grandfather on his private press. By her thirties, she had achieved public recognition for her work. During the Victorian age, when very few books were written especially for children, Rossetti published Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872), Speaking Likenesses (1874), and Maude: A Story for Girls (1897), all directed toward a juvenile audience. Posthumously, selections of her poetry have been collected in numerous anthologies of children’s verse.
Raised a strict Anglican, Christina Rossetti remained devoted to exploring and expressing spiritual truth throughout her life, and much of her work—for children and adults—reflects on nature, faith, and death. Included in Sing-Song are many simple poems about death and, as in her description of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly, rebirth.
“Goblin Market,” published in Goblin Market, and Other Poems (1862) and later illustrated for children by Arthur Rackham, among others, relates a young girl’s fall into temptation, decline into a deathlike state, and regeneration. In the narrative poem, when Lizzie becomes ill after eating the fruit offered her by goblin men, her sister, Laura, cares for her tenderly and finally seeks the goblins in order to purchase more fruit, for which Lizzie is pining. Virtuous Laura returns victorious, although not unscathed, to save her sister, who kisses the juice of the mashed fruit off Laura’s face.
Although Victorian children may have enjoyed the verse merely for its story line, enjoyable rhyme and rhythm, and the intriguing goblin men, who have animal-like features and characteristics, the imagery throughout the poem is distinctly sexual. Rossetti never married, but she had several serious romances, and her poetry reveals her intensity of thought and feeling about the nature of male-female relationships.
Although her two children’s stories are out of print, Christina Rossetti’s poems still find an audience among young readers, and her contributions to children’s literature during the nineteenth century set a precedent for the creation of high-quality literature for children.
Source: Children’s Books and their Creators, Anita Silvey.
Christina Rossetti Works
- Verses. London: Private, 1847.
- Goblin Market and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1862
- 1876 Author’s revised edition
- The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1866
- Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1879
- Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872, 1893)
- A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
- Verses. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1893
- New Poems. London: Macmillan, 1896
- The Rossetti Birthday Book. London: Private, 1896
- The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti. Edited by William Michael Rossetti. London: Macmillan, 1904
- Commonplace and Other Stories. London: Ellis, 1870
- Speaking Likenesses. London: Macmillan, 1874.