Christina Georgina Rossetti - Encyclopedia

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CHRISTINA GEORGINA ROSSETTI (1830-1894), English poet, was the youngest of the four children of Gabriele Rossetti (seethe article on her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti). She was born at 38 Charlotte Street, Portland Place, London, on the 5th of December 1830. She enjoyed the advantages and disadvantages of the strange society of Italian exiles and English eccentrics which her father gathered about him, and she shared the studies of her gifted elder brother and sister. As early as 1847 her grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, printed privately a volume of her Verses, in which the richness of her vision was already faintly prefigured. In 1850 she contributed to The Germ seven pieces, including some of the finest of her lyrics. In her girlhood she had a grave, religious beauty of feature, and sat as a model not only to her brother Gabriel, but to Holman Hunt, to Madox Brown and to Millais. In 18 53-54 Christina Rossetti for nearly a year helped her mother to keep a day-school at Frome-Selwood, in Somerset. Early in 1854 the Rossettis returned to London, and the father died. In poverty, in ill-health, in extreme quietness, she was now performing her life-work.- She was twice sought in marriage, but each time, from religious scruples (she was a strong highchurch Anglican), she refused her suitor; on the former of these occasions she sorrowed greatly, and her suffering is reflected in much of her early song. In 1861 she saw foreign countries for the first time, paying a six weeks' visit to Normandy and Paris. In 1862 she published what was practically her earliest book, Goblin Market, and took her place at once among the poets of her age. In this volume, indeed, is still to be found a majority of her finest writings. The Prince's Progress followed in 1866. In 1867 she, with her family, moved to 56 Euston Square, which became their home for many years. Christina's prose work Commonplace appeared in 1870. In April 1871 her whole life was changed by a terrible affliction, known as "Graves's disease"; for two years her life was in constant danger. She had already composed her book of children's poems, entitled Sing-Song, which appeared in 1872. After a long convalescence, she published in 1874 two works of minor importance, Annus Domini and Speaking Likenesses. The former is the earliest of a series of theological works in prose, of which the second was Seek and Find in 1879. In 1881 she published a third collection of poems, A Pageant, in which there was evidence of slackening lyrical power. She now gave herself almost entirely to religious disquisition. The most interesting and personal of her prose publications (but it contained verse also) was Time Flies (1885) - a sort of symbolic diary or collection of brief homilies. In 1890 the S.P.C.K. published a volume of her religious verse. She collected her poetical writings in 1891. In 1892 she was led to, publish a very bulky commentary on the Apocalypse, entitled The Face of the Deep. After this she wrote little. Her last years were spent in retirement at 30 Torrington Square, Bloomsbury, which was her home from 1876 to her death. In 1892 her health broke down finally, and she had to endure terrible suffering. From this she was released on the 29th of December 1894. Her New Poems were published posthumously in 1896. In spite of her manifest limitations of sympathy and experience, Christina Rossetti takes rank among the foremost poets of her time. In the purity and solidity of her finest lyrics, the glow and music in which she robes her moods of melancholy reverie, her extraordinary mixture of austerity with sweetness and of sanctity of tone with sensuousness of colour, Christina Rossetti, in her best pieces, may challenge comparison with the most admirable of our poets. The union of fixed religious faith with a hold upon physical beauty and the richer parts of nature has been pointed to as the most original feature of her poetry. Hers was a cloistered spirit, timid, nun-like, bowed down by suffering and humility; her character was so retiring as to be almost invisible. All that we really need to know about her, save that she was a great saint, was that she was a great poet. (E. G.) See the Poetical Works of C. G. R., with Memoir by W. M. Rossetti (1903). Also Edmund Gosse's Critical Kit-Kats (1896); an article by Ford Madox Hueffer in the Fortnightly Review (March 1904); and another in The Christian Society (Oct. 1904). The Family Letters of Christina Rossetti were edited by W. M. Rossetti in 1908.

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