Christina Georgina Rossetti
December 5, 1830–December 29, 1894
Humanitarian and Poet
Christina Georgina Rossetti was a devoutly religious and dedicated poet. She began writing at an early age, composing poetry at the age of seven. Her first collection was published in 1862, when she was 31, and was immensely popular and highly praised.Goblin Market and Other Poems also includes her best-known work, the title poem, a nursery rhyme known for its rich imagery and complexity.
Rossetti’s father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian poet and professor at Kings College, one of the oldest and largest colleges of the University of London. Gabriele moved his family to London seeking political asylum. The family struggled often, both financially and because of Gabriele’s mental health problems, which eventually forced him to resign from Kings College. He died in 1854 and all four of the Rossetti children found work to help support the family. They also supported each other professionally. Christina wrote encyclopedia articles for her contribution, but many of her earliest works were published in the journal The Athenaeum. Others were published in the journal, The Germ, and both journals were edited by her brother, William.
Christina also struggled with depression beginning at age fourteen, which forced her to leave school. She completed her education at home with the help of her mother, Francis, a former governess. During this time, Christina, her sister, Maria, and their mother became involved in the Oxford Movement of the Victorian era, also referred to as Tractarianism, an affiliation of High Church Anglicans. Maria later became an Anglican nun. Christina’s dedication to Tractarianism is reflected in her poetry, particularly her later works, and influenced her personal life to such an extent that she broke off two engagements due to the religious choices of the men involved. Ultimately, Christina would live with her mother her entire life.
Christina Rossetti was as outspoken on social issues as she was on religion. She adamantly opposed slavery and was resolute in her beliefs against warfare and military aggression. She abhorred cruelty to animals, particularly the use of animals in scientific experimentation. Her thoughts about feminist issues were sometimes confusing, though not necessarily contradictory. The Women’s Suffrage Movement was active in the United Kingdom since the early 1800s, but Christina seemed outwardly ambivalent on this topic, even though her poetry often reflects feminist themes. She was particularly tenacious in her beliefs about the exploitation of young girls in prostitution. From 1859 to 1870 she dedicated her life to volunteering at the St. Mary Magdalene House of Charity in Highgate, London, where she taught reading, writing, and employment-related skills, such as sewing. The House of Charity was a shelter for reformed prostitutes, unmarried mothers, and the homeless.
In the 1880s, Christina developed Graves Disease, an auto-immune thyroid disorder, which left her confined at home. Though she later recovered, her poetry of this time seems to suggest an obsession with death. Her work is popular with religious scholars to this day because it reflects a constant struggle between earthly desires and spiritual passion. She was also a dedicated letter writer and her letters are collected in numerous volumes. She developed cancer in 1891 and died three years later. After her death, her complete works of poetry were edited by her brother, William, and her popularity continued to grow. Christina Georgina Rossetti is still considered by many to be one of Britain’s greatest Victorian Era poets next to Alfred Lord Tennyson, a remarkable achievement for a woman during that time period. Her poetry is also believed to be an integral part of the Victorian literary canon.