CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First


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Christina Georgina Rossetti

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May be very minimal identifying marks on the inside cover. The recorded events which may have influenced her depression, however, include her father's illness and his loss of paid employment, which led to her mother and sister having to go out to work; there must also have been a sense of the closing in of her own life as an invalid. In her late teens Christina Rossetti became involved in a group of her brothers' painting friends—among them Ford Madox Brown , William Holman Hunt , and John Everett Millais —and she was, emotionally at least, involved in the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood , whose dissolution in she marked with some sprightly comic verses.

It is difficult to know how much contact she had with these young men. In one much quoted account, in a letter to William in , she is characteristically sliding out of the picture:. Think of my dismay; today I met Mr Hunt on the stairs; and actually not knowing him, ran past without exchanging greetings. Unconsciously I have thus transgressed the rules of my unlivable-with politeness; and this reflection costs me a pang.

But she took an interest in their projects, continued to visit their studios, and, in one poem, 'In an Artist's Studio' , she takes a strongly sympathetic view of the painter's feelings for his model. Collinson was the first of Christina Rossetti's three suitors. In she became engaged to him and went to stay with his family at their house in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, but her letters from there reveal only her awkwardness and longing for home; a barrier may also have arisen in his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

The engagement was broken off in A second proposal came from one of her father's former pupils, the Dante scholar Charles Cayley , who was refused in but became a lifelong friend. The third candidate for her hand was the painter John Brett , who did at least two portraits of her and is believed to be the rejected admirer in her forthright poem 'No, Thank you, John'.


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Christina Rossetti's appearance at this time—pale, narrow-jawed, with large-lidded eyes and long, uncurled hair—might be seen as a prototype for the introspective, melancholy Pre-Raphaelite female, a look which later went through many exaggerations in her brother Gabriel's paintings. Even before the disfiguring condition of Graves' disease was diagnosed in , she lost her looks rapidly.

Photographs of her from the s show a stout, swarthy, undistinguished-looking Victorian matron.

She was aware of this; her letters often refer to her altered appearance, generally in a wryly humorous way: 'Still I am weak and less ornamental than society may justly demand' 1 Sept , Letters of Christina Rosetti , 1. For a fat poetess is incongruous, especially when seated by the grave of buried hope' 26 July , Thomas , Self-consciousness about the way she looked may also have led to her later reclusive habits.

Her ill health was lifelong; she suffered at various times from breathlessness, a persistent cough, angina, neuralgia, and sundry abscesses and swellings, which combined to prevent her from going out and led to her spending part of each winter at lodging-houses on the south coast of England. However distressing these symptoms, her chronic invalidism had the effect of absolving her from the need to leave home to work as a governess and, in providing an excuse for refusing invitations, they gave her time to herself.

Impoverished by Gabriele Rossetti's illness, the family made two attempts to start a school: in Camden Town in north London, and two years later in Frome in Somerset, where they remained from April to March , when legacies from the Polidori grandparents enabled them to return to London, to 45 Upper Albany Street, Regent's Park, close to Christ Church. After Gabriele's death in , the family settled down into its pattern: Frances , Maria , and Christina at home, their lives a round of church, visiting, and good works; Gabriel pursuing his successful career as a painter, caught up in his long affair with Elizabeth Siddal , whom he married in , and in his complicated negotiations with Ruskin and others over the sale of his work; and William working at the excise office and writing art criticism for The Spectator.

The record of Christina Rossetti's life at this time is sparse, but it is known that from she did occasional voluntary work with the inmates of the St Mary Magdalene Penitentiary in Highgate. Christina Rossetti had published a number of poems under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyn in the short-lived Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood magazine The Germ , and in Mary Howitt's ladies' annuals and, more importantly, in The Athenaeum and Macmillan's Magazine. Sales, however, were disappointing.

Christina Rossetti | Poetry Foundation

A Collected Poems was issued in All of these volumes had American editions and her reputation in the United States began to grow. After a sustained burst of creativity in the late s, she mainly wrote occasional works, often donating poems to Christian charities such as the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and the Anti-Vivisectionist League of which she was a passionate supporter. Her writing after was chiefly devotional: daily collects, scriptural commentaries, improving tales for children, and memorial poems.

Her attitude to her own work in her dealings with publishers and critics was quietly professional, though her correspondence with her publisher Alexander Macmillan , like her response to Gabriel's criticisms, was not at all subdued. In one of her few pronouncements on literature she hinted, in a letter to Caroline Gemmer 27 February , that, in general, the world had too many men and women of artistic promise: 'Oh, my dear friend, don't let us wish for any more geniuses!

Publication and literary recognition did not do much to change the quiet habits of Christina Rossetti's life, though she must have been glad of the guineas since she had no money of her own and was dependent on her mother and William. Her letters are the only direct evidence there is of her private life, and it is known that she systematically destroyed personal family letters.

Those which have survived give a glimpse of a restricted existence with her mother and sister, first in Upper Albany Street, then at 56 Euston Square, and then at 30 Torrington Square she lived nearly all her life within a few square miles , north of Oxford Street , within a subdued social circle; her 'shy and stay-at-home habits' allowed her visits to a few familiar friends, such as the Heimann family, Alice Boyd , and Caroline Gemmer , quiet holidays at the seaside or in the country for her health, and religious and charitable observances.

She did, however, make two trips to Europe with William and their mother in the s. Christina Rossetti was not in the habit of drawing pen portraits or vivid vignettes. Preferring old friends to new, she never moved in literary circles. There is little record of her acquaintance with Charles Dodgson Lewis Carroll , Barbara Bodichon , or Algernon Swinburne , who admired her poetry greatly, and she seems to have avoided meeting Tennyson and Walt Whitman , both of whom were known to her brothers. Little can be learned about her reactions to such episodes as the death of Gabriel's wife after an overdose of laudanum in , nor to his mental collapse and suicide attempts in Her relationship with Lucy , the sociable daughter of Ford Madox Brown and an exhibited painter, was uneasy, particularly after Lucy married William in , although she later derived pleasure from their children, who have provided accounts of Aunt Christina's piety, and her grimness and rectitude.

It is hard to avoid the impression that, as time went on, her life steadily became more and more melancholy. Maria , who had become an Anglican nun shortly after William's marriage, died of cancer in ; Gabriel in and her mother in ; and Charles Cayley in After William and Lucy and their family moved to Primrose Hill, London, in , she shared the house at 30 Torrington Square with her two very elderly Polidori aunts.

CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First
CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: Learning Not to Be First

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