Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children's poems. She is best known for her long poem Goblin Market, her love poem Remember, and for the words of the Christmas carol In the Bleak Midwinter.
Rossetti was born in London and educated at home by her mother. She had two brothers and a sister - Dante Gabriel Rossetti would be become an influential artist and poet, William Michael Rossetti, and Maria Francesca Rossetti would both become successful writers. Their father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian poet and a refugee from Naples; their mother, Frances Polidori, was the sister of Lord Byron's friend and physician, John William Polidori, author of The Vampyre.
In the 1840s, her family faced severe financial difficulties due to the deterioration of her father's physical and mental health. When she was 14, Rossetti suffered a nervous breakdown and left school. Bouts of depression and related illness followed. During this period she, her mother, and her sister became deeply interested in the Anglo-Catholic movement that developed in the Church of England; religious devotion came to play a major role in Rossetti's life. In her late teens, Rossetti became engaged to the painter James Collinson, who was, like her brothers Dante and William, one of the founding members of the avant-garde artistic group, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The engagement was broken when he reverted to Catholicism. Later she became involved with the linguist Charles Cayley, but declined to marry him, also for religious reasons. Rossetti sat for several of Dante Rossetti's most famous paintings. In 1848, she was the model for the Virgin Mary in his first completed oil painting, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin, which was the first work to be inscribed with the initials 'PRB', later revealed to signify the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The following year she modelled again for his depiction of the Annunciation, Ecce Ancilla Domini.
Rossetti began writing at age 7 and published her first poem appeared in the Athenaeum when she was 18. She contributed to the literary magazine The Germ, published by the Pre-Raphaelites from January - April 1850 and edited by her brother William. Her most famous collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems, appeared in 1862, when she was 31. The title poem from this book is one of Rossetti's best known works. Although the poem is ostensibly about two sisters' misadventures with goblins, critics have interpreted the piece in a variety of ways: seeing it as an allegory about temptation and salvation; a commentary on Victorian gender roles and female agency; and a work about erotic desire and social redemption. She was a volunteer worker from 1859 to 1870 at the St. Mary Magdalene "house of charity" in Highgate, a refuge for former prostitutes and it is suggested Goblin Market may have been inspired the "fallen women" she came to know. There are parallels with Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner given both poems' religious themes of temptation, sin and redemption by vicarious suffering. Rossetti's collection received critical praise on publication and, according to biographer Jan Marsh, the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's in 1861 "led to Rossetti being hailed as her natural successor as 'female laureate'." She was ambivalent about women's suffrage, but many scholars have identified feminist themes in her poetry. Marsh notes, "she was opposed to war, slavery (in the American South), cruelty to animals (in the prevalent practice of animal experimentation), the exploitation of girls in under-age prostitution and all forms of military aggression."
Rossetti maintained a very large circle of friends and correspondents and continued to write and publish for the rest of her life, primarily focusing on devotional writing and children's poetry. In 1892, Rossetti wrote The Face of the Deep, a book of devotional prose, and oversaw the production of a new and enlarged edition of Sing-Song, published in 1893.
In the later decades of her life, Rossetti suffered from Graves Disease, suffering a nearly fatal attack in the early 1870s. In 1893, she developed breast cancer and though the tumour was removed, she suffered a recurrence in September 1894. She died the following year on 29 December 1894 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery. Her christmas poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" became widely known after her death when set as a much loved Christmas carol first by Gustav Holst, and then by Harold Darke. Her poem "Love Came Down at Christmas" (1885) has also been widely arranged as a carol. In the early 20th century Rossetti's popularity faded in the wake of Modernism. In the 1970s scholars began to rediscover and critique her work again, and it regained admittance to the Victorian literary canon.
Rossetti is honoured with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church (USA) on April 27.
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