Christina Georgina Rossetti, one of the most important women poets writing in nineteenth-century England, was born in London December 5, 1830, to Gabriele and Frances (Polidori) Rossetti. Although her fundamentally religious temperament was closer to her mother’s, this youngest member of a remarkable family of poets, artists, and critics inherited many of her artistic tendencies from her father.

Judging from somewhat idealized sketches made by her brother Dante, Christina as a teenager seems to have been quite attractive if not beautiful. In 1848 she became engaged to James Collinson, one of the minor Pre-Raphaelite brethren, but the engagement ended after he reverted to Roman Catholicism.

When Professor Rossetti’s failing health and eyesight forced him into retirement in 1853, Christina and her mother attempted to support the family by starting a day school, but had to give it up after a year or so. Thereafter she led a very retiring life, interrupted by a recurring illness which was sometimes diagnosed as angina and sometimes tuberculosis. From the early ’60s on she was in love with Charles Cayley, but according to her brother William, refused to marry him because “she enquired into his creed and found he was not a Christian.” Milk-and-water Anglicanism was not to her taste. Lona Mosk Packer argues that her poems conceal a love for the painter William Bell Scott, but there is no other evidence for this theory, and the most respected scholar of the Pre-Raphaelite movement disputes the dates on which Packer thinks some of the more revealing poems were written.

All three Rossetti women, at first devout members of the evangelical branch of the Church of England, were drawn toward the Tractarians in the 1840s. They nevertheless retained their evangelical seriousness: Maria eventually became an Anglican nun, and Christina’s religious scruples remind one of Dorothea Brooke in George Eliot’s Middlemarch : as Eliot’s heroine looked forward to giving up riding because she enjoyed it so much, so Christina gave up chess because she found she enjoyed winning; pasted paper strips over the antireligious parts of Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon (which allowed her to enjoy the poem very much); objected to nudity in painting, especially if the artist was a woman; and refused even to go see Wagner’s Parsifal, because it celebrated a pagan mythology.

After rejecting Cayley in 1866, according one biographer, Christina (like many Victorian spinsters) lived vicariously in the lives of other people. Although pretty much a stay-at-home, her circle included her brothers’ friends, like Whistler, Swinburne, F.M. Brown, and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). She continued to write and in the 1870s to work for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. She was troubled physically by neuralgia and emotionally by Dante’s breakdown in 1872. The last 12 years of her life, after his death in 1882, were quiet ones. She died of cancer December 29, 1894.


The publication of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and Other Poems in 1862 marked the first literary success of the Pre-Raphaelites. This heralded a form of poetry which had no lack of readers. Rossetti often found herself caught between the claims of worldly passion and celestial faith – this schism was central to her life and her poetry and may have its origin in the tension between her Italian and English ancestry.

In her early years she spent much time with her grandfather in the country which allowed her to be exposed to nature and the wilderness. These themes are recurrent in her poetry. Ironically, she spent most of her life in gloomy London houses. She was healthy as a child, but was often ill during adolescence. She was diagnosed with “a kind of religious mania” which was probably psychosomatic in nature.

Rossetti became engaged to James Collinson, a young painter and member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in the fall of 1848. The engagement was broken off because he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1850. Great things were expected from Collinson, but his contemporaries later refered to him as a ridiculous figure of mediocre talent, likely to go to sleep at the slightest provocation.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was able to convince Alexander Macmillan to publish three of Chrisina’s poems in Macmillian’s Magazine. One of the poems “Uphill” was the first to receive wide attention and remains one of her finest works. This poem is a parable about salvation, the steep ascent with comfort at the end represented by an inn.

One of Christina Rossetti’s more innovative poems, “The Iniquity of the Fathers Upon the Children,” is a dramatic monologue in which the poet addresses the issue of illegitimate children by imagining that she is one herself. Her desire to address such a subject can be linked to her work for the House of Charity, an institution located in Highgate which was devoted to the rescue of prostitutes and unmarried mothers. She also broadened her poetry with “A Royal Princess” which dealt with starvation, inequality, and poverty. This appearred in an 1863 anthology published for the relief of victims of the Lancashire cotton famine.

Later in her career Rossetti abandoned such overtly political subjects and claimed that “It is not in me, and therefore it will never come out of me, to turn to politics or philanthropy with Mrs. Browning.” In 1871 she wrote two poems about the war between France and Germany, and claimed they derived from sympathy, not political bias.

In 1883 she was asked to write a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but declined because Robert Browning did not appear to want to cooperate actively. She did accept a commision to write on Anne Radcliffe, and was excited by the idea of writing about one of her influences as a child. Unfortunately she was forced to give up the plan because she could not gather enough material to write a history that would give her subject credit.


1830 Born in London, to Gabriele and Frances (Polidori) Rossetti.
1848 Engaged to James Collinson, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the engagement is canceled in 1850 when he converts to Roman Catholicism.
1853 Her father retires, due to his failing health. Christina and her mother attempt to start a day school, which they give up within a year.
1862 Publishes Goblin Market and Other Poems.
1866 Publishes The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems. Rejects marriage proposal from Charles Cayley, who “was not a Christian.”
1870 Publishes Commonplace and Other Stories.
1871 Publishes A Pageant and Other Poems.
1894 Dies.
1896 New Poems published posthumously.


Published Volumes

  • Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
  • The Prince’s Progress (1866)
  • Commonplace and Other Stories (1870)
  • Sing-Song. A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872)
  • A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
  • New Poems (1896)

Individual Poems

Retrieved from :http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/marketov.html

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