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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christina Rossetti (1830 - 1894) , Poet

b. December 5, 1830
d. December 29, 1894

Her sexuality repressed by religion, Christina Rosetti wrote poetry that included highly-charged erotic female-to-female affection.

Christina Rossetti was the youngest of four children of Gabriele Rossetti, an Italian patriot who moved to London in 1824. She had one sister, Maria, and two brothers, Dante Gabriel and William. Christina and her sister were mainly educated at home by their mother, and brought up as devout Anglo-Catholics. Christina's elder sister Maria eventually became an Anglican nun.

Christina's brothers, Dante Gabriel and William Michael, went to Kings College School in London, and were founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. This group of artists, poets and critics approached art by studying nature in close detail and by choosing subjects that they thought were morally uplifting.

They chose the name of their group to indicate that they thought all art since Raphael (an Italian painter who lived from 1483 to 1520) was degenerate. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a painter and poet. William later acted as Christina's editor.

Although some of Christina's earliest verse was published in The Germ, a magazine produced for a short time by the Pre-Raphaelites, and she sat as a model for several of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's paintings, she was not a member of the movement. By modern standards, their poetry seems rich and cloying; hers is more sensitive.

 In 1848 she became engaged to James Collinson, a member of her brother's Pre-Raphaelite circle. However, she broke it off when he became a Roman Catholic. Later, in her early thirties, she fell in love with Charles Cayley. Again she broke it off because of religious differences.

Like many unmarried middle-class women of that period, Christina did not have any paid employment, except for about a year when she and her mother tried to run a day school after failing health and eyesight forced her father to retire in 1853.

From 1860 to 1870 Rossetti worked at Highgate Penitentiary (not a prison, but a place for repentance) for the reclamation of "Fallen Women." She continued to write poetry throughout her life, and in the 1870s she worked on a voluntary basis for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Christina never married or broke away from home. Her brothers and sister were central to her emotions and she was deeply upset by Dante Gabriel's nervous breakdown in 1872. After he died in 1882, she lived as a recluse at home, concentrating on her religious life. In 1871 she fell seriously ill with Graves' disease, a rare form of disfiguring goiter ailment which caused darkened skin, protruding eyes, vomiting, faintness and heart attacks, and for the rest of her life she suffered pain which required narcotics. After a period of suffering Christina died of cancer.

Many people consider that her best work is Goblin Market (1862), the longest of her poems. Because goblins sound as if they belong in a fairy story, it is often put in collections for young children. However, it is really a short epic poem for adults. The most obvious quality of the writing is the exactness and sensuousness of her descriptions of the fruit sold by the goblins.

Although she was only peripherally involved with her brother's Pre-Raphaelites, and claimed to be "content in my shady crevice," Rossetti was not quite the "recluse, saint and renunciatory spinster" commonly portrayed. To those familiar only with her devotional or children's verse, her classic "Goblin Market" will raise eyebrows. Some of her verse hints at her personal ambiguity:

 "...Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one nest...
...Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me,
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices,
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Golden pulp and goblin dew
Eat me, drink me, love me
Laura, make much of me."
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