CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: A Literary Biography by Jan Marsh

CHRISTINA ROSSETTI: A Literary Biography

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An adept survey of the outwardly placid, internally conflicted life of an English counterpart to Emily Dickinson. Although never formally part of the Pre-Raphaelite poetic school, which included her brother Gabriel (better known to posterity as Dante Gabriel Rossetti), William Morris, and Algernon Swinburne, Christina Rossetti has always been linked to it. Marsh (The Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, not reviewed) gives full attention to both the individual and her unique variety of fantastic and devotional poetry. With her Victorian popularity, Rossetti gained a reputation for High Anglican religiosity and sepulchral melancholy, but Marsh finds her beliefs more complex and even detects a sense of humor. Though Rossetti makes a less interesting subject than the flamboyant Gabriel, Marsh delineates an appealing person while examining her adolescent nervous breakdown, abortive engagement to a lapsed Catholic painter, frustrated love for an absentminded scholar, and relationships with her devout but hearty sister, Maria, and with her brothers, Gabriel and William, toward whom she felt both supportive and competitive. The author gives an intelligent interpretation of Rossetti's poetry and its development. Analyzing Rossetti's most famous poem, the sensuous, enigmatic allegory of temptation and sisterhood ""Goblin Market,"" Marsh argues convincingly that it was inspired by her work at a reformatory for young prostitutes. More hypothetically, she gives a provocative reading of Rossetti's early nightmare poems to suggest the possibility of sexual abuse by her invalid father, while admitting that there is no evidence for this speculation. Despite Marsh's occasional attempts to update Rossetti's spirit to fit current feminist molds, the writer remains firmly of her time. The author's steady, sympathetic course through Rossetti's divided life enables readers to delve into the intense and original self most fully expressed in her poetry.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Viking