Christina Rossetti: A Poet and Activist Ahead of Her Time

Description: Christina Rossetti was a pioneering feminist poet, activist and writer of the Victorian era. She wrote some of the most beautiful and influential poetry of her time and was also an outspoken advocate for women’s rights.

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Christina Rossetti was a prominent Victorian-era poet and activist, whose works were both critically acclaimed and widely read during her lifetime. Despite facing obstacles such as health problems, social conventions, and a male-dominated literary world, Rossetti became known for her strong voice, innovative use of language, and willingness to address taboo topics such as women's sexuality and social inequality. Her legacy continues to inspire modern-day readers and writers, and her influence can be seen in a variety of literary genres and social movements. As such, Christina Rossetti is remembered as a poet and activist ahead of her time.

Life Timeline

Here is a detailed timeline of Christina Rossetti's life:
  • 1830: Christina Rossetti is born in London, England, on December 5th. She is the youngest of four children born to Italian émigré parents, Gabriele and Frances Rossetti.
  • 1837: Christina's father, Gabriele, becomes a professor of Italian at King's College London.
  • 1842: Christina's mother, Frances, begins to show signs of mental illness.
  • 1843: Christina's mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoes a mastectomy. Her condition worsens, and she dies in December of the same year.
  • 1847: Christina begins attending the school of James and Mary Ann Benham in London.
  • 1848: Christina and her sister Maria are sent to a boarding school in the town of Clifton, near Bristol. They return home the following year due to an outbreak of typhus at the school.
  • 1850: Christina's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, publishes his first collection of poetry, "The Germ," which includes several of Christina's poems.
  • 1853: Christina's grandfather dies, leaving the family in financial difficulty.
  • 1854: Christina begins working as a governess for a family in London.
  • 1856: Christina's brother William Michael Rossetti publishes the first collection of Christina's poetry, titled "Verses."
  • 1861: Christina publishes her first book of poetry, "Goblin Market and Other Poems."
  • 1862: Christina becomes engaged to James Collinson, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but the engagement is called off when he converts to Catholicism.
  • 1866: Christina's father, Gabriele, dies of natural causes.
  • 1871: Christina publishes "Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book," a collection of poems for children.
  • 1872: Christina develops Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder that affects her health for the rest of her life.
  • 1875: Christina begins working for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK), writing religious tracts and stories for children.
  • 1891: Christina's health begins to decline, and she suffers a nervous breakdown.
  • 1892: Christina moves to the seaside town of Folkestone for health reasons.
  • 1894: Christina's brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti dies.
  • 1895: Christina's health deteriorates further, and she becomes bedridden.
  • 1896: Christina Rossetti dies on December 29th, at the age of 64, in London. She is buried at Highgate Cemetery alongside her mother and father.

    Major Works

    Here is a list of Christina Rossetti's major works:
  • Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
  • The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866)
  • Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872)
  • A Pageant and Other Poems (1881)
  • Time Flies: A Reading Diary (1885)
  • Verses (1893)
  • New Poems (1896)

    The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti (1904)
    Rossetti also wrote several prose works, including:

  • Annus Domini: A Prayer for Every Day of the Year (1874)
  • Seek and Find: A Double Series of Short Studies of the Benedicite (1879)
  • Called to Be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied (1881)
  • Letter and Spirit: Notes on the Commandments (1892)

    Early Life

    Christina Rossetti was born on December 5, 1830, in London, England. She was the youngest of four siblings, with an older sister Maria and two older brothers, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Michael Rossetti, both of whom would become notable figures in the arts. Her father, Gabriele Rossetti, was an Italian poet and political exile who had fled to England.

    Christina's family was deeply involved in the arts and intellectual circles of London. Her father was a teacher of Italian and Dante, and her mother, Frances Polidori, was a devout Anglican who instilled in her children a strong religious faith. Christina was educated at home by her mother and other private tutors, and she showed an early talent for writing poetry.

    In 1848, when Christina was 18 years old, her father became seriously ill and the family's financial situation deteriorated. Christina began to write poetry in earnest as a way to support her family, and her first collection, "Goblin Market and Other Poems," was published in 1862. The collection was well-received and established Christina as a significant new voice in Victorian poetry. She went on to publish several more collections of poetry, as well as prose works, throughout her career.

    Christina Rossetti's personal life was marked by several significant losses, including the death of her mother in 1866 and the decline of her own health in the 1870s. She remained unmarried throughout her life and became increasingly reclusive in her later years. She died on December 29, 1894, at the age of 64, and is remembered as one of the most important and influential poets of the Victorian era.


    Christina Rossetti is known for her lyrical and emotional poetry, which explores themes of love, death, faith, and femininity. Her works often feature simple language and musical rhythms, and are known for their use of vivid imagery and symbolism. Rossetti's poetry was influenced by her deep religious beliefs and her struggles with illness and personal loss. Some of her most famous poems include "Goblin Market," "In the Bleak Midwinter," and "Remember."

    Major Themes in Rossetti's Poetry

    Love and Romance

    Christina Rossetti's poetry often explores the themes of love and romance, both in a positive and negative light. Her work reflects the Victorian era's ideals of courtly love, chivalry, and the language of flowers. Many of her poems depict unrequited love, lost love, and the inevitability of separation, often portraying women as powerless victims. However, her poems also express the joy and beauty of love and the transformative power of love's emotions.

  • "Remember" - a sonnet about a speaker who urges their loved one to remember them after they have passed away.
  • "A Birthday" - a celebration of the speaker's love and joy in a relationship, using vivid images and metaphors to convey the depth of their emotions.
  • "Song" - a mournful poem about a lost love, in which the speaker reflects on the futility of trying to forget their former lover.

    Religion and Spirituality

    Religion and spirituality were important themes in Rossetti's poetry, reflecting her devout Anglican faith. Her poetry often explores the relationship between God and humanity, the nature of sin and redemption, and the afterlife. She frequently used religious symbols and metaphors in her work, and her poems often have a meditative and contemplative tone.

  • "Up-Hill" - a dialogue poem in which a traveler and an innkeeper discuss the nature of the journey of life and the path to salvation.
  • "In the Bleak Midwinter" - a Christmas carol that reflects on the humility and love embodied by the Christ child, and encourages the listener to offer their own heart in return.
  • "The Convent Threshold" - a dramatic monologue in which a woman reflects on her decision to become a nun, and the challenges and doubts she has faced on her spiritual journey.

    Death and Mortality

    Death and mortality were recurring themes in Rossetti's poetry, reflecting her own experience of illness and loss. She often wrote about the pain and grief of losing a loved one, the fear of death, and the transience of life. However, her poems also express the hope and comfort that can be found in faith and the promise of eternal life.

  • "Song" - the aforementioned poem about lost love also touches on the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of human existence.
  • "When I am Dead, My Dearest" - a short, melancholy poem in which the speaker reflects on the fact that their loved one will not mourn them for long after they have passed away.
  • "After Death" - a meditation on the idea that death is simply a transition to a new state of being, and that the soul will continue on after the body has died.

    Nature and the Seasons

    Rossetti's poetry often celebrates the beauty and symbolism of nature, particularly the changing seasons. She frequently used images of flowers, trees, and the natural world to explore themes of growth, decay, and rebirth. Her poetry also explores the relationship between humanity and the natural world and the spiritual connections between the two.

  • "A Chill" - a short poem that captures the sense of foreboding and unease that can come from experiencing a particularly cold and bleak day.
  • "Winter: My Secret" - a longer poem that explores the idea that nature is not always beautiful or benign, but can be harsh and indifferent to human concerns.
  • "Echo" - a playful poem that uses the natural phenomenon of an echo to explore ideas about repetition, imitation, and the interplay between the self and the world around us.

    Feminism and Gender

    Rossetti's poetry often reflects the restrictive gender roles and expectations of Victorian society, but also challenges and subverts them. She frequently wrote about women's experiences of love, loss, and identity, and her poems often portray women as strong, independent, and self-reliant. Her work also critiques the patriarchal structures of society and explores the limitations and injustices faced by women in Victorian England.

  • "Goblin Market" - a long narrative poem that explores the relationships between sisters, the power of temptation and desire, and the dangers of transgressing social norms around gender and sexuality.
  • "Maude Clare" - a dramatic monologue in which a jilted lover confronts her former partner and his new bride, calling into question the double standards and unfair treatment of women in Victorian society.
  • "In the Round Tower at Jhansi, June 8, 1857" - a poem that tells the story of a real-life Indian queen who led a rebellion against British colonial rule, highlighting the bravery and agency of women in the face of oppression.

    Political Views

    Christina Rossetti was a feminist and social reformer who wrote extensively about women's rights and the injustices of patriarchal and capitalist systems. She believed that women should have equal rights and opportunities as men, and that the patriarchal society of Victorian England was oppressive and limiting to women.

    In her poetry, Rossetti frequently critiqued the gender roles and expectations placed upon women in Victorian society, portraying women as strong, independent, and capable individuals. For example, in her poem "Goblin Market," the female protagonists, Lizzie and Laura, demonstrate agency and bravery in their defiance of the goblin men who seek to control and exploit them.

    Rossetti also wrote about the economic oppression of the working class and the exploitative nature of capitalism. In her poem "The Lowest Room," she depicts the plight of the poor and the unjust distribution of wealth in Victorian society, and in "The Convent Threshold," she explores the constraints placed upon women in a society that values wealth and status over love and personal fulfillment.

    Against patriarchy:
  • "Does the road wind up-hill all the way? / Yes, to the very end. / Will the day’s journey take the whole long day? / From morn to night, my friend." (from "Up-Hill") - This poem can be interpreted as a critique of the patriarchal structures of society, where women are forced to work harder and face more obstacles in their journey through life.
  • "Men sell the wedding candles, / The bridal veil, the shroud." (from "A Better Resurrection") - This poem critiques the commercialization of marriage and death, both of which are patriarchal institutions.
  • "For there is no friend like a sister / In calm or stormy weather; / To cheer one on the tedious way, / To fetch one if one goes astray, / To lift one if one totters down, / To strengthen whilst one stands." (from "Goblin Market") - This poem celebrates the bond between sisters and portrays women as strong and supportive of one another, in contrast to the patriarchal society around them.

    Against capitalism:
  • "Who has seen the wind? / Neither I nor you: / But when the leaves hang trembling, / The wind is passing through." (from "Who Has Seen the Wind?") - This poem can be interpreted as a critique of the capitalist system, where the most important things in life (such as the wind, which represents the intangible beauty of nature) cannot be bought or sold.
  • "The market-girls rejoice / To see such a bounteous load, / Fruit of blushy pear and cherry, / Smile on them from the road." (from "Goblin Market") - This poem portrays the dangers of consumerism and the commercialization of pleasure, as the goblin men use their fruit to lure the sisters into a life of addiction and servitude.
  • "Buy my strawberries, / All ripe and sweet; / Come, lady, come and taste / Them while they last: / My strawberries are cheap." (from "In the Willow Shade") - This poem critiques the exploitative nature of capitalism, as the strawberry seller tries to entice the wealthy lady to buy her goods by offering them at a low price.


    While Christina Rossetti is mostly known for her poetry, she was also involved in various forms of activism during her lifetime. One of her primary concerns was the welfare of young women, and she was actively involved in philanthropic work aimed at improving the lives of working-class girls.

    In 1859, she began volunteering at a home for fallen women in Highgate, where she taught them sewing and other skills to help them find employment. She also wrote letters of recommendation for the women and helped them find places to live. Rossetti was also involved in the Young Women's Christian Association, which aimed to provide practical and spiritual support to working-class women.

    Rossetti was also concerned with social and political issues, including workers' rights, women's suffrage, and the abolition of slavery. In 1863, she signed a petition in support of the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared that all slaves in Confederate territory were to be set free. She also attended meetings of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science, where she spoke on the subject of women's employment.

    Overall, Rossetti's activism was motivated by her Christian faith and her belief in the importance of social justice. Her work with young women and her advocacy for workers' rights and women's suffrage reflect her commitment to creating a more just and equitable society.

    Legacy of Christina Rossetti

    Christina Rossetti's legacy is multifaceted and enduring. She was an influential figure in Victorian literature, and her poetry has had a lasting impact on subsequent generations of writers. Her work was highly regarded by her contemporaries, including other prominent poets such as Alfred Tennyson and Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    Rossetti's poems have been widely anthologized and continue to be studied and appreciated today for their rich language, powerful imagery, and emotional depth. Her exploration of themes such as love, death, and spirituality, as well as her feminist critique of Victorian gender roles, continues to resonate with readers.

    In addition to her literary contributions, Rossetti's life and work have been the subject of numerous biographies, critical studies, and adaptations. Her poems have been set to music by composers such as Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams, and her influence can be seen in the works of other poets, such as Sylvia Plath.

    Rossetti's legacy also extends beyond the literary world. She was an advocate for social justice and philanthropy, and her commitment to these causes has inspired others to follow in her footsteps. In 2018, the charity initiative "Christina Rossetti: Poems and Puddings" was launched, which raises money for the UK charity Shelter through the sale of a recipe book featuring Rossetti's poetry and favorite pudding recipes.


    In conclusion, Christina Rossetti was a significant figure in Victorian poetry, whose works continue to resonate with readers today. Her poetry explored themes of love, death, religion, and the natural world, using vivid imagery, simple language, and musical rhythms to create emotional and lyrical works. Her deep religious faith, struggles with illness and personal loss, and her family's involvement in the arts all influenced her poetry. Despite facing significant losses in her personal life, Rossetti's poetry expresses both the pain and grief of life, as well as the joy and hope that can be found in faith, love, and the beauty of the natural world. Through her poetry, Rossetti continues to inspire and engage readers, cementing her place as one of the most important and influential poets of the Victorian era.

    Facts About Christina Rossetti

  • Christina Rossetti is most famous for her poetry, which includes collections such as "Goblin Market and Other Poems" and "The Prince's Progress and Other Poems."
  • Much of Rossetti's poetry deals with themes of love, death, and religion, and she often incorporates religious imagery and symbolism into her work.
  • Her most famous poem, "Goblin Market," tells the story of two sisters who are tempted by the fruit sold by goblin merchants, and has been interpreted as an allegory about temptation and salvation.
  • Rossetti also wrote prose works, including "The Face of the Deep," a collection of essays on religious themes, and "Maude," a novel about a woman who becomes a nun.
  • Some of Rossetti's poetry was set to music, and she collaborated with composers such as Gustav Holst and Benjamin Britten.
  • Rossetti's poetry was popular in her own time, and she was known for her lyrical style and attention to detail.
  • Rossetti's work has been praised for its feminist themes, particularly in "Goblin Market," which has been interpreted as a critique of patriarchal society.
  • Many of Rossetti's poems deal with the theme of death, and she was known for her ability to capture the fleeting nature of life in her poetry.
  • Rossetti was also interested in art and illustrated several of her own works, including "Goblin Market."
  • Rossetti's work has had a lasting influence on poetry, and she is remembered as one of the greatest Victorian poets.
    Related Posts

    1. Marsh, Jan. Christina Rossetti: A Writer's Life. Viking Press, 1995.
    2. Rossetti, Christina. Goblin Market and Other Poems. Dover Publications, 2009.
    3. Rossetti, Christina. The Prince's Progress and Other Poems. Oxford University Press, 2001.
    4. Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences. AMS Press, 1976.
    5. Sharp, William. The Life and Literary Remains of L. E. L., Letitia Elizabeth Landon. Richard Bentley, 1841.
    6. Squire, Elizabeth. Christina Rossetti: The Poet in the Poem. Cambridge University Press, 2005.
    7. Surtees, Virginia. The Poetry of Christina Rossetti: A Critical Introduction. Methuen, 1983.
    8. Womack, Peter. Christina Rossetti: The Creative Tradition. Macmillan Press, 1994.

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