Author Profile

Christina Rossetti

Selected Works

  • Monna Innominata (1881)
  • The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti (1904)
  • Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862)
  • The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866)

Christina Georgina Rossetti was born in London, England, in 1830. Her poet father, Gabriele Rossetti, had left post-Napoleonic Italy in 1824 to seek political asylum in England. In London he became a professor of Italian and Dante scholarship. He met and married Frances Polidori, of part-Italian descent, whose brother was Lord Byron's physician for a time. The couple had four gifted children, the youngest of whom was Christina.

The Rossetti home was always open to Italian scholars and revolutionaries who influenced the children as they grew into intelligent, artistic personalities. Christina was a lively and creative child. She dictated her first story to her mother before she had learned to write. At age six she astonished a visitor with her use of a "dictionary-word." She and her sister were educated at home by their mother, who regularly read to them from the excellent family library. Soon Christina was exploring the library on her own, preferring stories of fantasy, adventure and imagination. Among them she enjoyed Gothic romances, the works of Sir Walter Scott, and the poetry of John Keats. As she matured, she finally allowed the writing of Dante to become more than an overdone subject of her father's studies, and later admitted to the great influence Dante had on her own work.

Emotionally, Christina and her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti were described as the "two storms" of the family; her sister Maria Francesca and brother William Michael were described as the "two calms". However, as she grew older, Christina evolved into a quiet, devout woman whose writing demonstrated continued inner passion and complexity. At age 12 she first began writing down and dating her poetry in notebooks. From these her grandfather Polidori privately published her first volume of verses in 1847. Then in 1848 her brother Dante and his friends formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters and poets who wanted to bring back the "vitality and freshness of the Italian primitives." The work produced by the Brotherhood strongly influenced Victorian art and literature. Intellectually and artistically interested in the Brotherhood, Christina, on occasion, acted as a secretary as well as a model for Dante. Christina published several poems in the Brotherhood's magazine, The Germ. However, as a woman, Christina was excluded from the Brotherhood's meetings. This is an example of the struggle Christina faced as a woman writing in the Victorian age.

Although Christina was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite movement, she was influenced even more by the strong Anglican upbringing she received from her mother. Her religious conviction produced prolific devotional writing, and she rejected two marriage proposals on religious grounds. After her father's death in 1854, Christina, her mother and her sister settled into a life of church, visiting, and charity work. Christina participated even though she often suffered bouts of serious illness; because of this she never left home to work, as her sister sometimes was forced to do. At age 42 Christina was diagnosed with Graves' disease (hyperthyroidism). Still, Christina continued her writing, producing poetry, commentaries on the Bible, a series of nursery rhymes, and short stories.

Christina's best known work, published in 1862, is "Goblin Market," admired for its depth and complexity. It is known to have partly inspired Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Acclaimed during her lifetime as the successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti died of breast cancer in London in 1894. For nearly a century Christina's works were largely forgotten, until their rediscovery in the late 20 th century. She is now lauded as one of the greatest poets of the Victorian age.


Holograph letter to an unknown recipient, 1884.

Letter written by Christina Rossetti on 20 November 1884 to an autograph collector, sending him the autographs of several of her author acquaintances, including one of "C.L. Dodgson," who, she explains, is Lewis Carroll.

Although Christina Rossetti's illnesses forced her to live a quiet life, she was acquainted with many authors and painters of the time: first with the friends and peers of her parents (one, her uncle John Polidori, author of the Gothic tale Vampyre, was physician to Lord Byron); next with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; and more as her own poetry became appreciated. How well she knew Lewis Carroll (or Charles Dodgson) is uncertain, but her poem "Goblin Market" partly inspired his Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. For her part, her short story collection Speaking Likenesses includes scathing parodies (satirizing the ideal middle-class child) of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The other names appearing in the letter are

  • William Sharp (1855-1905), who lived for a time in Australia to recover his health. Back in England he wrote poetry, a book about Dante Gabriel Rossetti, criticism of art, arguments against discriminating between men and women, and novels, some of which he wrote under the pseudonym Fiona MacLeod.
  • J. Buxton Forman or Henry Buxton Forman (1842-1917), who was an author and editor. His book Our Living Poets (1871) covered the Rossettis appreciatively, bringing him to the family's attention. He was also a forger, known now for his many piracies and forgeries, often reprinting already-published work under new names and fictitious publishers.
  • Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890), an Irishman who lived most of his adult life in England as a Church of England clergyman. He wrote many pamphlets and tracts relating to the Tractarian (or Oxford) Movement and ceremonial practice in the church. Christina Rossetti, her mother, and her sister, were deeply affected by the Tractarian Movement, which developed into Anglo-Catholicism.

View Images

  1. ThumbnailPage 1
  2. ThumbnailPage 2

Holograph manuscript of "Sirs, Ye Are Brethren," 1870.

Poem written by Christina Rossetti dated 1870, later published as the first part of the two-part poem, "The German-French Campaign."

Rossetti did not often write of contemporary issues, but this poem was an exception. It addressed the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), a conflict involving the balance of power in Europe that had been brewing since the Napoleonic Wars.

View Images

  1. ThumbnailPage 1

The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti. London: MacMillan, 1904.

These pages display the published version of Rossetti's "The German-French Campaign." Changes have been made that differ from the manuscript, including the title for part one, from "Sirs, Ye are Brethren," to "Thy Brother's Blood Crieth."

Other changes can be seen in the first and third lines of the fourth stanza, as well as differences in punctuation throughout. The changes in the first line of the fourth stanza alter the rhythm of the line, removing the slight awkwardness of the first version.

View Images

  1. ThumbnailPage 1
  2. ThumbnailPage 2
  3. ThumbnailPage 3
  4. ThumbnailPage 4
Literary Worlds