Opinions – Literary Criticism of Rossetti

For A2 examinations the mark scheme specifies that candidates must evaluate and incorporate the ideas of others into their analysis. This is bloody hard with Rossetti as you really have to dig around to find some appropriate analysis to reflect on.

So, I’ve gathered some sources and attempted to summarise the main opinions in relation to the key themes of her poetry in order to make life easier for you. Where possible I will link to articles or online texts so you can check things out yourself.

Key Opinions to discuss in relation to themes:

Symons (1907)
Harrison (accessed 2015) – click here.

Conflict between earthly desire and religious devotion



Devotion and faith:

Symons – explores morality in her poems and the depth of her own faith, but never preaches and tells us directly to reform our characters.

AND obsession with the idea of death and the temporary nature of human existence – led to focus on attaining immortality through salvation.

Palazzo – uses reinterpretation of Biblical stories to support her opinions about women. Goblin Market presented as a retelling of the fall of Eve, so that we have sympathy with her and do not condemn her in the face of male oppression from the goblins.

Harrison – early poetry mainly about dedication to art and expression rather than religion. Religion always important, but as a way to explore emotions and feelings – poetry dries up when she becomes more committed to her faith as she ages.

AND seems to treat women in a divine manner as even fallen women like Maude Clare are made to stand above their male peers.







Lack of self-worth:

Symons – writing comes from the perspective of ‘dark gloom’ in her life. Does not write from a position of hope, but rather of despair and necessary renunciation.

Harrison  – uses intertextual reference to express more complex ideas for fear of public perception should she boldly state her perspective.

HOWEVER, in life demonstrated a steely confidence in her work and did not only value being published, but did value literary criticism or input.

AND not a case of self-doubt, but rather she values humility, fidelity and courage, which often in the face of religious belief can be presented as lacking self-worth, but is really deferential.

Ball – not necessarily biographical, but linked to the values of the Victorian age – women’s true desires and feelings not appropriate to be shared and have to demonstrate virtue and chastity, while sharing feels of lust and sexual desire with men.


Gender – the role of women:

Gilbert and Gilbar  – renunciation in her life and poetry partly related to her existence in a patriarchal society where women were not expected to have these desires.

AND would have been more of an impact as a supporter of women’s rights if the world had not been so male dominated and also religion confined women to a supporting role.

Palazzo – uses reinterpretation of Biblical stories to support her opinions about women. Goblin Market presented as a retelling of the fall of Eve, so that we have sympathy with her and do not condemn her in the face of male oppression from the goblins.

Harrison – seems to treat women in a divine manner as even fallen women like Maude Clare are made to stand above their male peers.

William Michael Rossetti  – work all from a religious perspective and ideas about temptation are artistic rather than true self searching or expression of appropriateness for women.


Symons (1909)-

sincerity of her work and relation to her life makes it so powerful. (biographical – link to conflict)

sense of rightness in reading her poetry – the way to live our lives or treat others. (devotion and faith)

naiviety of her fantasy poetry expressed through simple and childlike vocabulary, but making a serious point.

‘Rossetti’s genius was essential sombre, or it wrote itself at least on a dark background of gloom.’ (conflict between earthly desire and religion/lack of self worth)

constant fascination or obsession with death – interested in the after – what dead do, what becomes of them? (devotion and faith)

religious poetry intensely devout and almost liturgical – crosses over into other poetry too – but never preaches but prays. (devotion and faith)

recurring lament about the burden of earthly temptation – struggle of the devout soul constantly brooding and meditating to overcome desire. (conflict)

harrowing sorrow about a passion ‘spent somehow in vain, disregarded or self-repressed’. (conflict)

despite sadness two eternal joys in Rossetti’s earthly existence – nature and children.

Gilbert & Gilbar  http://crossref-it.info/textguide/christina-rossetti-selected-poems/28/1899 (1979)-

– ‘singer of renunciation’ – willingly accepts state of destitution (personally and the acceptance of her work in a patriarchal world). (gender – role of women)

– living in a male dominated world meant her poetry was slightly confined in terms of striking a note for women’s rights. (gender – role of women)

Palazzo (2002) –

– poetry can be interpreted as interpretations of the Bible – Goblin Market as the fall of Eve, but Eve not blamed, but oppressed by men (i.e. goblins tempt her into original sin). (devotion and faith; gender role of women)

Harrison  http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/harrison2/1.html-

– This passage further points to what emerges as the pivotal tension of her existence, arising from a conflict, not always easily resolved for Rossetti, between aesthetic and moral (indeed, often ascetic or even prophetic) impulses. (conflict – not real, but for artistic quality of work)

– the traditional image of Christina Rossetti as a withdrawn and highly religious woman who appeared to devote her life almost exclusively to her family and her God. In fact, for the most poetically productive years of her life — that is, until 1871 — she devoted it, equally and irrepressibly, to her art. (devotion and faith)

– deification of the fallen woman – Maude Clare – Maude Clare made to seem a queen and ultimately pure, while Thomas is overwhelmed with shame. (gender – role of women)

– intertextual references, directing her reader away from the apparently simple surface meanings of her poems and toward historically layered literary statements and traditions, consideration (lack of sense of self-worth)

– Another approach especially relevant to Christina Rossetti’s work is sociohistorical and uses incontrovertible biographical data and historical contexts to illuminate her works. Her letters, hundreds of which remain unpublished, are an invaluable source of information, for they reflect and comment specifically upon her artistic ambitions, her poetic methods, her reading, her acquaintances, [11/12] and her responses to political, social, and religious issues of the day (lack of sense of self-worth)

– At the base of such efforts in every case are clear aesthetic values, which may vary in emphasis from work to work. In the case of the 1862 text of “Maude Clare,” for instance, the values that dominate are dramatic and emotional intensity, ambiguity, and irony. These must, of course, be distinguished from the poem’s central moral values of humility, fidelity, and courage. (lack of self worth)

– Her apparent indifference to the publication of this poem is genuine and reflects her relentless quest for autonomy and self-sufficiency. This quest at last resulted in her virtually complete withdrawal from active life, as well as her reliance upon “the Poet mind”–the creative imagination that generates experience — to sustain her, to enrich her, and to serve as both a buffer and a mechanism for mediation between her and the external world that threatened always to encroach upon her independence. (lack of sense of self-worth)

– Her creative impulse oscillated between two ideal passions, whose respective objects were man and God. Both passions were intense and involved suffering, but the experience of them made her always accessible to exquisite, ethereal sensations of the spirit and emotions (conflict)

– several major “thematic” concerns. These include the agonizing conflicts between erotic passion and love of God; the manifold beauties of nature; the need to renounce earthly love and all the world’s vanities to await death and salvation. Yet these concerns are often subordinated to her interest in attaining an ideally beautiful world — a beatific paradise — or, equally often, to the process of generating such a world in beautiful poetry (conflict)

Pater –

it does so precisely by means of the dominant tensions upon which it is constructed: between beauty and death; between love of man and love of God; between the ephemeral and the eternal; between the sensory and the transcendent. It “projects above the realities of its time a world in which the forms of things are transfigured. Of that world [it] takes possession, and sublimates beyond it another still fainter and more spectral, which is, literally an artificial or “earthly paradise.” It is a finer ideal, extracted from what in relation to any actual world is already an ideal” (conflict)

Ball –

–  fallacious assumption that her poetry is written for the most part in a confessional poetic mode, as that mode was reinforced by the atmosphere of earnestness inescapable for middle-class Victorians (For the most important recent discussions of this issue, see Ball, (not biographical – not about her struggle/conflict)

William Michael Rossetti (brother) –

– presented her as a pious and ascetic woman unconcerned with worldly achievements (Gender – role of women)

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