While the Rossetti family was gaining prominence in literary and artistic circles throughout England, Queen Victoria was in the early years of her long reign over the country, lasting from 1837 until her death in 1901. Because the Victorian era spanned much of the nineteenth century, it encompassed some of the greatest changes the world had witnessed up to that time. Foreign trade agreements, cultural expansion, the Industrial Revolution, widespread civil unrest, and a profusion of creative outlets all represented the social and political atmosphere of the times. This era also encompassed two prominent “ages” that occurred in the 1800s—the Age of Liberalism (1826–1850) and the Age of Imperialism (1875–1900). The former was characterized by social class battles and an effort by millions of citizens to secure a more democratic government, and the latter established empires for countries who were able to dominate small nations and gain control of world markets and raw materials. While emerging middle classes throughout the world struggled for greater recognition and independence, large governments exerted their imperialistic powers over weaker nations. Under Victoria, Great Britain expanded its colonial holdings in Africa and, in 1877, the queen was made Empress of India, thereby strengthening Britain’s presence in Asia.
The term “Victorian” often carries a negative connotation because the queen to whom it refers was a rather dowdy,...
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In Victorian England and centuries prior, writing poetry meant writing with formality, adhering to a specific line length, rhyme scheme, meter, and so forth. The sonnet is one of the most popular styles of formal verse, and there are two main types of sonnets—the Shakespearean (English) and the Petrarchan (Italian). In its structure, “Remember” most closely follows the Petrarchan style, named for the Italian poet Petrarch Francesco (1307–1374) who made it popular. This type of sonnet contains fourteen lines, divided into an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the last six lines). Usually, the octave acts as a kind of rising action, presenting a question, vision, or desire that becomes the subject of the poem. The sestet is typically the resolution section, providing an answer to the question, bringing the vision into full view, or satisfying the desire expressed in the octave. A Petrarchan sonnet generally follows the rhyme scheme a-b-b-a-a-b-ba for the first eight lines and c-d-e-c-d-e for the final six.
Rosetti’s “Remember” follows precisely the Petrarchan rhyme scheme for the octave, but offers a slight variation in the sestet, which rhymes c-dd- e-c-e. One cannot be certain why the poet strayed from the usual form, and perhaps it was simply because she liked the sound of it better this way. Some speculation has also suggested that rhyming lines 12 and 14 gives greater emphasis to the...
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Compare and Contrast
- 1850s: American social reformer and feminist Amelia Jenks Bloomer initiates “bloomer” fashion when she starts wearing full-cut pants under skirts. Bloomers enable women to move more freely and comfortably than did petticoats.
Today: Just about anything goes in the world of fashion for women—from conservative business suits and low heels to revived mini-skirts and tall black boots to the ever-present blue jeans, sweat shirts, and sneakers. “Bloomers” are an option, not a must, for some.
- 1850s: Florence Nightingale takes London nurses to the battlefields of the Crimean War, a conflict pitting Britain, France, and Turkey against Russia when the latter tries to advance into Turkey. Nightingale organizes a barracks hospital in a war that will claim more lives through disease than combat.
Today: Women still make up the great majority of the nursing field, but they are also increasing their numbers as physicians. Approximately twenty-five percent of doctors today are women, and forty-three percent of all medical students are female.
- 1850s: The first Women’s Rights Convention in the United States, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, opens at Seneca Falls, New York in 1948. In 1953, seventy-three women present a petition to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention urging women’s right to vote.
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Topics for Further Study
Try writing a Petrarchan sonnet. Remember that there is a general expectation of what the content in the octave and in the sestet should provide, as well as strict meter and rhyme schemes throughout.
Read as much information as you can on Queen Victoria of Great Britain and then write an essay on some of the likely reasons that she was the longest reigning monarch in European history (besides Louis XIV).
The Pre-Raphaelite art movement was a shortlived one, but it paved the way for other “rebellious” styles of painting, sculpting, writing, and so forth. What twentieth-century art movements have also been controversial and considered out of the mainstream? How have they been received by the general public and other artists?
The Industrial Revolution brought swift changes to manufacturing, production, and communication capabilities throughout the world. What do you think was the most significant invention of the age and why?
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Visit the “ArtMagick” web site at http://www. artmagick.com/index.asp (last accessed August, 2001), a “virtual museum displaying paintings and poetry from art movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries” (for example: romantic, symbolist, Pre-Raphaelite and art nouveau). The site includes dozens of paintings by the Pre- Raphaelites, as well as twenty poems by Christina Rossetti.
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What Do I Read Next?
In 1994, editor and poet Linda Hall put together a remarkable collection of women’s poetry, including works from both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Called An Anthology of Poetry by Women: Tracing the Tradition, this book contains poems by such notable Victorian poets as Christina Rossetti and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, as well as contemporary American poets, including Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.
The Language of Exclusion, written by Sharon Leader and published in 1987, is a feminist critical study of the nineteenth century’s two most puzzling and shy female poets—Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson. Leader argues that most studies of women poets written before 1960 simply perpetuate the spinster/ recluse view of these two women instead of highlighting their public significance and the impact that history and environment had on their demeanor.
British scholar Christopher Hibbert’s Queen Victoria: A Personal History (2000) is one of the most refreshing biographies of the prim, somewhat pompous, ruler of England because he explores a side of her that is rarely shown. This book describes the queen’s relationship with her husband, children, and members of government and portrays her as a fun-loving, passionate woman who was madly in love with her partner and was sometimes a difficult, overbearing mother.
The 2000 publication of Elizabeth Prettejohn’s The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Dombrowski, Theo, “Dualism in the Poetry of Christina Rossetti,” in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 1976, pp. 70–76.
Harrison, Antony H., Christina Rossetti in Context, University of North Carolina Press, 1988, p. 21.
Keane, Robert N., “Christina Rossetti: A Reconsideration,” in Nineteenth-Century Women Writers of the English-Speaking World, edited by Rhoda B. Nathan, Greenwood Press, 1986, pp. 99–106.
Rosenblum, Dolores, Christina Rossetti: The Poetry of Endurance, Southern Illinois University Press, 1986, p. 209.
Rossetti, Christina, The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti, Vol. 1, edited by R. W. Crump, Louisiana State University Press, 1979, p. 37.
Smulders, Sharon, Christina Rossetti Revisited, Twayne Publishers, 1996, p. 125.
Jones, Kathleen, Learning Not to Be First: The Life of Christina Rossetti, St. Martin’s Press, 1992. This biography of Rossetti is comprehensive and easy to read. It takes a sensitive look at the poet, based on the humble, pious, and selfless life she lived.
Lootens, Tricia A., Lost Saints: Silence, Gender, and Victorian Literary Canonization, University Press of Virginia, 1996. Lootens presents an interesting look at how and why many Victorian female writers were thought of as “saints,” often at the expense of seeing them...
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