Christina Georgina Rossetti was born on December 5, 1830, the youngest of four children. Her father, Gabriele, an Italian political refugee, was himself a poet and musician. Her mother, of half-Italian parentage, wrote a popular book on Dante, and her older brother, Dante Gabriel, became a noted poet and a leader of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.
Because of financial problems, the Rossettis moved from Portland Place to Mornington Crescent in 1851 so that Christina and her mother could open a small day school for children, thus providing a financial base for the family. By 1854, William Rossetti, Christina’s brother, then a clerk in a revenue office, had rented a house on Albany Street, where the family lived together. After Christina’s father died in that year, her mother and her siblings lived on there until 1867, and it was only because of William’s marriage to Lucy Brown in 1874 that Christina and her mother moved to Torrington Square.
Christina was not a world traveler, but her few experiences abroad did affect her poetry. She went abroad but twice, once in 1861 and again in 1865, and it was the Italian journey that is reflected in so much of her writing. She wrote some poetry in Italian, but her love for Italy can be seen in much of her English work. One excellent example is “Vanna’s Twins,” the story of an Italian family living in England.
Her first book, published in 1847 when she was seventeen, was a collection of poems privately printed by her grandfather Gaetena Polidori, himself a writer. The volume titled Verses contained sixty-six pages of poems written by Rossetti between the ages of twelve and sixteen. The longest piece...
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Christina Georgina Rossetti (roh-ZEHT-ee) was born in Portland Place, London, England, on December 5, 1830, the youngest of four children of Gabriele and Frances Mary Polidori Rossetti. All three of her siblings achieved some measure of fame: Maria Francesca (1827-1876) as a Dante critic, Dante Gabriel (1828-1882) as a poet and painter, and William Michael (1829-1919) as an art critic and essayist. Her father Gabriele had been a noted liberal reformer and poet in Italy who was exiled to England in 1826, the year of his marriage.
When Christina was a year old, her father was offered a professorship of Italian at King’s College, London, which meant that the family’s situation was much less precarious than it had been for Christina’s brothers and sisters. Christina grew up surrounded by some of the finest minds of her time, and she matched her own against them at an early age. While a young girl she engaged in sonnet-writing contests with her brothers, and in 1847 her maternal grandfather published privately a collection of her early verses. By 1849, at the age of nineteen, Rossetti was publishing verse in the London Athenaeum, one of the leading literary journals of late Victorian England.
When her brothers and other London painters and intellectuals formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the fall of 1848, Christina took an important role in the group’s discussions, as well as serving as a model for many of their most important paintings. She sat for the painting that launched her brother Dante Gabriel’s career, The Girlhood of Mary Virgin (1849). At about the same time she received her first marriage proposal, from James Collinson, a painter in the Brotherhood, which she declined for reasons of religious incompatibility. She would refuse him again...
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The twin strains of emotion in Christina Rossetti’s poetry—a yearning for God and a yearning for human love—sometimes seem so different to critics that they speak of two Christina Rossettis, the saint and the romantic. Comparison of Rossetti with other English religious poets, such as the Metaphysicals, suggests that such tension of divine and human is natural in devotional poetry. Rossetti’s early mastery of metrical forms gave her a playful yet disciplined ear for the music of poetry. Perhaps it is this quality that has made her children’s poetry particularly successful.
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