Christina Rossetti

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What characterizes Christina Rossetti's writing style?

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Christina Rosetti was a writer and poet who lived during the Victorian era in England. She was a romantic poet, writing poetry that was influenced by the romantic era stylistic elements. Rossetti mainly wrote poetry meant for children. While her main work reflected religious themes, there were also subtle adult overtones to some of her more famous poems like “Goblin Market.” The influence of romanticism is evident in her work, specifically in her attention to natural beauty and the independent nature of the characters who appear in her work.

The independence of female characters in particular has led some to characterize Rossetti as a feminist author. Though Rossetti would have likely been unfamiliar with the idea of women’s empowerment, her female characters do not fit into the perfect Victorian mold that society dictated for women at the time. Rossetti’s women were independent and courageous, and they pursued the things that they desired above all else.

Her poetry has a syntactic style in the use of rhyme and parallel structure to bring about a lyrical tone to her work. Many of her poems were written for children or to be like nursery rhymes, so they made the story easy to remember by including features that could be read aloud. For example,

She cried, “Laura,” up the garden,

“Did you miss me?

Come and kiss me.

Never mind my bruises,

Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices

Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,

Goblin pulp and goblin dew.

Eat me, drink me, love me;

Laura, make much of me;

For your sake I have braved the glen

And had to do with goblin merchant men.”

This excerpt from “Goblin Market” shows how Rossetti incorporates rhyme, rhythm, and repetition of structure to make the passage flow. The rhyme goes throughout the entire poem, and that is typical of her poems. The use of parallel structure in the “hug me, kiss me, suck my juices” and “eat me, drink me, love me” help to build up a rhythm for the reader, giving some form of percussion to the poem. The use of couplets, like ending with glen-men, makes the poem a bit easier to remember and more palatable to the ear.

Along with the syntactic and structural choices that are indicative of her style, there is also a tone and subject matter choice in “Goblin Market” that shows how Rossetti was not afraid to be provocative. Part of the romantic movement was a focus on passions and deep emotion. The use of sexually charged language in the poem, like the repetition of the word “suck,” “kiss,” and “love” all imply a passionate relationship between the fruit and the person eating it. The poem was scandalous at the time it was written, and Rossetti was unclear if she intended the poem to be for children, though ultimately she settled on it being a children’s poem.

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What is distinctive about the writing style of Christina Rosetti is the way in which her poems often use quite simple diction but have an often much more complex subject matter. Also, her works are often written as if they were songs or nursery rhymes, with regular meter and rhythm. Consider, for example, the first stanza of "Song":

She sat and sang alway

By the green margin of a stream,

Watching the fishes leap and play

Beneath the glad sunbeam.

Such stylistic features as simple diction combined with clear rhyme and rhythm patterns suggest a rather simplistic poetry, and yet Rossetti in so many of her works uses her stylistic features to explore and discuss elements of Christianity and women's place within it. In particular, her brother, William Michael Rossetti, argued that his sister created works infused withher own "spirit of self-postponement," and Virgina Woolf famously remarked of Rossetti's poetry that she "produced poems that sing like music in one's ears..." Stylistic features that are recognised as being common to Rossetti's work therefore are a simple diction and regular rhyme and rhythm which could lead some to take her poems as simple nursery rhymes or songs, yet the content of those poems belie their simple stylistic appearance, as they capture a lyrical beauty and are used to discuss issues such as self-renunciation that are incredibly powerful. Any reading of a poem such as "Goblin Market," which possesses massive narrative intensity, or "A Better Resurrection," in which Rossetti discusses her position as a Christian, will automatically dismiss any claims that her poems are not serious or deep enough for study and general readership.

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