(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In The Face of the Deep, Christina Rossetti proceeds carefully through the book of Revelation, verse by verse, examining Saint John’s text, not so much for a map or timeline of the Apocalypse as for gems of wisdom and encouragement for Christians hoping to redeem the time until Christ’s return. She notes that other exegetes have connected the text to historical events, but she does not presume to do so authoritatively. Though she occasionally hazards such a reading, she maintains a characteristically Tractarian reserve. She warns against idle curiosity and encourages adoration of Christ as the final goal of Revelation.

In chapter 1, she notes that Christ reveals to us the things we need to know—and these things reveal Christ to us. To know Christ and to become like him is much more important than to see into mysteries and make prognostications. Our response to the revelations is twofold: We obey any commandments and receive the mysteries thoughtfully, as the Blessed Virgin pondered the angel’s announcement.

Throughout the book, Rossetti intersperses poems and prayers composed in response to the text she is evaluating. Typically, didactic prose does not resonate deeply enough to express her thoughts. Her doctrinal emphasis is evident in frequent reference to the prayers and creeds of the Book of Common Prayer (1549). In addition, her expansive knowledge of Scripture is seen in the almost constant connections she makes between the verses of Revelation and texts throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Regarding the angels of the seven churches (in chapters 2 and 3), Rossetti comments briefly on the text, then develops a variety of devotional meditations, including one on “Some Biblical Tens”: the ten commandments, ten strings on David’s instrument, ten lamps for the wise virgins, and so on. Her connections are often surprising and insightful. She notes that each of the churches has a unique enemy and reward, but the common way to achieve victory is to overcome. She provides an outline of the goals and necessary actions for each church, relating this to Christian living.

Chapter 4 describes John’s vision of God enthroned in heaven; Rossetti’s...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Kent, David A., ed. The Achievement of Christina Rossetti. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987. Fifteen scholarly essays on Rossetti’s poetry and prose; several on her devotional works and theology, including the influence of Tractarianism on her work.

Marsh, Jan. Christina Rossetti. New York: Viking, 1995. Thoroughly researched biography, incorporating letters, poems, fiction, and devotional prose to shed light on Rossetti’s life and remarkable literary career.

Melnyk, Julie, ed. Women’s Theology in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Transfiguring the Faith of Their Fathers. Garland Reference Library of the Humanities. New York: Garland, 1998. Essays on women’s writing on the Apocalypse and on Rossetti’s devotional prose; also deals with the impact of theology on women’s novels of the period.

Rossetti, Christina. Prose Works of Christina Rossetti. 4 vols. London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2003. Reprint of Called to Be Saints (1881), Letter and Spirit (1883), Time Flies (1885), and The Face of the Deep, with scholarly introductions by Maria Keaton.

Wheeler, Michael. Heaven, Hell, and the Victorians. Abridged edition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2005. A broad look at the Victorian view of death and the theology of Heaven and Hell. Illustrated with Victorian images of death and the afterlife.