Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361

Rossetti’s poetry was widely accepted and appreciated from the beginning. Since her work, on the surface at least, was largely a reflection of Victorian primness and Anglican faith, it had no trouble making its way into the hearts and the libraries of the literary highbrows of the times. She was regarded as an important figure in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, and even those who criticized the rebellious nature of the brotherhood’s painters turned a kinder eye toward the gentle, shy, and extremely pious poet.

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In his article, “Christina Rossetti: A Reconsideration,” critic Robert N. Keane notes that Rossetti “has been regarded by many as Britain’s finest poet, yet her work has seldom been studied for its own sake.” Instead, it was often thought of only in terms of its relationship to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, or in comparison to possibly the most popular female Victorian poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. But with Browning’s death in 1861, Rossetti rose to the top of the list in many literary circles. Still, her work tended to be qualified by many readers and critics who studied it for its religious messages or its lessons in morality. Others searched it for hidden clues to the true nature of a fanatically devout and presumed lonely woman who devoted herself to church and family at the expense of personal happiness in an intimate relationship. When more recent researchers began looking at female Victorian poets for hints of early feminist views, Rossetti’s work was heralded as a voice secretly crying out for independence and freedom while remaining obediently within the strictures of the Victorian woman’s place. As Keane points out, however, “In the last few years . . . there has been some movement toward studying her poetry for its own sake.”

Whether the reviews have been based on fair terms or not, the overall consensus of critics is that Rossetti was one of the nineteenth century’s best poets. She has consistently been praised for her ability to master formal verse, and the simple, honest voices of the speakers in her poems give authority to the tone, the subject matter, and the sometimes odd perspectives of the speakers themselves.

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Essays and Criticism