Christina Georgina Rossetti
(“Ellen Alleyn”)

(1830-1894)

Contributions to The Germ:

I.
Dream Land
An End

II.
A Pause of Thought
Song
A Testimony

III.
Repining
Sweet Death

Christina Rossetti, who wrote for The Germ under the pseudonym “Ellen Alleyn,” (a pseudonym invented by her brother Dante Gabriel) was the first Pre-Raphaelite to enjoy widespread literary success. Her Goblin Market and Other Poems, published in 1862, brought her popular attention and critical acclaim, as did her devotional poems and essays.

Christina Georgina Rossetti was born in London December 5, 1830, the youngest of Gabriele and Frances Polidori Rossetti’s four children. Like her older siblings, Christina began writing and drawing at an early age. Her grandfather Polidori, who doted on Christina, had a collection of her verses privately published in 1847. Her first public poems appeared in the Athenaeum when she was only eighteen. She wrote prolifically throughout her life.

Christina Rossetti’s writings reflect her deep religious devotion. She was a High Church Anglican and a disciple of Tractarianism (also know as the Oxford Movement), a radically conservative position. When she was about 13, Christina began attending Christ Church (a Tractarian hotbed) with her mother and sister Maria. About this time (roughly 1842-1847), Christina went through a transformation that her friends and family were at a loss to explain. As a girl, Christina Rossetti was spirited, passionate, and hot-tempered to the point of self-destruction: she reports once ripping her arm with scissors after her mother chastised her for some small offense. Her brother William Michael Rossett wrote that “In innate character she was vivacious and open to pleasurable impressions, and during girlhood, one might readily have supposed that she would develop into a woman of expansive heart, fond of society and diversions, and taking part in them of more than average brilliancy.”

Instead of blossoming into vivacious womanhood, however, the adolescent Christina sickened with an unexplained illness characterized by a “suffocating sensation,” chest pains, and heart palpitations--afflictions suggesting a modern diagnosis of acute anxiety. At least one physician diagnosed her with the Victorian catch-all, hysteria, and a friend later characterized her illness as “religious mania bordering on insanity.” Returned to health, Christina became shy, restrained, prim, scrupulous to a fault, and intensely devoted to her religion.

Religious scrupulousness led Christina to reject two marriage proposals. In 1848 she became engaged to James Collinson, but broke the engagement when Collinson reverted to Roman Catholicism. In the 1860s she received and rejected a proposal from Charles Bagot Cayley, a translator of Dante, after “she enquired into his creed and found he was not a Christian.” She never married.

After her father’s death in 1854, Christina and her mother lived with William Michael Rossetti. When he married the agnostic Lucy Madox Brown (daughter of Ford Madox Brown) in 1874, Christina and Frances moved in with two Polidori aunts. Frances Rossetti died in 1886, and Christina, who had been weakened and disfigured by Graves’ disease in 1871, continued to care for her aunts until their deaths in 1890 and 1893.

From 1860 to 1870, Rossetti was an associate at St. Mary Magdelene’s at Highgate, a sisterhood devoted to redeeming fallen women, where Maria Rossetti became a full-fledged sister. She would spend several days at a time working with the inmates at Highgate, and was expected to promote the interests of the penitentiary within her spheres of influence.

Rossetti was closely involved in promoting the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge from the 1870s until just before her death from cancer on December 29, 1894, when the society refused to take a position on the anti-vivisectionist beliefs she espoused.

In 1896, two years after her death, William Michael Rossetti edited New Poems, a collection of Christina’s unpublished or previously uncollected poems. In 1904 he edited her Poetical Works.

Christina Rossetti's Works:

Verses. London: Privately printed at G. Polidori's, 1847.

Goblin Market and Other Poems. Cambridge & London: Macmillan, 1862.

The Prince's Progress and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1866.

Poems. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1866.

Commonplace and Other Stories. London: Ellis, 1870; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870.

Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book. London: Routledge, 1872; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1872; revised and enlarged, London: Macmillan, 1893.

Annus Domini: A Prayer for Each Day of the Year, founded on a Text of Holy Scripture. Oxford & London: Parker, 1874.

Speaking Likenesses, with Pictures thereof by Arthur Hughes. London: Macmillan, 1874; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1875.

Goblin Market, The Prince's Progress, and Other Poems. London & New York: Macmillan, 1875; Republished as Poems, Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1876.

Seek and Find: A Double Series of Short Studies on the Benedicte. London & Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/New York: Young, 1879.

A Pagent and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1881; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1881.

Called to be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied. London & Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/New York: Young, 1881.

Poems. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1882.

Letter and Spirit: Notes on the Commandments. London & Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/New York: Young, 1881.

Time Flies: A Reading Diary. London & Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1885; Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1886.

Poems. New and enlarged edition. London & New York: Macmillan, 1890.

The Face of the Deep: A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse. London & Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/New York: Young, 1892.

Verses: Reprinted from "Called to be Saints," "Time Flies," and "The Face of the Deep." London & Brighton: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge/New York: Young, 1893.

New Poems, Hitherto Unpublished or Uncollected, edited by William M. Rossetti. London & New York: Macmillan, 1896.

Maude: A Story for Girls. London: Bowden, 1897; enlarged, Chicago: Stone, 1897.

Poetical Works, edited by William Michael Rossetti. London & New York: Macmillan, 1904.