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Picture of Christina Rossetti, poet; nineteenth century British Literature / English Literature and poetry

December 5, 1830
Christina Rossetti   (1830 - 1894)
Rossetti's "Aesthetics of Renunciation"
by Steve King

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On this day in 1830 Christina Rossetti was born. Her still-growing reputation as one of the best English women poets is based largely on two collections, Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862), and The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866); her Sing-Song: a Nursery Rhyme Book (1872, 1893) is also highly-ranked among Victorian children's books. Part of her fascination comes from her personal life, especially as lived on the outer circles of brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti's Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He promoted, edited and illustrated her poetry, but she rejected his lifestyle as too busy and glaring: "Beautiful, delightful, noble, memorable, as is the world you and yours frequent," she wrote her brother, "I yet am well content in my shady crevice -- which crevice enjoys the unique advantage of being to my certain knowledge the place assigned me."

The recent scholarship finds that the traditional view of Christina Rossetti as "recluse, saint, and renunciatory spinster" is obsolete. She devoted herself to her drug-addicted brother and aging mother, to charitable causes, to her High Anglican faith, and to her poetry, because these were her best or only options, given the "dominant Victorian patriarchal discourse" within which she was confined. She was offered marriage twice, and refused; whatever John Ruskin offered, she also refused, and quite nicely, too:
    ...Let bygones be bygones:
    Don't call me false, who owed not to be true:
    I'd rather answer "No" to fifty Johns
    Than answer "Yes" to you.

    Let's mar our pleasant days no more,
    Song-birds of passage, days of youth:
    Catch at today, forget the days before:
    I'll wink at your untruth.

    Let us strike hands as hearty friends;
    No more, no less; and friendship's good:
    Only don't keep in view ulterior ends,
    And points not understood

    In open treaty. Rise above
    Quibbles and shuffling off and on:
    Here's friendship for you if you like; but love, --
    No, thank you, John.
Opposite to this chaste verse is the famous "Goblin Market," a poem full of Gothic underpinnings and sexual overtones, and a starting point for anyone trying to figure Rossetti and her "aesthetics of renunciation" out. Here Lizzie has returned to sister Laura from her sacrificial encounter with the little men and their fruit:
    ... 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
    Squeezed 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."

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Related authors:  Charles Dodgson, Elizabeth Siddal, William Morris
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