Christina Rossetti

Portrait of Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti was an English writer of romantic, devotional and children’s poems. She was born in London on 5th December 1830 and died there on 29th December 1894 aged 64.

Major Works

“Goblin Market and other Poems” (1862)
“The Prince’s Progress” (1866)
“A Pageant” (1881)
“The Face of the Deep” (1882)

Biography Timeline

Christina Georgina Rossetti was born on 5th December 1830 in Charlotte Street (now Hallam Street), London. Her father was Gabrielle Rossetti, an Italian poet and Dante scholar who was living in exile in England and her mother was Frances Polidori, who was half English and half Italian and the sister of Lord Byron’s doctor John William Polidori. She had two brothers and a sister including her famous Pre-Raphaelite brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She was educated at home chiefly by her mother and read widely and was particularly impressed by the work of John Keats. The house had a steady stream of visitors including revolutionaries, scholars and artists of all types. Christina and Dante Gabriel were always seen as the passionate ones in the family.

1831: Her father Gabriele Rossetti is appointed to the chair of Italian at the newly opened King’s College.

1839: Her grandfather sells his house at Holmer Green thus ending the families visits there.

1842: She begins writing down and dating her own poems.

1843: Her father is diagnosed with bronchitis, possibly tuberculosis and his eyesight begins to fail. He resigns his post at King’s College and Christina becomes his principal carer as her mother takes up teaching to support the family. Her sister Maria becomes a live in Governess, William works for the Excisae Office and Dante Gabriel is at Art School. The children produce a newspaper called “The Hodge-Podge or Weekly Efforts”.  Christina becomes involved with religion and worships at Christ Church, Albany Street, where services reflected the Oxford Movement ideals.

1845: She suffers a mental breakdown which some commentators have described as psychosomatic as she was the only non-bread winner in the family.

1847: She begins writing hymns, sonnets and ballads many of which are based on folk tales or stories from the Bible. A collection of her poems, entitled “Verses” is privately printed by her grandfather Polidori. She also begins to collect postage stamps which was unusual for a female at the time.

1848: Dante Gabriel and William set up the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with James Collinson. James proposes marriage to Christina but she declines giving Collinson’s recent conversion to Roman Catholicism as the reason. He reverts to Anglicanism and she accepts him. She sits for Dante Gabriel’s painting “The Girlhood of Mary Virgin”. Her first two published poems are “Death’s Chill Between” and “Heart’s Chill Between” which are published in the periodical “Athenaeum”.

1850: The engagement with Collinson is broken off when he again becomes a catholic. Rossetti models again for her brother’s work “Annunciation, Ecce Ancilla Domini” despite her depression. Seven of her poems are included in the new Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood magazine “The Germ” including “Dreamland” and “A Pause of Thought.” These were either anonymous or under the pseudonym “Ellen Alleyne”She writes the novella “Maude: A Story for Girls” which is not published until after her death.

1851: Due to lack of fund, the Rossettis move to Camden Town, where Rossetti and her mother briefly run a day school.

1853: She helps her mother set up another school in Frome which is her first time outside of London. Again, this is short lived as it is not a success.

1854: Her father dies on 26th April and she and her mother return to London. She submits poems to “Blackwood’s Magazine” and “Frasers” but they are not accepted and she is even turned down in an attempt to join Florence Nightingale’s nursing contingent in the Crimean War.

1856: She writes the poem “In the Artist’s Studio” and the short story “The Lost Titian”.

1857: She suffers a major religious crisis. “Nick” is published in the “National Magazine” and she also writes “In the Round Tower at Jhansi”.

1861: She submits poems “A Birthday” and “An Apple Gathering” to “Macmillan’s Magazine” and they are published. Dante Gabriel trying to be helpful sends “Goblin Market” to John Ruskin. Ironically one of her best loved poems today was roundly drubbed by Ruskin who claimed it was unpublishable.

1859: She begins to volunteer at St Mary Magdalen House of Charity in Highgate which is a refuge for ex-prostitutes where she is known as “Sister Christina”. Her poem “Maude Clare” appears in Once a Week” an anthology of other work.

1862: Macmillan & Co publish “Goblin Market and Other Poems” under her own name and it is widely praised by the critics although sales are modest. Algernon Swinburne and Alfred Lord Tennyson are both impressed.

1863: She publishes “Poems: An Offering to Lancashire” an anthology in support of Lancashire textile workers.

1864: “The Lowest Room” is published in “Macmillan’s Magazine” in March. She spends the winter in Hastings due to a lung complaint and begins work on “The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems”.

1866: “The Prince’s Progress” is published and receives largely favourable reviews. In the autumn she declines to marry Charles Bagot Cayley, one of her father’s Italian language students.

1867: She publishes three religious and moralistic stories in The Churchman’s Shilling Magazine” including “The Waves of this Troublesome World: A Tale of Hastings Ten Years Ago”. She alsopublishes the first of two articles on Dante, supporting Cayley’s translation of “The Divine Comedy”. 

1870: “Some Pros and Cons about Pews” and “A Safe Investment” are both published “Commonplace and Other Short Stories”. She is now dangerously ill with fever and exhaustion. Doctors diagnose a thyroid condition commonly known as Graves’ disease. She recovers but is never fully herself again.

1872: “Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book” is published by Routledge with illustrations by Arthur Hughes. It is well received by the public.

1874: In March her brother William marries Lucy Brown, daughter of the painter Ford Madox Brown. She writes “Annus Domini: A Prayer for Each Day of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture” and “Speaking Likenesses”. 

1876: Rossetti, her mother, and her aunts move to Torrington Square in Bloomsbury. In November her sister Maria dies of cancer. Christina’s poem “Time Flies” discusses salvation after death. She regularly worships at Christ Church, Woburn Square from now on.

1879: Her “Seek and Find: A Double Series of Short Studies on the Benedicit” is published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).

1880: She writes “A Pageant and Other Poems”.

1881: Called to Be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied” is published. She also writes “A Pageant”, 1882: Dante Gabriel Rossetti dies in Birchington on Easter Sunday and Christina writes a commemorative poem, “Birchington Churchyard” which is published in “The Athenaeum”. She also writes “The Face of the Deep”.

1883: Algernon Swinburne dedicates his work “A Century of Roundels” to her, as she adopted his roundel form in some of her poems. She writes her fourth book of devotional prose “Letter and Spirit: Notes on the Commandments”.

1885: She publishes “Time Flies: A Reading Diary”.

1886: Her mother dies and Rossetti continues to be the housekeeper for her elderly aunts Charlotte and Eliza until their deaths in 1890 and 1893.

1892: She is diagnosed with breast cancer and has a mastectomy in her own home. She writes “The Face of the Deep, A Devotional Commentary on the Apocalypse”.

1893: The cancer comes back and despite her suffering she works on an enlarged edition of “Sing-Song”. 

Christina Rossetti died on 29 December 1894 at 30 Torrington Square, Bloomsbury London of cancer. She was buried on 2nd January 1895 in the family grave at Highgate Cemetery next to her father, mother and Elizabeth Siddal wife of Dante Gabriel. 

Further Information

Complete list of the poems of Christina Rossetti.