INTRODUCTION of her love poems more intriguing than her

INTRODUCTION

During
the time of publication, Rossetti’s vast assortment of poems were recognised
with much success as Rossetti became established as the foremost female poet of
the time after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1861. Of the many
published works, Goblin Market and Other
Poems remains as her most famous collection yet, whilst receiving much
critical praise during the time of its publication, it has continued to receive
an abundance of critiques and interpretations.

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The
Pre-Raphaelite movement begun in 1848 through three individuals: William Holman
Hurt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti who claimed that the
quality of art had deteriorated during the High Renaissance as contemporaries
favoured artificial compositions and poses over the intense realism and natural
influence which is reflected in Italian Art in the early Italian Renaissance.
This movement aimed to unite English painters, poets, and critics and declared
that Pre-Raphaelite artists must have “genuine
ideas to express; study nature attentively, so as to know how to express it;
sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, to
the exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote;
most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues”.
The Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics is integrated in some of Christina Rossetti’s
poem, including Goblin Market in which her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti
contributed his own illustrations of “Goblin Market”. Christina Rossetti’s
poetry adheres to the ideals of the movement but was never an official member
of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. The emphasis on expression through nature is
evident in poems such as ‘Shut Out’ which intertwines natural imagery with
desire:

“‘Or give me, then,
But one small twig from shrub or tree;
And bid my home remember me
Until I come to it again.'”

Despite
the split in pre-Raphaelite sources of inspiration between Medievalism and
Realism, Rossetti’s poetry reflects the Anglo-Catholic beliefs, although some
poems, such as Soeur Louis which have a direct link to religion, many of
Rossetti’s love poetry explore a more topical space whilst still maintaining
the religious undertone despite keeping her works characteristically restrained
and simple which allows multitudes of critiques and interpretations which may
arguably make some of her love poems more intriguing than her directly
religious poems.

Tractarianism
was an affiliation of the High Church Anglicans who wanted to re-invigorate the
church by aligning it with the model of the Church created in the first few
centuries following the Christ’s crucifixion. The first Anglican convent since
the Reformation was established in 1845 and this was also the place in which
Rossetti worshipped each week. Since they were prohibited from entering full
time ministry in the Church, many 19th Century women wished to
devote their entire lives to God in different mannerisms thus choosing to
become nuns as many roles in the church were denied to them due to their
gender, becoming a nun was one of the ways in which a woman could remain
single, serve the community and belong to a larger, positive and affirming
female network. The emphasis on sisterhood is presented through Lizzie and
Laura in Goblin Market in which the
themes of women and sin are prevalent. In Goblin Market, there’s a lack of male
characters which may be a direct reference to the lack of men in the Anglican
nunnery which further emphasises the importance of sisterhood and the
relationship between Lizzie and Laura. The poem was written in 1859 whilst
Rossetti was volunteering at the St Mary Magdalene Penitentiary for ‘fallen
women’ dedicated to the reform and rehabilitation of prostitutes so that women
who had transgressed sexually could be redeemed. Whether Laura’s binge on the
goblin fruit is interpreted as a sexual escapade, or as the beginning of a
descent into chemical addiction and withdrawal, the poem presents the actions
as a form of transgression. Religious implementations are distinct when Laura
gives in to her temptation and eats the goblin fruit which acts as an allusion
to the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden in the Judeo-Christian creation
story. Within the poem, critics have also interpreted the theme of sex and
sexual desires to be present through the erotic imagery conveyed by the exotic
fruits. This interpretation is evident through the Playboy magazine illustrated
publication of Goblin Market by Kinuko Craft.The eminent Victorian critic John
Ruskin declared that Rossetti’s “irregular measures” were the “calamity of
modern poetry” and that she “should exercise herself in the severest
commonplace of metre until she can write as the public like”. Although Ruskin’s
critique is of a negative form as Goblin Market defies the expected form of
Victorian poetry, modern critics have alluded there to be themes on feminism
despite the fact that Rossetti herself was not a feminist. Many critics
recognise the fact that women are a reoccurring factor in the vast majority of
the poems but by 1850:

 “Rossetti’s women are becoming cynical of this
promised paradise: they begin to concern themselves with this life- and find it
lacking. The veiled anger and dissatisfaction they feel is at first barely
acknowledged by the woman herself, but as Rossetti’s women grow throughout the
18850’s the frustration and rage, although contained behind the flint-faced
mask the woman never removes, like-wise grow. The eruption of Rossetti’s own
repressed anger in these poems places them among the most powerful in her
non-devotional work.”

-Marianne Skoczek (1982)

As
Rossetti’s works continue into later years, the poems become increasingly cynical
as mentioned previously but this may influenced through elements of her own
personal life. Aside from her religious devotion, her life was also marked by
suffering as she was frequently the victim of ill health (including breast
cancer and Graves Disease) as well as suffering from depression. She was aware
her ill health played a burden upon her family and also felt the effects of it
when her father became ill and left her family financially unstable. ‘From the
Antique’ reflects aspects of her personal life and cynical perspective as she
begins the poem with “It’s a weary life”, the poem was never published and the
bitter sadness and loneliness is present as she continues to state in the last
stanza “none would miss me in all the world”. Faith did not sure her depression
but it freed her to experience her mental and spiritual state in a meaningful
way by allowing her to unite it to the suffering of others. Through the
anthology, the passion within her works are turbulent but throughout her works,
the idea of doubt manifests itself deeper. The final poem in the anthology
“Soeur Louise” illustrates that doubt and cynicism through the pre-Raphaelite
importance of natural imagery as she describes her hopes as a “barren mine” and
her love as a “disenkindled fire.

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