Herbert, 33 who, if not exactly Christ-like, suggests the name of a fine religious poet. Although Mary does not write poetry, she embroiders designs of flowers, herbs, 'vine-leaves and grapes; with fig-leaves at the corners' 40 for her church. She inspires Maude to return to embroidery in order to fashion a present for her wedding, 'a sofa-pillow worked in glowing shades of wool and silk' 59 , which the dying girl is most anxious should reach Mary safely. Of all the sisters, cousins and friends, it is only Mary who has Maude's 'unique' 61 legacy, her beautiful embroidery.
Agnes chooses poems to her own taste only, and destroys the rest. The figure of Mary is the one that contains the germ of Rossetti's future theology, and will point the way towards a feminist vindication of the natural world and of the female body. Dodsworth eventually went over to the Roman Church in after growing disagreements with Pusey, and his place was taken by Rev. Burrows, who became a lifelong friend of Rossetti. Perhaps we owe to this kindly clergyman her continued attendance of the Anglican Church, although anger and a sense of alienation remained with her.
Gender awareness in the social sphere and a recognition of injustice towards women are very much a part of Rossetti's poetry over the next ten years, even before her friendship with the feminist Barbara Bodichon and other members of the Portfolio Society 34 began; it is important to remember this when reading poems such as 'The World' , with its loath-some Medusa-like figure. Not only does this poem highlight the hypocrisy of the male attitude towards that most hated figure of Victorian respectability, the prostitute, but it traces the figure to its scriptural source, the Book of Proverbs:.
The poem was written in June , and in January of that year an article had appeared in The Times which renewed the debate on fallen women, in the announcement of plans for a penitentiary which was to become St. Mary Magdelene, Highgate , and in a request for assistance. Burrows was most probably drawn into the debate 35 and Rossetti herself later took up the call. Given its date of composition and Rossetti's continuing interest in the lot of fallen women, the common interpretation, which sees the poem as a manifestation of somataphobic self-loathing in the style of Pusey, is simply inadequate.
Jan Marsh, for example, despite her introduction to Rossetti's connection with the Portfolio group, remains reluctant to accord Rossetti any place in their campaign for social reform. Rossetti was not chasing after the 'hidden, leprous enemy within', 36 but rather accusing the enemy without, in her ironic treatment of a male mentality that defined woman as 'that great gilded snake—a cherub's face, the rest a reptile'. The subject of the prostitute inspired savage attacks on the very nature of womankind, with the complicity or at the very least the apathy of the Church. Whilst society frequently turned a blind eye to a man who frequented a prostitute or seduced a young girl, the moment a woman had any kind of sexual experience outside marriage she was transformed into an object of loathing: 'In one hour daughter, sister, wife, hath become the thing from which the fondest shrink; the very name of which they dare not utter.
It is too horrid to look upon, or to fashion into speech'. The nineteenth century channelled this potential threat to the religious supremacy of the male into either a passionless, submissive angel of the house, or, as we have seen in Pusey's establishment of sisterhoods, into a virginal nun. The feared sexual potential of woman, the power deriving from her femininity, was transferred to the demonic 'world' figure of the prostitute, to be vilified and marginalised.
The origins of Rossetti's demonic woman in 'The World' lie in the 'strange woman' of Proverbs, 40 who lures unwary young men to hell:. For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. Much of the imagery used in conveying loathing of fallen women is scriptural in origin, as Rossetti points out. Ignoring the metaphorical status of the woman figures in Proverbs—the harlot wordly wisdom as opposed to the virtuous woman divine wisdom —the popular mind, through a literal misreading of the Old Testament , has forced on all women the application of prostitute or virtuous, domestic woman.
In the absence of any direct statements from Rossetti herself it is difficult to form a precise picture of her transition to an understanding of her own spiritual predicament, but at this point it is helpful to consider what may be an unwitting testimony to her spiritual suffering, as it bears out the tensions in Maude and the anger of 'The World'.
During the late s or early s Rossetti was reading Maria's copy of Keble's The Christian Year and sketching rough illustrations to the poems. Although their execution is primitive they were not likely to have been thought of as material for publication these pictures show a marked continuity with her religious poetry of the time. Around the title of Keble's poem for the Fourth Sunday in Advent Rossetti has drawn three female figures which show a contrasting attitude to the speaker of the poem. Where Keble's speaker strives in vain to hear from nature 'What to her own she deigns to tell', Rossetti's women, 'nature's own', already hear, see and, in the case of the central figure who is painting another woman or child, re-image.
Christina Rossetti's Faithful Imagination
In later illustrations, however, configurations occur which depict in a most literal way the breaking down of continuity between women and the divine. The flood of hope which lights up the conclusion of Keble's poem in his reference to the loving relationship between Christ and His Father is absent from Rossetti's illustration, suggesting the exclusion of a daughter.
More disturbing still is her illustration of Keble's 'Fifth Sunday after Epiphany'. She fixes on a few words of the epigraph from Isaiah 'your iniquities have separated between you and your God', ignoring the comforting message of Keble's poem which promises salvation for those who reject the world, drawing instead a grotesque Medusa figure with a serpent's tail, obscuring the body of Christ on the cross. Three female figures surround the cross in attitudes of supplication, withdrawal and death, and although an unshaded area around the cross indicates that the saviour is still there, the monstrous figure stands as a barrier between the dying women and Christ.
The illustration is provoking in its literal depiction of women's spiritual despair, and the young Rossetti has captured the essence of Victorian notions of sin centred on a prostitute's degradation, in her serpent-like female figure. Without a language which links them directly to God, women have had to accept that their relationship with the divine is mediated by the male religious consciousness and its interpretation of femaleness. The women figures are dying because they are denied direct access to the saving light of the cross. One of Rossetti's poems of January , 'Shut Out', conveys in words the import of the illustration, that women have been denied spiritual tokens which allow them to identify with the divine:.
Bewildered by the loss of the garden of Eden and longing for her home, Eve is devastated when her request for a token from it is refused, and as punishment for her request she is denied even the glimpse she had. The original title of the poem, 'What happened to me', suggests the importance of the poem to Rossetti herself, and helps us understand why, in her later poems, she needs to seek out images of womankind which can re-establish the links between Eve and her garden.
The composition of 'Shut Out', perhaps in its unequivocal recognition of her spiritual need, enabled Rossetti to move forward and, by the end of , she had 'discovered' the powerful figure of wisdom from the Book of Proverbs, the counterpart to the despised prostitute metaphor of the 'strange woman'. In her long poem 'The Lowest Room' she reconsiders her options, depicting on the one hand the dwindling femininity of the woman who aspires to a 'male' conception of God, but on the other recognising the potential for female spiritual empowerment represented by the figure of wisdom.
With her development of the latter she began to reclaim the feminine in an emerging ideal of woman's spirituality which looks forward to Goblin Market and beyond. The two sisters in 'The Lowest Room', who are engaged in an argument about the merits of the age of Homer, support two contrasting theological positions. The preacher of Ecclesiastes with his 'vanity of vanities' informs the thinking of the older sister, who longs for a life of passion, of achievement in the male world, where she can show her mental and spiritual strength.
She renounces the common things of the world, refusing to participate in the activities of her sister, who during the conversation is engaged in embroidery, and agonises because she cannot relive the heroic 'golden days' of Homer. Thwarted in her desire, she resorts to a martyrdom of her own, embracing renunciation and defending her position by quoting the preacher of Ecclesiastes:. Taking our critical and theological bearings from a poem like 'A Testimony', we see that by introducing the renunciation theme, the elder sister has allied herself with the sterility of a world which has rejected the feminine, her faded femininity the price she has to pay to exercise her mental and spiritual strength in the heroic martyrdom of Pusey's self-denial.
In terms of her own womanhood, however, she has lost her place in the spiritual order; she has lost the special way in which femininity reflects the face of God, the way woman in her active ability to create and nurture is able to link nature and the infinity of God. The elder sister is consequently no longer able to see God in His creation and can only look back, or forward to life after death, 'When all deep secrets shall be shown'. The figure of the elder sister, with her striking, passionate renunciation, has been seen as a model for Rossetti herself, the stance of passive resistance becoming the position of strength from which she subverts the conventions she sees around her.
There is no doubt that the position is strongly represented in her poetry, and certainly held a great deal of attraction for Rossetti the poet, but in her theology she recognises the spiritual sterility of the stance, and in 'The Lowest Room' we see her searching the scriptures for a figure who can better satisfy her spiritual need. For fear of enslavement by the 'strange woman' of Proverbs, High Church theology rejected the feminine identity of wisdom; Rossetti brings it back in the figure of the younger sister who is modelled on the virtuous woman of Prov.
The sensuously beautiful younger sister thrives as the elder sister declines; she is productive in the domestic sphere she embroiders as she speaks , she is in harmony with nature, her choice of flowers from the garden 'intuitively wise' p. Most important of all, she is closely linked to Christ. Her function in the poem is to rebuke her elder sister's attitude of martyrdom and her use of 'vanity of vanities' as a motto: 'One is here', the younger sister murmurs, 'Yea Greater than Solomon'. The figure of the younger sister is the key to understanding the later Rossetti, the Rossetti of the Benedicite, the lover of wild flowers and spiders, reader of the amber and onyx stone.
Here she is not writing a poem about Victorian domesticity or of domesticity versus participation in the male world of action and commerce; to interpret the domestic situation literally in her poetry would be to echo the Victorian misreading of Proverbs. Rather, she is attempting to reconstruct a feminine God-language, by using metaphors, preferably scriptural ones, with which to debate woman's relationship with God.
She has revalued the literal, certainly, as her 'fleshing out' in Victorian terms of the virtuous woman shows, but holds up the literal in a renewed configuration in order to restore the power of the metaphor. My rejection of the renunciatory female figure as the crucial symbol in the critical appreciation of Rossetti's work is, in effect, going against mainstream Rossetti criticism, which tends to see her in biographical and literary terms as an isolated, withdrawn and ultimately frustrated woman, locked into a stance of passionate destitution from which she is able only to subvert existing conventions.
Sandra Gubar's depiction of Rossetti as one of the 'great nineteenth-century women singers of renunciation as necessity's highest and noblest virtue', 43 which has to a certain extent inspired this critical tendency, although it has done much to bring Rossetti's work to the attention of feminists and to post-modern sensibility, has worked against it in that such an approach cannot profitably illuminate the Rossetti of the devotional works.
Gubar attempts to make sense of Rossetti's theology in her discussion of Goblin Market and quite rightly centres on the role of Lizzie, who 'like a female saviour, negotiates with the Goblins as Christ did with Satan 44 and offers herself to be eaten and drunk in a womanly holy communion', but is unable to get past her disappointment that 'the redeemed Eden into which Lizzie leads Laura turns out to be a heaven of domesticity'.
Gubar's legacy of disappointment has been a stumbling block to later critics who draw on her work. Rosenblum, as we have seen, has trouble seeing Rossetti's theology as anything more important than 'didacticism'. She must not, however, be allowed to obscure the empowering figure of feminine wisdom, which gains strength in Rossetti's theology as she begins to participate in work for and amongst women. Here feminist theology can help in our understanding of Rossetti's work, by its reassertion of the spiritual authority of woman's activity in all spheres through the authority and dignity of wisdom.
We learn that the domestic sphere is used in Proverbs as a central metaphor to present the political and economic centre of Israel after the loss of the monarchy. Those poems which present us with a wisdom-figure can be interpreted with this reversal in mind. Furthermore, as we will see, Rossetti's development of this figure becomes the foundation of much of her later devotional writing. Modern feminist critique of Christianity also provides a terminology with which to discuss the spiritual difficulties experienced by Victorian women in their encounter with the male bias of Christianity, especially in their relationship with a male redeemer.
Rossetti's use of a domestic figuration therefore need not disappoint; rather, as we shall see, it indicates a revolutionary rejection of the dominant atonement theology of the Tractarians, in favour of a liberation christology in which the feminine becomes source of redemptive healing.
Before examining Goblin Market , however, it is worth examining a 'bridging' poem, one that links it to her earlier wisdom figures and possibly the last major poem she wrote before her voluntary work at the St. Mary Magdalene Penitentiary began in In 'The Lowest Room' the close link between the younger sister and Christ rests uneasily between an emerging idea of the sister having a Christ-like function herself the vine and the necessary secondary position she has to assume in marriage, despite the suggestion as in Maude that the husband represents the arrival of Christ as the fulfilment of wisdom.
In 'From House to Home', Rossetti attempts to solve this problem by conflating the figure of the redemptive sister and Christ and dismissing the male figure altogether, which suggests the poem as a link between Rossetti's early 'wisdom' figures and the entirely female representation of Christ in Goblin Market. In a dream vision, the swooning female speaker sees the embodiment of feminine suffering as a woman sustained between earth and heaven, who strengthens her with an apocalyptic vision of heavenly rewards for her renunciation and suffering. The vision is strikingly portrayed and is the forerunner of some of Rossetti's most powerful devotional poetry, but as an answer to the need for a living and active spirituality is unsatisfying.
In order to reproduce the suffering of Christ in a female figure Rossetti has used the female martyr of her earlier poems, who, although able to wean the lost soul from earth-bound nature to God, is unable to re-establish contact with the goodness of the created world which she has left: the flowers, fruit, frogs and caterpillars which Rossetti loved. The experience of Highgate was instrumental in drawing her away from the self-absorbed martyr figure, and restoring a wholeness to the poet's vision of feminine spirituality as a two-way bridge between the realities of everyday life in the world and God's kingdom.
Rossetti's attention had been drawn to the plight of the prostitute in , and probably, together with the rest of the congregation of Christ Church, she followed with interest the purchasing and naming of the St. Mary Magdalene Penitentiary on Highgate Hill. Burrows was one of the clergy on the management council of the Home and there was a constant appeal for money annual reports show a donation by William Rossetti in , 'perhaps paid on his sister's behalf' 52 and woman helpers.
The emphasis at Highgate, as at the other London penitentiaries which were established in large numbers at this time, was on spiritual instruction and training in domestic work, 53 and although public opinion may have condemned the prostitute in abstract terms, the ideal of sisterhood runs through many appeals for assistance: 'that poor, weary, outwardly-hardened, sindebased creature—a victim to man's brutal requirements—is, in the sight of our most holy God, your sister'.
By the summer of she was closely involved in the work at Highgate, and continued until when failing health made it inadvisable. She was diagnosed as suffering from Graves' disease in We do not have an account by Rossetti herself of her penitentiary work, perhaps because discussion of their work by the sisters was actively discouraged, but we do have the testimony of a contemporary, J.
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Ellice Hopkins, an outspoken activist against moral lethargy in the Church of England in matters of woman's rights. Like Rossetti she found spiritual inspiration and fulfilment working at a penitentiary similar to Highgate. Her severe criticism of the Church and championing of fallen women give us an insight into the motivation of penitentiary sisters and in terms of Rossetti's poetic and spiritual development, provides a helpful context for the reading of Goblin Market as a manifestation of spiritual solidarity towards the inmates of Highgate penitentiary.
Hopkins stresses the sacrality of the task of redeeming the prostitute. Prostitution is a spiritual evil; furthermore, it is evil perpetrated by men upon women. Churches, she claims, should 'cease to look supinely on [women's] desecration … a deadliest evil' which destroys the true purpose of womanhood, the 'fountain of life, and love, and purity to the world'.
On leaving the brothel and entering the penitentiary the prostitute would cross into a female-dominated sphere of spiritual regeneration through participating in a series of ritual domestic duties.
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By treating the redemption of prostitutes in this way we see Hopkins subverting traditional separate sphere ideology, 'by turning the home into a symbol and space for female sacrality which operates independently of the male sacred space—the church'. Like Daly's 'communal phenomenon of sisterhood', in the woman-dominated penitentiary we see an alternative spiritual sphere to that of the Church.
The rescue-worker, operating within an exclusively female space, assumes the priestly function by re-enacting the resurrecting role of Christ. This climate of reassertion of female spirituality is the context in which Goblin Market should be read if its theology is to be understood. Such a context validates the conclusion of the poem, 'there is no friend like a sister', as a statement of female spiritual strength and empowerment, the spiritual power of female domestic ritual subverting the power of the Church, and the portrayal of a female Christ demolishing the gender exclusivity of the sacred.
No longer obscured by the overworked theme of 'hope deferred', the sisters' sacred space of female spirituality in Goblin Market may be seen as a position of strength, not one of capitulation to an inhibiting social reality. Also to be revised is the reading of Goblin Market as an affirmation of the Tractarian doctrine of renunciation, which mars the interpretation of both Marsh and D'Amico, who so ably place the poem in its Highgate context.
D'Amico is slow in moving away from Pusey's condemnation of the flesh and consequently she interprets the poem as a warning against worldly pleasures and the 'impossibility of ever finding full satisfaction by attempting to satisfy the body'. Marsh's interpretation is similar: 'By denying gratification, the ascetic soul triumphs over desire, and is no longer in thrall to the senses.
Contentment thus comes, paradoxically, from self-denial'. Both sisters sleep comfortably in a 'curtained bed', prepare and presumably also eat rich, nourishing food, cakes with 'churned butter, whipped up cream', and Lizzie at least sings'for the mere bright day's delight' Nowhere in the poem is blame attached to pleasure of any kind. In fact, for its time, the poem is remarkable for the absence of allusions to any kind of female sin, guilt or atonement.
Suggestions of sin and evil lie exclusively in the goblins, and there is no threat whatsoever of punishment to any of the maidens should they look at them or eat their fruit; only a warning that 'their evil gifts would harm us' The domestic life of the sisters is instead a development of Rossetti's emerging wisdom figuration: the heritage of the younger sister in 'The Lowest Room' , the location of a female spiritual home, and a source, through Lizzie, of spiritual and physical redemption.
As with J. Hopkins, the ritual nature of domestic duties in the poem suggests the affirmation of female identity in doing and in being. It is from this that Rossetti takes her spiritual vocabulary. The idyllic nature which surrounds the two girls is an Eden from which even the theological language of Adam has been banished, and the authority of the warning 'We must not look at goblin men' l.
Laura's fall, therefore, is a fall from sisterhood. We are told that 'Her tree of life drooped from the root' 18 , her feminine beauty and vitality dry up, and she is no longer able to participate in the maidens' activities. What, then, is the fruit? It is described in sensuous Pre-Raphaelite detail, causes a repeat of the fall of Eve as Laura gives in to its attraction Dante Gabriel's woodcut of the scene turns a goblin's tail into a lurking serpent , is closely associated with illicit sexual experience we have the example of poor Jeanie and is located at the point of intersection between an evil male goblin world and the female wholeness of the maidens' activity.
Clearly, the fruit has multiple associations and the poem itself is dense with intertextual allusions, but for our purpose of theological enquiry its interest lies in the effect it has on Laura. Once she allows herself to be exposed to the sensuous attraction of the luscious fruit and eats it, she moves into a sphere dominated by the duplicitous morality of the goblins, which are unambiguously male, and is no longer able to participate in the life-giving female activities within the matrix of sisterhood.
Through the deception of the goblins, she has been tricked into surrendering control over her womanhood, becoming a re-interpretation of herself in the male mind as she greedily sucks the fruit; as a consequence, she becomes the erotic creature of the later Pre-Raphaelite painting, Dante Gabriel's 'Jenny', the plaything of the male imagination: 'not as she is but as she fills his dream'.
In the context of Rossetti's work at Highgate, the fall into prostitution is also to accept Victorian man's valuation of the female self, to accept the moral stereotype imposed by a patriarchal society: angel or devil, 'a cherub's face, the rest a reptile'. Rossetti has radically rewritten the fall of Eve in terms of the social and spiritual abuse of women which she sees around her, and includes more than a hint that male gender oppression be interpreted as original sin. If woman's suffering has its source in gender oppression by men, there is real difficulty in accepting the efficacy of a male saviour who would thus seem to be participating in such oppression.
This has led to the rejection of Christianity by many feminists, not least Daly herself in her anti-Christian phase. Rossetti's capacity to envisage a 'female saviour' from within Christian theology, however, allows her to continue living and writing within the tradition of the Church without sacrificing her integrity as an active worker against woman's oppression. Once the traditional ontological guilt of Eve is removed, as in Goblin Market , the gender duality of redemption falls away, and Rossetti can restore Christ's liberating role to the oppressed, in this case women.
It no longer matters whether Christ is a man or woman, because gender difference is subordinate to Christ's redeeming function.
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Rossetti re-images Christ through the actions of Lizzie, in the context of the life-giving wholeness of the wisdom metaphor which she has used in previous poems as an antidote to spiritual sterility and physical decline. Lizzie therefore is Christ inasmuch as she is a manifestation of those aspects of the redeemer which are directly needed in the salvation of Lauraf—those which Rossetti associates with her wisdom figures: activity, vitality, fruitfulness, love 'The Lowest Room' , compassion, suffering and spiritual authority 'From House to Home' f—and so Lizzie is able to bring about the reversal of Laura's physical and spiritual subjection and dependency in relation to the goblins, and heal her, body and soul.
Lizzie, moved by compassion for the dying Laura who has withered away under the spell of the evil fruit, sets out to save her by obtaining for her another taste of the goblin fruit for which she longs. Of course, the goblins will not allow her to take the fruit awayf—their only interest is to claim another victimf—and insist she eat it on the spot.
When she refuses, they use violence against her in a symbolic rape, suggesting the physical abuse many of the women at Highgate must have experienced:. Lizzie stands firm, natural images of fruitfulness and virginity proclaiming the strength of her womanhood, and they are powerless against her, disappearing without trace but leaving fruit pulp and juice on her body, which she is able to take back to Laura. Taken from the hands of the goblins, the fruit brings death. Given by Lizzie, it restores life.
Through her body womankind has been offended and through her body she must be healed, hence the sensual and erotic language of Lizzie's celebration of the Eucharistic feast, which is needed to heal her desecrated female sexuality:. The effect the fruit has on Laura calls to mind Christ's acts of healing recorded in the Gospels, particularly the casting out of demons. Laura's leaping and writhing is reminiscent of the demon-possessed man of the tombs in Mark , or the boy with the dumb spirit of Mark , who wallowed, grinding his teeth and foaming at the mouth, pining away until Jesus cast out the demon.
Like the boy, Laura falls down senseless and awakens the next morning restored to life, health and the fruitfulness associated with the sisterhood of wisdom. The conclusion of the poem, in celebrating the triumph of Lizzie and her act of sisterly redemption, proclaims Christ as sister and friend of the vulnerable, of children, of daughters and of women. To continue the parallel with Mark's Gospel, the feminine image of Christ surrounded by young children in Mark , when brought to bear on Laura's calling of the little ones, strengthens her emphasis on spiritual and redemptive sisterhood.
The validity of Jesus' teaching for women, which the conclusion promotes, lies not in the sense that to be weak is to be Christ-like although it does not exclude such a parallel which, as we have seen, traps women in a subordinate position, but because it is specifically directed towards the liberation of the defenceless, the powerless and disenfranchised, it speaks to women; it recognises their experiences. In the incident of Mark's Gospel Jesus was angry when his disciples denied children direct access to him, and taking the children in his arms proclaimed his affinity with them, 'for of such is the kingdom of God' Mark Through identification with the figure of wisdom which validates women's experience, Rossetti claims the gospel as her own, and Christ her guide and friend.
With their children gathered around them, Laura and Lizzie pass on the message of sisterhood:. Rossetti London: Macmillan, , pp. James A. Cited in Marsh, Christina Rossetti , p. Rossetti London: Brown Langham, Letter to DGR, 2 December London: Longman Green, , vol. In Power, Gender and Christian Mysticism Jantzen describes their state as that of 'honorary men', having renounced the supposed weakness and corruption of female flesh and put on the Christ-like state of maleness. From now on page numbers from Crump will be given in the main text.
Apart from ritual fasting and the wearing of sackcloth, the sisters also submitted to the 'discipline', a knotted whip used to strike the shoulders. Maude: Prose and Verse , ed. Crump London, ; rpt. Hamden: Archon Books, A hint that Rossetti was trying to express more than the final text actually contains can be seen in the scraps of writing remaining after attempts at erasure on the manuscript, such as 'The language is so against us', Maude , Notes, p. The well-read copy of Keble's Christian Year would suggest that she was familiar with the idea of a sacramental universe.
Her relationship to Keble's ideas will be discussed in a later chapter. George Herbert , whose work Rossetti is known to have admired, was one of the Tractarians' favourite poets. Harrison suggests or as the date of her first meeting with Barbara Bodichon, although it is probable that she was a corresponding member of the Portfolio Society even earlier.
The Letters of Christina Rossetti , Vol. Rossetti's association with the Society and members of the Langham Place Circle of feminists would suggest that she supported their cause, in principle at least. Christina Rossetti: A Literary Biography , p. Harrison's reading of the poem as presented by 'a specifically male self-inquisitor trying to resist an archetypal Eve figure who is an agent, if not a specter, of Satan', is more accurate in its perception of Rossetti's ironic social comment.
Marshall, , p. She also notes that 'In Proverbs, we also find a counterpart to Rossetti's world-womanf—the figure of Wisdom' p. Gilbert and S. An odd assertion to make about Christ's attitude towards evil, which suggests a severe limitation in Gubar's understanding of Christian theology. Gubar ultimately dismisses the whole concept of a female Christ as 'didacticism' The Madwoman in the Attic , p. A recent example of this critical abuse besides the abuse of the poem in Playboy , see Marsh, Christina Rossetti , p. I take the date of Rossetti's voluntary work from Marsh, p. In her article on the work of Hopkins FT , no.
The Magdalen's Friend vol. Melissa Raphael, 'J. Rossetti London: Macmillan, , p. However, Casey is unable to envisage anything more than a literal interpretation of the domestic metaphor at the end of the poem: 'a domestic reality, to be sure, but an "improved" domesticity in which the woman's role as nurturer achieves dignity and respect' p. Francestown, N. Swinburne never failed to recognize the priority of Christina; he used to call her the Jael who led their host to victory.
George Saintsbury, the English critic, has said: "The more the metre is studied the more audacious may its composition seem. The almost surprised contempt of the Quarterly on Keats, the interesting indignation of the Blackwood reviewer of Tennyson, would have been turned into something like speechless horror by this Bedlam of discord as they would have thought it. In its fantastic woodland, goblins and maidens mingle as freely as moccasins and rabbits in a Florida cypress swamp:. The cry is addressed to unsuspecting young girls, but it is also a summons to the reader, that he may succumb to the magic of an elfland which, like the goblin fruit, contains both evil and antidote.
Few readers can resist for long. Here are the fairy-tale princesses and landscapes, the personified animals and plants, the little people. The fantastic elements are enriched by delectable catalogues of fruit and flowers, and the entire poem is informed with the poet's high-minded adoration of family relationships. A comparison between the two poems can only emphasize the uniqueness of Christina's achievement.
The similarities are quickly numbered. Both poets employ a metre which was unusual for English verse of their day. The length of each line is made to suit the subject matter, to speed up or slow down the story as needed. Christina writes:. The themes also have a kinship. Each theme, then, describes a conflict between civilization and nature, though in Arnold's case our sympathies are with nature, in Christina's, with civilization.
There is possibly a third likeness. Each poem has been interpreted as an allegorical rendering of an incident in the poet's life. Johnson tells of a nostalgia which "informs To Marguerite—Continued , and enters still more explicitly into The Forsaken Merman. It is impossible not to perceive in the latter poem a metaphorical presentation of the poet's hapless passion for the shadowy Marguerite.
The incongruous mating of the merman and the earthbound woman symbolizes a deeper spiritual incompatability to which the bereft lover is reluctant to reconcile himself. Violet Hunt has given a similar interpretation to "Goblin Market. Ever after, according to Miss Hunt, Christina tried to atone for her momentary weakness by an excess of self-reproach, and "Goblin Market" can be read as an allegorical account of a weak woman saved from sin by her sister.
A close reading will show that "Goblin Market," for all of its similarities to "The Forsaken Merman," has far more differences; and that these differences lie especially in treatment of wonder. In recent years the artists of Haiti have won world attention. Their primitive, forceful sculptures of voodoo gods and sacrificial animals have delighted art critics and patrons alike.
Critics find in these sculptures a raw power and naturalness which our civilized sculptors cannot reproduce in their modern "primitive" school. The trained sculptors mould pieces of artful roughness and rough grace which are often beautiful and sometimes great; but such pieces must always have a studied excellence. Thomas Carlyle might have called the Haitians intuitive artists and the trained sculptors, conscious artists. It can also be said that "The Forsaken Merman" is a work of conscious wonder and "Goblin Market," of intuitive wonder. The difference between the conscious and the intuitive in the two poems is apparent first in the manner of telling the stories.
Arnold simply retells with artistic gloss an old Danish folk tale about a merman in love with a mortal woman. Christina, however, invents her story. It is true that she had old folk tales in mind; that, in the words of Fredegond Shove: "The dappled magic of an old country tale or warning to maidens not to play with the fruits of evil or witch-craft has dyed it through and through.
Her goblins do not carry maidens away by animal force, nor transform themselves into hand-some young men and lure their prey into the dark mountains, after the usual fashion of goblins. Instead, they deck their evil in tempting, many-colored fruits: apples, oranges, peaches, mulberries, crabapples, dewberries, pineapples. Once a maiden has surrendered to their blandishments and tasted the insidious poison, she does not die quickly, but with an urgent, mounting desire for the very fruit which has poisoned her.
When she looks for more fruit, the goblins are invisible! Read full description. See details and exclusions. Be the first to write a review About this product. About this product Product Information This new study focuses on the critically neglected area of Rossetti's devotional poetry and her prose, offering a critical intervention in the feminist construction of an important Victorian woman poet.
Additional Product Features Author s. She is currently editing and introducing the forthcoming Penguin Classics edition of Christina Rossetti's Selected Poems. Show more Show less. No ratings or reviews yet. Be the first to write a review. Best-selling in Non Fiction See all. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne Hardback, Kiyosaki , Mass Market Paperback Save on Non Fiction Trending price is based on prices over last 90 days. By reminding us of the importance of Rossetti's Christian faith, recent criticism has prepared the ground for reconsidering this later poetry.
Much of this scholarship on Rossetti's devotional poetry tends to be biographical and historicist in nature, and it makes an indispensable contribution to our understanding of Rossetti. Thematic and biographical criticism, however accomplished, cannot answer a dismissal based on stylistic or formal grounds. Even the scholarship that focuses on Rossetti's religious verse--for instance, Smulders' Christina Rossetti Revisited and Constance Hassett's Christina Rossetti: The Patience of Style--emphasizes content over form and style.
And Hassett's study offers a largely thematic reading of Verses, in contrast to the rich stylistic analysis it gives Rossetti's earlier work. Since the religious poetry is largely read biographically or thematically, the idea that Rossetti's devotional poetry is passive, resigned, and exhausted can linger on unchallenged. Consequently, we overlook much of the poetry that made her work so popular with her Victorian readers.
But what if we were to read Rossetti's late poetry, not as a footnote to her widely read early work, but as a central part of Rossetti's formal accomplishments? In this reading of the devotional poetry, we see how she embraces both restrained verse forms and a repetitive but resourceful style to create religious verse that moves from despair and resignation to determined activity.