Living regarding men and women, making womanhood

in a period of substantial change for Britain, Rossetti saw a wide variety of
economic, political, social and religious change. Throughout her lifetime, she
saw Britain’s population more than double, the vast growth of Britain’s power
and growth on the international stage and great development industrial wise
with an entire rail network being completed. Yet what concerned Rossetti and
her work more was the latter two – social and religious change. With
developments in science such as Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’
published in 1859 which presented the theory of evolution, a rise of Biblical
criticism and a new knowledge of religious diversity in continents other than
Europe, religion was beginning to be challenged. However, in spite of this
Rossetti remained firmly religious throughout her life, something which is
evident in the large majority of her poems and even despite Rossetti undergoing
a religious crisis in the mid 1850’s, this itself then manifested into further
devotional poetry.  Social change in the 19th century was
heavily focused upon the progression of rights for women with the ever-growing
suffragette movement and laws being passed giving women rights to property and
their own financial savings being just a few examples of developments.
Politically on this issue Rossetti was rejecting with her refusal in the 1870’s
to provide support to the female suffrage campaign, however within her writing
Rossetti frequently explores women’s roles, especially the double standard
regarding men and women, making womanhood and being female clear, recurring
themes of her poetry.


major influence of Rossetti’s work was her staunch religious belief. At first a
devout member of the evangelical branch of the Church of England, she
eventually was drawn towards the Tractarians in the 1840s – a branch of
Christianity that emphasises ritual and ceremony in worship. Its these
religious views which provide Rossetti’s work with a strong religious
dimension, and not just her devotional poems (i.e. “Twice” or “Up-Hill”) but
all of her poetry has her religious influences present in her use of imagery
and her portrayal of characters. Yet Rossetti’s religion is never simple or
unquestioning, as seen in her religious crisis and her move towards
Tractarianism. Her poetry constantly shows the interrogation of religious
beliefs and ideals, often with a mark of tension. This questioning and doubt
provides the question of self-sacrifice and what it really means to be
religious or a good Christian deserving of heaven to Rossetti’s poetry,
providing another dimension to her work furthering not only the religious
question but that of the conflict of earthly and heavenly joy.

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conflict of earthly and heavenly joy allows for Rossetti to produce love poetry
yet maintain the religious undertones all her poems have. As of this, her love
poetry, although simple and characteristically restrained in style, often has
several layers– with even her straight-ahead religious poetry having less
layers to it. This makes it particularly interesting to see how Rossetti
navigates admiration and love of another person with her love of God. Rossetti,
in relation to her love poetry entwined with this religious aspect, is inspired
by her own failings at love with two failed engagements to men during her
lifetime. The first being in 1848 to James Collinson, with the engagement
ending after he reverted to Roman Catholicism, and the second being from the
early 1860’s where she refused to marry Charles Cayley because “she
enquired into his creed and found he was not a Christian.” In the end,
within her poetry Rossetti’s love for God always eclipses the love of another
human, but this does not stop the narrators of her poems from having ample love
for other people. On multiple levels, the narrators of these various poems
restrain themselves with their religious belief, avoiding falling to
unnecessary emotions caused by romantic love. As to the narrator, this other
person’s well-being is valuable and important yet it simply cannot be more
important than that of the relationship they have to God.


disassociating herself with the suffrage movement, believing women’s rights and
Christianity were at odds, Rossetti places the portrayal of women very highly
amongst her themes in her poetry. Frequently exploring women’s roles, in
particular the double standards regarding men and women; she also considers
women’s own authority and power – even when this isn’t necessarily the sole
point of the poem. The ability for her to do this comes from her constant
writing from a female perspective, with examples from “Winter: My Secret” of
the speaker claim authority to tell what she likes, or “From the Antique” where
she decries the poverty of a woman’s rights and roles. Looking at Rossetti’s
own personal life, her actions reflect these views with her work at the St Mary
Magdalene penitentiary, working with ‘fallen women’ and former prostitutes. Yet
likewise to Rossetti’s other themes parallels can be drawn to that of a
Christ-like and a feminine lone-suffering. Rossetti’s focus upon women and
being a female poet herself in a period of silencing of female poets due to the
appeared nature of poetry, allowed her to interact with her contemporaries. Christina
Rossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and other highly regarded female Victorian
poets all dedicated poems to each other in a distinctive female dialogue.


Rossetti takes influence from multiple places to inspire her
work yet the most obvious is that of the Romantic Movement, with poets such as
Shelley and Keats. The Romantics in particular privilege nature and intense
beauty of emotion above anything else, evident in Rossetti’s work with her use
of natural imagery, especially in her lyrical poems such as “Song” and “A
Birthday”. Likewise, the inspiration of Keats’ is clear in Rossetti’s “From the
Antique”, with it being reminiscent of “When I have fear that I may cease to
be”. Rossetti’s work in turn influence both contemporary and modern art forms
in itself. Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” produced both art from her brother,
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and contemporary artist Kinuko Craft, who depicted the
poem with more sexualised, suggestive themes.