(1830 - 1894)
Christina Rossetti was born at 38 Charlotte Street, near Regent’s Park, London, daughter of an Italian refugee, who was a freemason, and who had been a member of the Carbonari, an organisation which had fought for Italian independence from Austria. In London he became Professor of Italian at King’s College, and published a commentary on Dante’s Inferno, but from 1842 (12) he suffered both mental and physical ill health, which, according to her brother William, cast a mantle of gloom over the whole family.
Over the summer of 1845 (15) she suffered a breakdown in her health, both mental and physical. Various doctors were consulted, and it was decided that she was suffering from ‘angina pectoris’, real or imagined. She remained an invalid with this condition for some years.
She wrote from an early age, and her first volume of poetry, Verses, was published in 1847 (17) at the expense of her grandfather.
The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood
Through one of her brothers, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, she got to know the members of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB), a group of young painters including Rossetti, Millais, Collinson and Holman Hunt, who challenged the artistic establishment, and who encouraged a return to values in painting apparent in the work of artists prior to the period of Raphael. Their work attracted the support of the influential critic John Ruskin.
First publication and engagement
Two of her poems were published in the Athenaeum, and later the same year she was engaged to be married to James Collinson. More poems appeared in editions of The Germ, a publication produced by the PRB in 1849 (19).
Collinson breaks off engagement
In 1850 Collinson resigned from the PRB for religious reasons, and at the same time terminated his engagement to Christina.
The Rossetti family move and Christina does voluntary work
In 1851 (21) the Rossetti family moved to Arlington Street, Camden Town, where her mother set up a day school. In 1859 (29) she became a voluntary worker at the St Mary Magdelene Penitentiary in Highgate, supervising young reforming prostitutes, and teaching them the habits of obedience, sobriety and industry.
First successful publication
Her first major publication, and success, came with Goblin Market and Other Poems (1862, 32), published by MacMillan with illustrations by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A second volume, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, followed in 1866 (36), but did not achieve the same critical acclaim. In 1872 (42) she published Sing-Song, a collection of nursery rhymes illustrated by Arthur Hughes.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti afflicted with paranoia
The same year, her brother Dante Gabriel was afflicted with paranoid mania, a condition that was to keep him an invalid for the rest of his life.
Her later writing became more overtly religious and didactic. It includes A Pageant and Other Poems (1881, 51) and The Face of the Deep, published by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) in 1892 (62). She died in 1894 (64).
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