Poetry Season

Local Navigation

Local Navigation

Christina Rossetti 1830-1894


One of the most important female writers of the 19th century, Christina Rossetti is remembered for her acerbic love poetry, vivacious ballads and nursery rhymes. She is probably best-known today for writing the carol In the Bleak Mid-Winter.

Rossetti was born in London in 1830 into a remarkable family of artists, scholars and writers. Her father was an exiled Italian revolutionary and poet and her brothers William and Dante Gabriel Rossetti were founding members of art movement the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Christina had her own first book of poetry privately printed by her grandfather when she was 12 years old. Aged 19 she contributed poems to Pre-Raphaelite journal The Germ, under the pseudonym Ellen Alleyn.

The women in her family were committed High Church Anglicans and as a teenager, Christina suffered a nervous breakdown that was diagnosed at the time as 'religious mania'. Rossetti fell in love with several suitors, but rejected them all because they failed to share her precise religious convictions. In 1862, at the age of 32, she published her first full collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems. A sensuous fairy story, Goblin Market is a heady tale of repressed sexuality and sisterhood. Her concern with female fellowship was played out in real life as Rossetti devoted ten years as a volunteer at St Mary Magdalene's penitentiary for prostitutes and unmarried mothers in Highgate.

Religious themes dominate her work but Rossetti never preaches, instead exploring the tensions between earthly passions and divine love. Graves Disease took its toll on Rossetti in later years, and the loss of beauty was a recurrent theme: "Youth gone and beauty gone, what doth remain?/ The longing of a heart pent up forlorn" (Youth Gone, And Beauty Gone). She died in 1894.

Is Rossetti
the Nation's
Favourite Poet?


Better by far you should forget and smile
Than you should remember and be sad.

Christina Rossetti


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.