Christina Rossetti was born on what is now Hallam Street in London, England in December of 1830. Her parents were intimately
connected to the arts community, specifically the realm of literature. Her father, Gabrielle Rossetti, was a poet and exile from the Italian city of Vasto in Abruzzo, and her mother, Frances Polidori, was the sister of a close friend to Lord Byron.
The Rossetti lilt towards the arts clearly influenced the children as they were all inclined towards literature. Alongside Christina Rossetti who was the youngest of the children, the best known Rossetti is likely her brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He is recognized as a crucial founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and as a prolific writer and painter. Christina Rossetti’s sister, Maria, and other brother, William Michael, also became writers.
As a young girl she was educated at home by her parents and experienced her first love for reading through the study of classics, novels and fairy tales. She was known to find great inspiration from the words of John Keats, Matthew Lewis, Ann Radcliffe and others. While Rossetti was still young, her family began to experience financial difficulties.Her father was mentally and physically unwell and quit his job, forcing Rossetti’s mother to enter the work force as a teacher. The stressful home situation sent Rossetti into a mental breakdown when she was only fourteen and she was forced to leave school.
Rossetti suffered from unstable health all her life and in the late 1840s she became ill once more. At the same time she was facing an important crisis of conscience which inspired experimentation with various verse forms. She maintained the span of her writing skills throughout her life and wrote many ballads, sonnets and hymns.
When she was in her late teens, while writing under a pseudonym, her first two poems were published in a literary magazine. She continued to contribute to it throughout the early 1850s and in 1862 her most famous collection was published. It was known as ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems,’ and included her most well-known piece, ‘Goblin Market.’ It was widely praised after its release. She received positive reviews from critics in publications like ‘The London Review’ and ‘The British Quarterly Review.’ Her career was firmly established at this point and she was receiving encouragement from the greatest poets of the day.
Rossetti was known to volunteer in her local community, helping “fallen” women who had become pregnant before marriage. She was passionate about the social injustices experienced by women and the exploration of themes of temptation and love. Although she never actively stated her support of feminism, it is known that she was against slavery, as well as the exploitation of young girls. Her second collection was published in 1866, titled, The Prince’s Progress and Other Poems, a fairy-tale-like volume which was not quite as well revived as ‘Goblin Market and Other Poems.’ She did not release another volume until six years later when she published Sing-Song, a an illustrated collection of poems for children.
Rossetti’s health had not improved as she aged and by the time she reached her fifties she was in a constant battle with Graves’ disease, a thyroid focused, autoimmune condition which causes weakness, a fast heart beat, weight loss, and other symptoms. She was suffering greatly, so much so that her life almost came to an end in the early 1870s when she fought off a particularly virulent attack during which her hair fell out, her eyes swelled, and she occasionally lost consciousness. This crisis left her weaker than she’s ever been, but her writing continued.
Later Career and Life
Her next published volume was ‘Annus Domini: A Prayer for Each Day of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture,’ a devotional text which explored the religious themes of poetry. She continued to publish, and her collection of three tales, Speaking Likeness, came out in 1874. Two years later the family would move from their home in Euston’s Square to Bloomsbury. Her sister Maria died of cancer soon after, and Rossetti’s memories of her were recorded in Time Flies.
Throughout the following two decades Rossetti published a number of other volumes including, A Pageant and Other Poems, in 1880, and Called to Be Saints: The Minor Festivals Devotionally Studied, in 1881. In 1892 Rossetti was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy, but the cancer returned and she only live for another two years before dying in December of 1894. Her grave can be found in Highgate Cemetery in London.