Christina Rossetti: The Poetry of Endurance

Christina Rossetti: The Poetry of Endurance

Christina Rossetti: The Poetry of Endurance

Christina Rossetti: The Poetry of Endurance

Synopsis

Christina Rossetti was considered the ideal female poet of her time. Her poetry was devotional, moral, and spoke of frustrated affection.

Dolores Rosenblum presents a fresh reading of Rossetti's works and places them in the context of her life. Rosenblum shows that what was ostensibly devotional, moral, and loveless, was actually what Luce Irigaray calls "mimetism," a subtle parody and subversion of the male tradition of literature.

Only with the coming of feminist criticism can Rossetti be meaningfully re-evaluated. Rosenblum calls Rossetti's works the "poetry of endurance," stating that it is similar, and at times identical, to the female "sentimental" tradition in literature. Rossetti endured the constraints of the Victorian female artistic spirit by becoming a "watcher." Within this self-accepted role, Rossetti was able to carefully and deliberately choose artistic self-protection. In her religious poetry, Rossetti transcended, by aesthetic renunciation, the alienation and immobilization forced upon her.

Rossetti's poetry is full of paradox; it sings about silence, exposes the poet's oblivion. From the repining Victorian poet, there emerged a "stone woman." Rosenblum discusses this passively enduring female figure's alienation from knowledge and power, and how the myth of self strengthened the lyric voice within her. Because she was a woman, she was denied the male use of the lyric "I."

Rossetti's work is unified, Rosenblum argues, because she was a deliberate poet, and by accepting the "burden of womanhood," she played out what men only symbolized as female in their art. By her mimicry and revision of the male tradition of literature, Christina Rossetti engaged the patriarchal tradition in ways that make it usable for the female experience, and that provide a critique of male objectification of women in art.

Excerpt

The major tradition of women's poetry in English begins for all practical purposes in the nineteenth century. Women had written good and very interesting poetry before--the Matchless Orinda and Aphra Behn in England, for instance, and Anne Bradstreet in America, as well as others who are even less well known to the academic curriculum--and the literary scene of the earlier nineteenth century was marked by the emergence of such prolific and popular poetesses (that is the right word for them) as Felicia Hemans and Letitia Landon (L. E. L.). Women poets seem always to have read other women poets, and the influence of minor precursors should not be underestimated. But apart from the lone figure of Sappho offering ambiguous encouragement from the dim mythic background in a language that almost no Englishwoman could read, the women who first wrote poetry that claims a major place in English literature and established the female tradition that has come to rich fruition in this century were Elizabeth Barrett Browning, born in 1806, and in the next generation Christina Rossetti and Emily Dickinson, both born in 1830.

The poetry of these women was read and written about in their century and ours, and yet much of it has been almost invisible to criticism for a very long time: sometimes because it was hidden, more often because it could not be seen. Dickinson allowed only a handful of her poems to go out into the world during her lifetime, and her caution was justified both by the incomprehension that those poems met and by the way her works were tidied up after she died and made into simple, conventional, harmless things, their . . .

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