One of the few great women poets of the nineteenth century writing in the English language, Christina Rossetti has up to the present remained a vague and enigmatic figure. The sense of mystery enshrouding her is due partly to her own reserve and partly to the fact that there has been written thus far no satisfactory biography of her. She has come down to us interpreted solely by her brother and editor, William Michael Rossetti, whose views have been accepted uncritically by all Christina's biographers, including Mackenzie Bell, author of the first "official" biography (1898), the source of subsequent works about her.
Since Christina's centenary celebration in 1930, which produced biographies by Mary F. Sandars, Dorothy Stuart, and Eleanor W. Thomas, only two full-length studies have been published. One is Marya Zaturenska's biography (1949). The other, Margaret Sawtell's biographical study (1955), is chiefly focused upon Christina's religious development as revealed in her poetry. But these and other writers have relied exclusively upon printed material, principally the publications of Bell and W. M. Rossetti. Although the latter wrote no book-length life of his sister, his brief biographical sketch in the "Memoir" to his edition of her Poetical Works (1904) and his chapter about her in his autobiographical Some Reminiscences, as well as the comments and information regarding her scattered throughout his works, constitute the source upon which her biographers have drawn.
A need, then, exists for a fresh biography with more rigorous standards, one based upon original research, which utilizes modern scholarly techniques and insights but which at the same time aims at readability and sustained narrative interest. This biography attempts to meet such a need. Although it does not presume to say the last word about Christina, it is fully documented and uses much unpublished material not heretofore available to previous biographers.
When some years ago I began the study of Christina Rossetti, I became increasingly aware, as I read, of the discrepancy between her inner world, of which we get glimpses in her poetry, and the existing biographical . . .