Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti and the Wordsworthian Scene of Writing

By Woolford, John | Wordsworth Circle, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti and the Wordsworthian Scene of Writing


Woolford, John, Wordsworth Circle


Like most mid-Victorian poets, Christina Rossetti responded to the Romantic poets in setting out her own creative role, especially in relation to Wordsworth: and, like most of her contemporaries, such as Elizabeth Barrett, she looked for a figure to mitigate the overwhelming force of Wordsworthian paternity (Woolford[1995]). She found this mediation, oddly enough, in Robert Browning's "The Lost Leader" (1845). I say "oddly enough" in recognition that on the strength of "The Lost Leader" and despite later disclaimers Browning has been commonly identified as implacably hostile to Wordsworth, a (mis)reading reinforced by his published and publicised worship of Shelley in "Memorabilia" (1855) and earlier in both Pauline (1833) and Sordello (1840); (1) but, as my argument will imply, readings based on evidence of this kind are bound to be superficial. Indeed, in a complex rhetorical manoeuvre, Browning replays Shelley's hostility to Wordsworth to distinguish himself from Shelley, as Shelley distinguished himself from Wordsworth, and Rossetti in turn replays Browning's reinscription to distinguish herself from Wordsworth, Shelley, and Browning, as a declaration of independence for herself as a woman poet.

Another reason, though again I think a fallacious one, for finding the Browning-Wordsworth-Rossetti conjunction implausible is the nature of the social relations between Browning and Rossetti. Thanks to Dante Gabriel's identification of him as the author of Pauline in 1847, Browning came to know, first Gabriel himself, then William Michael in the 1850s. After his return to England in 1862, he became a close friend of both, until Gabriel, fancying that his 1872 poem, Fifine at the Fair; contained a coded attack on himself, broke off the friendship on his side (William however remained on good terms). And Browning was clearly interested to meet Christina. On June 19, 1862, he wrote to his friend, Isa Blagden: "I saw Rossetti on Monday,--mean to go & see him soon, and meet his sister & mother" (McAleer [1951], 106-107). The sequence suggests that the sister took precedence over the mother in his mind, probably because he had recently received a copy of her newly published first collection, Goblin Market and Other Poems. But she proved elusive: on July 3 he "received a note from Rossetti ... telling me that his sister was so unwell as to be unable to go out on Saturday--& that the meeting of us all was put off accordingly" (Hudson [1965], 108). And so it went on until at the end of July, 1865, Browning took matters into his own hands, and "called at Albany Street ... to make Christina's acquaintance" and, William goes on, "sat talking well and amusingly for an hour or so, and has since expressed himself much gratified with what he saw of Christina" (Peattie [1990], 136). But little, socially speaking, came of it. Christina's only surviving letter to Browning is an invitation to tea couched in the chillingly polite language of most of her correspondence with strangers, and she later admitted to only "a slight degree of acquaintance" with him (Bell [1898], 90). The episode which elicited this comment might have been expected to improve the acquaintance: she had volunteered to write a biography of Barrett Browning, and Browning seems not to have responded with the hostility which he normally accorded such proposals. But he made stipulations which Christina, with what William describes as her general "over-scrupulosity," interpreted as a prohibition. They seem not to have met during this episode.

Rossetti's "Dream-Land" was placed first of her poems in the pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ, in which it first appeared in 1850. It is thus (not counting her privately printed poems of 1846) her first published poem, and the appropriate place to set a creative agenda. It recapitulates the Romantic poetics of dream or trance as a home for the female creative identity. The protagonist's paradoxical poise between consciousness and unconsciousness (she "hears the nightingale" but "cannot feel the rain / Upon her hand," 23-24) recalls the valorisation of similar weird states in for example "Tintern Abbey" and "Ode to a Nightingale". …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti and the Wordsworthian Scene of Writing
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.