Learning Not to be First

Learning Not to be First : Life of Christina Rossetti

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Christina Rossetti was the youngest of four children. Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, she suffered the tyranny of a loving family, being restrained by the "police surveillance" of her sister Maria and the goodness of their mother. Although she and her brother Dante Gabriel were known as the "two storms", she curbed her passionate nature, and a love of life was replaced in her work initially by the bitterness of the lonely and ultimately by the conviction of the religious. Comparing her situation with that of contemporaries Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson, this biography examines the effects of Victorian social and religious convention on the life and work of the "High Priestess of Pre-Raphaelitism".show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 267 pages
  • 130 x 196 x 22mm | 199.58g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Paperbacks
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • bibliography, index
  • 0192829025
  • 9780192829023

Table of contents

Pricked to a pattern; renunciation; just a fairy story; tenacious obscurity.show more

Review Text

Pallid, unconvincing portrait of the doyenne of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, the mid-Victorian art movement whose members - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris, Holman Hunt - were as well known for their laudanum and license as for their innovative paintings. It seems to be true, as Jones (an English journalist) admits, that" 'finding' Christina as a person is not an easy task...." Primary sources about the neurasthenic and sexually repressed Rossetti are in extremely short supply, and her earliest biographers seemed intent on canonization. Jones, however, generally accepts her subject's explanations for her actions at face value, neglecting the revelations that the application of modern psychology to Rossetti's behavioral patterns might have produced. Many readers will suspect deeper motivations for Rossetti's rejection of Charles Cayley as a suitor than the stated fact that Cayley did not belong to the Church of England. Jones also seems unaware of the sheer oddness of much of Rossetti's behavior: When, for instance, a contemporary points out that Rossetti was in the habit of picking up scraps of paper on the street "in case they had the name of Jesus printed on them," the author allows the information to pass without comment. Jones seems most intent on reestablishing Rossetti's reputation as a major Victorian poet and as a kind of protofeminist; but except for the gothic "Goblin Market," few of Rossetti's verses rise above cliched sentimentalism, and Jones's comparison of Rossetti's work to that of Emily Dickinson is truly far-fetched. The author is only slightly more successful in depicting her subject as a victim of male domination. If anything, Rossetti played the "frail blossom" for all it was worth, especially in relating to her long-suffering brother, William. Disappointingly short on both drama and insight. (Kirkus Reviews)show more