Livingin a period of substantial change for Britain, Rossetti saw a wide variety ofeconomic, political, social and religious change. Throughout her lifetime, shesaw Britain’s population more than double, the vast growth of Britain’s powerand growth on the international stage and great development industrial wisewith an entire rail network being completed. Yet what concerned Rossetti andher work more was the latter two – social and religious change. Withdevelopments in science such as Charles Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’published in 1859 which presented the theory of evolution, a rise of Biblicalcriticism and a new knowledge of religious diversity in continents other thanEurope, religion was beginning to be challenged. However, in spite of thisRossetti remained firmly religious throughout her life, something which isevident in the large majority of her poems and even despite Rossetti undergoinga religious crisis in the mid 1850’s, this itself then manifested into furtherdevotional poetry. Social change in the 19th century washeavily focused upon the progression of rights for women with the ever-growingsuffragette movement and laws being passed giving women rights to property andtheir own financial savings being just a few examples of developments.Politically on this issue Rossetti was rejecting with her refusal in the 1870’sto provide support to the female suffrage campaign, however within her writingRossetti frequently explores women’s roles, especially the double standardregarding men and women, making womanhood and being female clear, recurringthemes of her poetry.
Amajor influence of Rossetti’s work was her staunch religious belief. At first adevout member of the evangelical branch of the Church of England, sheeventually was drawn towards the Tractarians in the 1840s – a branch ofChristianity that emphasises ritual and ceremony in worship. Its thesereligious views which provide Rossetti’s work with a strong religiousdimension, and not just her devotional poems (i.e. “Twice” or “Up-Hill”) butall of her poetry has her religious influences present in her use of imageryand her portrayal of characters. Yet Rossetti’s religion is never simple orunquestioning, as seen in her religious crisis and her move towardsTractarianism.
Her poetry constantly shows the interrogation of religiousbeliefs and ideals, often with a mark of tension. This questioning and doubtprovides the question of self-sacrifice and what it really means to bereligious or a good Christian deserving of heaven to Rossetti’s poetry,providing another dimension to her work furthering not only the religiousquestion but that of the conflict of earthly and heavenly joy. Thisconflict of earthly and heavenly joy allows for Rossetti to produce love poetryyet maintain the religious undertones all her poems have. As of this, her lovepoetry, although simple and characteristically restrained in style, often hasseveral layers– with even her straight-ahead religious poetry having lesslayers to it. This makes it particularly interesting to see how Rossettinavigates admiration and love of another person with her love of God. Rossetti,in relation to her love poetry entwined with this religious aspect, is inspiredby her own failings at love with two failed engagements to men during herlifetime. The first being in 1848 to James Collinson, with the engagementending after he reverted to Roman Catholicism, and the second being from theearly 1860’s where she refused to marry Charles Cayley because “sheenquired into his creed and found he was not a Christian.
” In the end,within her poetry Rossetti’s love for God always eclipses the love of anotherhuman, but this does not stop the narrators of her poems from having ample lovefor other people. On multiple levels, the narrators of these various poemsrestrain themselves with their religious belief, avoiding falling tounnecessary emotions caused by romantic love. As to the narrator, this otherperson’s well-being is valuable and important yet it simply cannot be moreimportant than that of the relationship they have to God.
Despitedisassociating herself with the suffrage movement, believing women’s rights andChristianity were at odds, Rossetti places the portrayal of women very highlyamongst her themes in her poetry. Frequently exploring women’s roles, inparticular the double standards regarding men and women; she also considerswomen’s own authority and power – even when this isn’t necessarily the solepoint of the poem. The ability for her to do this comes from her constantwriting from a female perspective, with examples from “Winter: My Secret” ofthe speaker claim authority to tell what she likes, or “From the Antique” whereshe decries the poverty of a woman’s rights and roles. Looking at Rossetti’sown personal life, her actions reflect these views with her work at the St MaryMagdalene penitentiary, working with ‘fallen women’ and former prostitutes. Yetlikewise to Rossetti’s other themes parallels can be drawn to that of aChrist-like and a feminine lone-suffering. Rossetti’s focus upon women andbeing a female poet herself in a period of silencing of female poets due to theappeared nature of poetry, allowed her to interact with her contemporaries. ChristinaRossetti, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and other highly regarded female Victorianpoets all dedicated poems to each other in a distinctive female dialogue.
Rossetti takes influence from multiple places to inspire herwork yet the most obvious is that of the Romantic Movement, with poets such asShelley and Keats. The Romantics in particular privilege nature and intensebeauty of emotion above anything else, evident in Rossetti’s work with her useof natural imagery, especially in her lyrical poems such as “Song” and “ABirthday”. Likewise, the inspiration of Keats’ is clear in Rossetti’s “From theAntique”, with it being reminiscent of “When I have fear that I may cease tobe”. Rossetti’s work in turn influence both contemporary and modern art formsin itself. Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” produced both art from her brother,Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and contemporary artist Kinuko Craft, who depicted thepoem with more sexualised, suggestive themes.