Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Light vs. Dark in Rossetti’s The World

At first read, Christina Rossetti’s The World seems to be about someone describing a man’s lover and how she changes into this hellish creature at night.  However, when you take into account the title, it seems as though the author is describing her view of the world and how the world treats her.  One way to read this poem is by using the trope of light versus darkness where the woman during the daytime is a representation of light and the woman during the nighttime is a representation of darkness.  By digging even deeper into this trope, Rossetti analyzes light as a force of good and darkness as a type of hell or force of evil.

The woman during the day is “exceeding fair” (Rossetti 1) and is compared to “Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety” (Rossetti 6).  She is sweet and kind and good to the man during.  This can be taken that, from the outside, the world is a great place that is kind to everyone who walks on it.  As the poem continues, however, the repeated line “By day she wooes me” makes the reader think that this innocent, gentle side of the woman is all for show and she is actually hiding her true, evil self tempting the author by day only to let out her inner self at night.

The darkness is where the woman’s real side comes to view.  Rossetti portrays the woman as nearly the devil himself.  With her “hideous leprosy” and “subtle serpents gliding in her hair”, the story takes a quick change into the very hell this side of the woman originates from.  She will put on a front for others of her good side but she is nothing but a liar who turns into “A very monster void of love and prayer” (Rossetti 8) when darkness falls.

By bringing all of these details together, I think Rossetti is trying to portray how, from a surface level viewpoint, the world seems like a great place full of life and love.  Yet, Rossetti has given the world all of her and instead, it comes back a monster dragging her into its hell.  Rossetti suffered through bouts of depression during her lifetime as well many illnesses which ultimately led to her death.  Perhaps this poem is an ode to the world that she has given so much to and it only gives her misfortunes in return.


1 Comment

  1. This is an interesting close-read of “The World”, I agree, there seems to be a fake appearance individuals give off hiding their true evil selves. To push your interpretations even further, I think the multiple juxtapositions’ in the sonnet are meant to show how the world is not perfect, but rather complex. For example, truth vs. lie- “By day she stands a lie” and “In all the naked horror of the truth.” Night vs. day- “By day she woos me” and “But through the night, a beast she grins at me.” Friend vs. monster- “A very monster void of love and prayer” and “Is this a friend indeed.” I also find it interesting that all of these oppositions are used to describe a woman- “she” and “her.” This makes me question- are all of these oppositions only meant to describe women then? These descriptions would then not be representative of the whole world, but only half. However, what if the author depicts the whole world as this one woman. If the author just assumes the whole world to have the same characteristics as this one woman, then the author would be giving a false interpretation to the whole world.

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