True Love: Self-Sacrifice and Romantic Relationships in Christina Rossetti’s “Monna Innominata”

Christina Rossetti’s sonnet sequence, “Monna Innominata,” explores the female poetic voice and shares one woman’s experience as she falls in, and then eventually out, of love. In the short introduction that is included before the first poem in Rossetti’s sonnet sequence, she writes: “One can imagine many a lady as sharing her lover’s poetic aptitude, while the barrier between them might be one held sacred by both, yet not such as to render mutual love incompatible with mutual honor” (p. 489). While Rossetti still adheres to the idea of a distinct gender binary that separates men from women, she does suggest that those things that she believes make men and women different should not actually be the thing that divides them. Rather, she believes that just because men and women might be considered different, it is their inherent differences that work to promote the notion of mutual love being tied together with mutual honor. Rossetti most clearly discusses this idea of a couple combining their strengths to promote the overall well-being of the other in her twelfth poem in the sequence. It is through the constant pairing of “yours” and “mine,” as well as the female speaker’s self-sacrificing tone and tendencies that Rossetti attempts to explain what it truly means to love someone. She also forces her readers to wonder about the importance of their own autonomy in relation to their partnership with their beloved. 

There are several moments throughout the poem where the speaker talks about how she and her beloved are of one soul. She says: “But since the heart is yours that was mine own,/ Your pleasure is my pleasure, right my right,/ Your honourable freedom makes me free” (l. 11-13). The speaker and her beloved cannot be separated from one another; they form a solid unit that works in harmony with one another. The couple’s transcendent connection allows them to physically feel one another’s pain and “pleasure,” and it is only through their mutual satisfaction and happiness that the other can be satisfied. The speaker goes so far as to claim that she would understand if her beloved ever decided to leave her if she could no longer bring him joy. She states: “If there be any one can take my place/ And make you happy whom I grieve to grieve,/ Think not that I can grudge it, but believe/ I do commend you to that nobler grace” (l. 1-4). The speaker lowers herself to raise her partner up, sacrificing herself for her beloved’s happiness. However, what is so intriguing about Rossetti’s sonnet is the fact that her female speaker does not see this act of self-sacrifice as the key that unlocks her own pain and suffering. Rather, she believes that she will be happy knowing that her beloved is happy, even if it is with another woman. Thus, she suggests to her readers that love is only real when one is willing to do all that they can to put the needs of their beloveds before their own.  

Rossetti’s speaker ends the poem with a single sentence that is all at once poignant, painful, and hopelessly romantic. She directly addresses her beloved, stating: “And you companioned I am not alone” (l. 14). The fact that this final sentence now stands on its own, much like the speaker would be if she allows her beloved to be with another woman, symbolizes what her future will hold. She will be forced to stand on her own, and yet she is accepting of this, as long as she knows that the man she loves is not alone. Thus, Rossetti, through the female poetic voice that she has created, suggests that two people only ever truly love each other if they are willing to put the interests of their partners before their own. While Rossetti believes in a clear separation between the genders, she does not believe that their differences should inhibit a man and a woman from encouraging each other to have the freedom to seek their own happiness, in whatever form that might take.  

3 thoughts on “True Love: Self-Sacrifice and Romantic Relationships in Christina Rossetti’s “Monna Innominata””

  1. I love that you wrote about these poems and the direction you took! I have always been super interested in how poetry from this time period repeatedly mentions the joining of souls. I think you did an excellent job analyzing this poem. Additionally, in your intro paragraph, what if the barriers Rossetti writes about are religion and her devotion to God? I’m not sure how you would incorporate this into your analysis but I just thought it was interesting. Awesome job!!

  2. This is super interesting! I think it could be worthwhile to compare this poem with one of the earlier or later sonnets in Monna Innominata. As we discussed in class, this cycle is a journey through Rossetti’s feelings, and I think it could be interesting to compare this self-sacrificing lover to a sonnet at the beginning, where she loathes that her voice could be overshadowed. Do Rossetti’s views on love continue to evolve, or is this her final conclusion?

  3. This was an interesting read and a fascinating takeaway of “Monna Innominata”. I enjoyed your articulation of the significance of plural pronouns, whether through illustrating what Rosetti believes it means to love someone, or through the collective and shared emotional experience of lovers. I think your point of the concept of “self-sacrifice” brings up and important discourse, and posing some interesting questions. For instance, I think this point even further poses the question of, according to Rosetti, how can lovers be compatible? Is it through employing self-sacrifice that does not unlock pain, or is pain inevitable in the process?

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