Christina Rossetti’s Sexuality

In Christina Rossetti’s poem The World, there is a strong contrast to her other poems in the way that she discusses women. Rossetti is known as a particularly feminist poet for the time, with poems like No, Thank You, John and In an Artist’s Studio showing her assertiveness and distaste for the expectations of women put by men. In The World, Rossetti describes a woman as an evil, two-faced entity, similar to tropes seen in other Victorian literature (Lady Audley in Lady Audley’s Secret, the woman in La Belle Dame, etc). She describes the woman as “A very monster void of love and prayer” (Rossetti, The World). This could be because her intention was not to describe women at all, but instead her own internal conflict with her sexuality. Rossetti had a complicated relationship with sexuality, being a feminist but also a devout Anglo-Catholic. She stayed unmarried and childfree her entire life, and expressed a disliking for men who were interested in her. In her poem, No, Thank You, John for example, Rosetti states “Here’s friendship for you if you like; but love,— No, thank you, John” (Rossetti, No, Thank You, John). This has the implication that perhaps she was not interested in men at all, and was not just uninterested in the men in her poems.

In her poem, The World, Rossetti makes multiple references to religion, and specifically, hell. At the end of the poem she states, “With pushing horns and clawed and clutching hands. Is this a friend indeed; that I should sell My soul to her, give her my life and youth, Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell?” (Rossetti, The World). This consistent mentioning of hell while asking if she should maintain her connection with the woman could be representative of her internal conflict on whether to listen to her heart or to her faith. She could be feeling as though building a relationship with a woman would destroy her connection to her faith. In other Victorian literature, men would often describe women as temptresses, leading good men astray. In The World it can be argued that Christina Rossetti is feeling the same as a man being called by a siren: as if she is losing control of her sexuality.

2 thoughts on “Christina Rossetti’s Sexuality”

  1. I find your analysis of Rossetti’s poems to be fascinating. In the portion of your post where you note Rosetti’s description of, “a woman as an evil, two-faced entity”, in conjunction with her later description of, “A very monster void of love and prayer”, from her poem, “The World”, I was largely reminded of our readings of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I was, in particular, reminded of the scene in which Mr. Hyde walks into a young girl, leaving her injured on the street and crying, as he continues walking on as if nothing had happened. This, in comparison with the high and upstanding moral character that Dr. Jekyll is attributed, is as an example of the exploration of the “two-faced entity” and its involvement with men. While we have seen many instances, as you pointed out, of competing desires in women throughout Victorian literature, this is an instance in which this conflict is demonstrated in a man. Furthermore, Dr. Jekyll’s incentives are largely borne out of a feeling of discontent, and wanting to know what else he can get away with or do, whereas Rosetti’s frustrations manifest from another form of societal limitations.

  2. This is an insightful thought on Christina Rossetti’s poem “The World” and its unique portrayal of women. It highlights the contrast between Rossetti’s feminist stance in other poems and the seemingly contradictory depiction of women in “The World.” I think this post suggests that Rossetti’s complex relationship with sexuality, particularly her conflicted feelings about men, could be the underlying reason for this departure from her usual feminist themes. By exploring Rossetti’s personal struggles and religious beliefs, the blog post offers a deeper understanding of the poem’s symbolism and the underlying message it conveys.

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