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.