Christina Rossetti’s The World tells the story of the narrator being wooed by a woman who in daylight seems beautiful but by night transforms into a devilish creature. At first the title of the poem seems unrelated to the poem itself, but I believe that Rossetti may be describing how she views “The World” or society. In particular, I think that The World serves as an allegory for the experience of a woman growing up in Victorian society. The attractions of participating in society such as companionship, status, and respect are represented in the poem as “ripe fruit, sweet flowers” and the promise of “full satiety.” The gaining of these attractions is contingent upon acceptance which in turn is contingent on conformity to societal expectations. As the narrator starts to realize this, they see the beautiful woman “in the naked horror of the truth:” “Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.”
The narrator engages in an internal debate between giving themselves up to the woman or turning their back on all she has to offer. If the narrator wants to gain access to the fruits of society, they must first become what society expects of them. By conforming to societal expectations, the narrator has to “sell My soul to her, give her my life and youth Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell.” Once a woman has sacrificed her freedom, independence, and ability to support herself, she may become accepted as the ideal presentable woman and go onto uphold the societal expectations that she may have once abhorred.