Christina Rossetti was largely influenced by the religious reformation known as the Oxford Movement; this study attempts to record that influence by discussing the etiology and the doctrines of the Movement in relationship to Christina's life and her poetry. A cursory review of the topics of Miss Rossetti's poetry, based on her work published in The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, is included, in addition to a more in-depth evaluation of selected poems. A partial biographical study is offered, which relies primarily upon William Rossetti's Memoir to the Poetical Works and The Family Letters of Christina Georgina Rossetti. The significant studies of the Oxford Movement which were consulted are included in the bibliography of this thesis study.
Christina Rossetti, one of the few outstanding women poets Britain has produced, was immensely influenced by the religious milieu of her home and her country. She was born on December 5, 1830, the youngest of the four Rossetti children, and was early indoctrinated with the teachings and practices of the Church of England by her mother, Frances Lavinia Polidori. Christina was educated at home by Mrs. Rossetti who taught Christina and her sister Maria from the Bible, St. Augustine, and Pilgrim's Progress, and further reinforced this religious training by involving her daughters with the religious movement to which she transferred her loyalty from the evangelical branch of the Church: the Tractarian or Oxford Movement.
July 14, 1833 is the date which is often regarded as the founding date for the Oxford Movement; on this day John Keble delivered the assize sermon "National Apostasy" which openly addressed the ominous trend of interference by the state with matters of the Church. The trend was started with the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and intensified with Catholic emancipation; the introduction in Parliament of the Church Temporalities Bill and the resulting suppression of ten Irish bishoprics was interpreted by many of England's religious leaders as apostasy on the part of the nation.
Further, leaders at Oxford were demanding extensive reforms within the framework of the Church, for the training system of clergymen had grown lax and the salary system among clergymen was grossly uneven. The stand of the Oxford scholars inevitably came to focus upon content, doctrine, for they were essentially promoting higher ideas of the Church than the political and popular notion of it. As the Movement accelerated, so did the controversy surrounding it; indeed, it became part of the consciousness of the general public through repeated publication of the widely sold Tracts for The Times. It was these Tracts, edited by Oxford theologian John H. Newman, which earned the proponents of the Oxford Movement the name Tractarians.
Christina Rossetti was early exposed to and inf luenced by this religious renaissance and this influence is evident in her poetry. Among the doctrines embraced by members of the Tractarian movement which are evident in the themes of the poetry of Christina Rossetti, as well as in accounts of her character and personality, are the beliefs of the severity of the moral life, the necessity for thorough self-examination, the need to be humble and to mistrust oneself, and the acceptance of illness and suffering as purifying communications from God.
Christina's earliest poetry evidences a preoccupation with death, a discomfiture with earthly existence. She fell in love twice, but due to religious reasons, she never married. Of Christina's poetry, the sections called "Songs for Strangers and Pilgrims," "Some Feasts and Fasts, 11 "Divers Worlds: Time and Eternity," "New Jerusalem and its Citizens," "Christ Our All in All," "Out of the Deep I Have Called Unto Thee, O Lord," "Gifts and Graces," and "The World: Self-Destruction" total 449 poems; eleven of the sixteen sections deal with religious concerns or a discussion of impending death. Of the section entitled Juvenilia, most of the 54 poems are religious in nature. That leaves 226 general poems to be considered, as well as 140 poems for children. Although a good many of the general poems discuss lighter topics, the number that are devoted to spiritual concepts and death are substantial.
There is evidence from Christina's correspondence, and from her poetry that she was an imaginative, dynamic, cheerful, and fun-loving person. However, her tendency to become discouraged and to doubt herself often overshadows the brighter side of her nature. Although she repeatedly doubted herself and her spiritual worthiness, her concept of faith closely paralleled that of Tractarianism and her faith in God never wavered. Her religion was often a comfort to her and this comfort is expressed in some of her best poetry. The tragedy of Christina's life is that she was seemingly never able to fully accept the assurance she often expresses in her work and that, while trying to cope with the inner turmoil her perpetual doubts created, she was content to choose death over life. She died of cancer in 1894. Her poetic gifts, however great or small their potential, were used to express a great concern which no desire for poetic excellence or self recognition could ever overshadow--her intense longing for a new life in the world to come.
J. Paul Stauffer
Robert P. Dunn
Victor S. Griffiths
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Rossetti, Christina Georgina, 1830-1894; Poets, English -- 19th century.
Subject - Local
Loma Linda University. English Program -- Dissertations.
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Brown, Debbie J., "Sing No Sad Songs for Me : A Study of the Influence of the Oxford Movement upon Christina Rossetti as Evidenced in Her Poetry" (1978). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 539.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives