Duringthe time of publication, Rossetti’s vast assortment of poems were recognisedwith much success as Rossetti became established as the foremost female poet ofthe time after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1861. Of the manypublished works, Goblin Market and OtherPoems remains as her most famous collection yet, whilst receiving muchcritical praise during the time of its publication, it has continued to receivean abundance of critiques and interpretations.ThePre-Raphaelite movement begun in 1848 through three individuals: William HolmanHurt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti who claimed that thequality of art had deteriorated during the High Renaissance as contemporariesfavoured artificial compositions and poses over the intense realism and naturalinfluence which is reflected in Italian Art in the early Italian Renaissance.This movement aimed to unite English painters, poets, and critics and declaredthat Pre-Raphaelite artists must have “genuineideas to express; study nature attentively, so as to know how to express it;sympathise with what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art, tothe exclusion of what is conventional and self-parodying and learned by rote;most indispensable of all, to produce thoroughly good pictures and statues”.The Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics is integrated in some of Christina Rossetti’spoem, including Goblin Market in which her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetticontributed his own illustrations of “Goblin Market”. Christina Rossetti’spoetry adheres to the ideals of the movement but was never an official memberof the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. The emphasis on expression through nature isevident in poems such as ‘Shut Out’ which intertwines natural imagery withdesire:”‘Or give me, then,But one small twig from shrub or tree;And bid my home remember meUntil I come to it again.
‘”Despitethe split in pre-Raphaelite sources of inspiration between Medievalism andRealism, Rossetti’s poetry reflects the Anglo-Catholic beliefs, although somepoems, such as Soeur Louis which have a direct link to religion, many ofRossetti’s love poetry explore a more topical space whilst still maintainingthe religious undertone despite keeping her works characteristically restrainedand simple which allows multitudes of critiques and interpretations which mayarguably make some of her love poems more intriguing than her directlyreligious poems.Tractarianismwas an affiliation of the High Church Anglicans who wanted to re-invigorate thechurch by aligning it with the model of the Church created in the first fewcenturies following the Christ’s crucifixion. The first Anglican convent sincethe Reformation was established in 1845 and this was also the place in whichRossetti worshipped each week. Since they were prohibited from entering fulltime ministry in the Church, many 19th Century women wished todevote their entire lives to God in different mannerisms thus choosing tobecome nuns as many roles in the church were denied to them due to theirgender, becoming a nun was one of the ways in which a woman could remainsingle, serve the community and belong to a larger, positive and affirmingfemale network. The emphasis on sisterhood is presented through Lizzie andLaura in Goblin Market in which thethemes of women and sin are prevalent.
In Goblin Market, there’s a lack of malecharacters which may be a direct reference to the lack of men in the Anglicannunnery which further emphasises the importance of sisterhood and therelationship between Lizzie and Laura. The poem was written in 1859 whilstRossetti was volunteering at the St Mary Magdalene Penitentiary for ‘fallenwomen’ dedicated to the reform and rehabilitation of prostitutes so that womenwho had transgressed sexually could be redeemed. Whether Laura’s binge on thegoblin fruit is interpreted as a sexual escapade, or as the beginning of adescent into chemical addiction and withdrawal, the poem presents the actionsas a form of transgression. Religious implementations are distinct when Lauragives in to her temptation and eats the goblin fruit which acts as an allusionto the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden in the Judeo-Christian creationstory. Within the poem, critics have also interpreted the theme of sex andsexual desires to be present through the erotic imagery conveyed by the exoticfruits. This interpretation is evident through the Playboy magazine illustratedpublication of Goblin Market by Kinuko Craft.The eminent Victorian critic JohnRuskin declared that Rossetti’s “irregular measures” were the “calamity ofmodern poetry” and that she “should exercise herself in the severestcommonplace of metre until she can write as the public like”. Although Ruskin’scritique is of a negative form as Goblin Market defies the expected form ofVictorian poetry, modern critics have alluded there to be themes on feminismdespite the fact that Rossetti herself was not a feminist.
Many criticsrecognise the fact that women are a reoccurring factor in the vast majority ofthe poems but by 1850: “Rossetti’s women are becoming cynical of thispromised paradise: they begin to concern themselves with this life- and find itlacking. The veiled anger and dissatisfaction they feel is at first barelyacknowledged by the woman herself, but as Rossetti’s women grow throughout the18850’s the frustration and rage, although contained behind the flint-facedmask the woman never removes, like-wise grow. The eruption of Rossetti’s ownrepressed anger in these poems places them among the most powerful in hernon-devotional work.”-Marianne Skoczek (1982)AsRossetti’s works continue into later years, the poems become increasingly cynicalas mentioned previously but this may influenced through elements of her ownpersonal life. Aside from her religious devotion, her life was also marked bysuffering as she was frequently the victim of ill health (including breastcancer and Graves Disease) as well as suffering from depression. She was awareher ill health played a burden upon her family and also felt the effects of itwhen her father became ill and left her family financially unstable.
‘From theAntique’ reflects aspects of her personal life and cynical perspective as shebegins the poem with “It’s a weary life”, the poem was never published and thebitter sadness and loneliness is present as she continues to state in the laststanza “none would miss me in all the world”. Faith did not sure her depressionbut it freed her to experience her mental and spiritual state in a meaningfulway by allowing her to unite it to the suffering of others. Through theanthology, the passion within her works are turbulent but throughout her works,the idea of doubt manifests itself deeper. The final poem in the anthology”Soeur Louise” illustrates that doubt and cynicism through the pre-Raphaeliteimportance of natural imagery as she describes her hopes as a “barren mine” andher love as a “disenkindled fire.