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  • Christina Rossetti and Illustration: A Publishing History
  • David A. Kent (bio)
Lorraine Janzen Kooistra. Christina Rossetti and Illustration: A Publishing History Ohio University Press 2002. xvi, 332. US $55.00

In Christina Rossetti and Illustration, Lorraine Janzen Kooistra has made a distinctly valuable contribution to Rossetti scholarship. Inspired by a methodology associated most directly with Jerome McGann, emphasizing the collaborative nature of literary production and the importance of all aspects of a book's bibliographical features, Kooistra set herself the ambitious goal of examining all the illustrated versions of Christina Rossetti's writings. In the process of tracing the genesis and reception of these works, she demonstrates the complementary relationship between bibliographical and interpretive study, a relationship analogous to the one between words and images in the best illustrated works she analyses. Her research has been thorough, her writing is fluent, and her findings are revealing. [End Page 444]

The book has two major sections: the nineteenth century and the twentieth. In each section, separate chapters treat Rossetti's work for children, her devotional writing, and her major narrative poem, Goblin Market. Rossetti's strongly visual imagination, Kooistra cogently argues, was grounded in her family environment, in the context of Pre-Raphaelite values, and in the analogical and sacramental characteristics of the Oxford movement to which she adhered. Rossetti not only acted as a model for her brother at times but she also studied painting, attempted some portraiture, and was a lifelong sketcher. The number of illustrations she made for her own work is indeed surprising (over 120 for Sing-Song, her book of children's poetry), and her abiding concerns with the material form of her publications certainly support Kooistra's contentions about the integral relevance of illustration when assessing Rossetti's work.

Kooistra's approach yields excellent dividends when applied to D.G. Rossetti's collaborative contribution to his sister's first two books of poetry, Goblin Market and Poems (1862) and The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (1866). Furthermore, Arthur Hughes's role in illustrating Sing-Song (1872) is shown to be an exceptional instance of co-operative creativity between a writer and illustrator, embodying the ideally reciprocal relationship Kooistra believes should obtain between word and picture (Hughes took direction from Christina's sketches). The complex genesis of both Sing-Song and Speaking Likenesses (1874) is described in fascinating detail; each involved not always successful negotiations with her publisher, Alexander Macmillan. Throughout the analysis of the illustrations, the influential precedents of Frances Quarles (and the early modern emblem tradition) and William Blake are convincingly established.

It is unfortunate that among Rossetti's works of devotional prose only Called to Be Saints (1881) was illustrated. Kooistra gives its botanical drawings sustained, helpful attention. About the only examples of illustrated work her meticulous research seems to have overlooked are the few religious poems Rossetti contributed to such anthologies as Robert H. Baynes's The Illustrated Book of Sacred Poems (Cassell, Petter, and Galpin). Nevertheless, her exploration of the poet's relationship with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge is especially illuminating, while her attitude towards the Society's twentieth-century exploitation of Rossetti's copyright (including using recycled stock images) is appropriately sardonic and critical.

For twentieth-century reprints of Rossetti's work (with commissioned illustrations), Kooistra emphasizes the ways in which the marketing of books shaped their production. Rossetti's poetry for children, for example, was moralized and sanitized for different generations (suggestions of death and politics tended to disappear). Goblin Market became a collector's object [End Page 445] with the revival of fine printing, limited editions, and improved technology (permitting the inclusion, for instance, of colour plates). By examining the designs of Laurence Housman, Arthur Rackham, and Florence Harrison, among others, Kooistra also helps trace Rossetti's posthumous reception. The final chapter investigates paintings and drama inspired by Rossetti's poems (the latter usually based on Goblin Market and marked by increasingly sexual interpretations), but while this extension completes the project it will be of less interest to bibliophiles. The bulk of this finely produced and generously illustrated volume will prove compelling reading for students of Rossetti as well as anyone interested in...


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