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  • Christina Rossetti: A Descriptive Bibliography
  • Simon Humphries (bio)
Christina Rossetti: A Descriptive Bibliography, ed. Maura Ives (New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2011). viii, 344 pp. [16] pp. of plates. $95.00.

In November 1905, the elderly William Rossetti, having been complimented on his bibliography of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, told Thomas James Wise that "C.G.R. must wait for her Bibliography, & I suppose not from my fist" (British Library, Ashley MS. A1431, fol. 81). William cannot have supposed that Christina G. Rossetti, then considered by many poets and critics one of the finest poets of the Victorian age, would wait more than a century for her turn. Yet her poetry would become marginal to the study of English literature as it developed in universities in the mid-twentieth century, a status not conducive to the research and publication of scholarship on her work (even if poets and book collectors continued to value her work, in their differing ways). Now, of course, Rossetti is firmly established on university syllabuses—a consequence of the feminist project of recovering women writers, of a renewed critical interest in Victorian poetry generally, and in particular of Rebecca Crump's pioneering editorial work. Now, nobody will doubt that Maura Ives's meticulous bibliography is a much-needed contribution to the study of English literature.

In documenting Rossetti's publication history, Ives wisely adopts a policy of concentrating on publication up to 1900, with selected post-1900 appearances in print. After the introduction, the bibliography is structured in five sections: a first section (A) of detailed descriptions of separate publications (mostly books); then three sections (B-D) covering publication in books (mostly in anthologies), in periodicals, and in hymnals and musical settings; and then a final section (E) which includes translations, printed ephemera, and a curious selection of "Rossettiana." This documentation is supported by excellent color plates.

Even scholars who have worked on Rossetti's publishing history will find much that is new here, especially in the three central sections which detail many previously unrecorded appearances in print. The section documenting contributions to anthologies even includes a little poem not collected either by William Rossetti or by Rebecca Crump: "Stop Thief!" from an 1883 anthology of passages for inscription on greetings cards (B73). Ives acknowledges the aid of full-text databases in locating and viewing such material and is aware that further digitalization work is likely to enable the discovery of appearances she [End Page 249] has not listed. Nevertheless, a work of this kind is not compiled without hard labor in libraries. What might seem Ives's most dutiful work—such as slogging through the Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography in search of contributions signed "C.G.R."—turns up more of interest than we might have expected (p. 7; B5, B21). And where digitalization projects allow the discovery of publications missed by Rossetti's editors, Ives brings an understanding of the implications of these discoveries: for example, of the periodical appearances in 1870 of one of Rossetti's poems on the Franco-Prussian war (pp. 12-13; C66).

The bibliography makes unignorable the major puzzle of Rossetti's publishing history. In 1861, her poems began to be accepted by Macmillan's Magazine. In 1862, Alexander Macmillan published her first volume of poems, Goblin Market and Other Poems, which met with enough critical approval in influential periodicals to make the publisher urge another volume. Although her Macmillan volumes of poems were critical rather than commercial successes, her work clearly found its admirers. To take one measure of this, Ives shows how quickly her poems began to be set to music in the 1860s. In her lifetime, there were no less than forty settings of just one poem, the "Song" beginning "When I am dead, my dearest," which had been first published in the 1862 volume (p. 15). But that famous little poem had been written back in 1848. Her introduction to the public in the early 1860s, and the critical interest she attracted, followed a decade of—with a few exceptions—failed attempts to get her poetry published. The known evidence of her own, or of her brothers', efforts to get her poetry...


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