- Victorian Women Poets
Scholarship on women poets from 2018 sees a renewed interest in archival materials. A number of works this year deal compellingly with unpublished and undiscovered works both by the poets themselves and by previously unrecognized sources. Interest in ecological themes remains strong, including the past and the future of our planet, as well as the relationship between the human and the non-human. Christina Rossetti continues to dominate work on women poets.
Christina Rossetti: Poetry in Art, edited by Susan Owens and Nicholas Tromans (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Univ. Press, 2018) argues that visual art was fully woven into Rossetti’s life and work, noting not only that her works were illustrated, often by her brother, and that she was his frequent model but also that she herself studied drawing and inspired artists outside her family. This is an art book as much as a literature book, and it is rich with images related to Rossetti, many of them drawn from the archive. The first chapter, “Christina Rossetti’s Pictures” by Nicholas Tromans, offers a detailed account of pictures in Rossetti’s possession, situating them in Rossetti’s often ambivalent relationship with visual art. Tromans traces her place in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and her emergence from its avant-garde visual culture. He also discusses visual art in the context of Rossetti’s affinity with the Tractarian movement. Susan Owens’s contribution, “The Appearance of Christina Rossetti,” takes up portraits of Rossetti and considers how Rossetti might have thought about images of herself and how her image evolved over time to reveal “many facets of her character” (p. 81). Dinah Roe’s chapter, “‘Come and See’: Christina Rossetti’s Illustrations for The Christian Year,” offers the first [End Page 449] comprehensive look at Rossetti’s drawings in her own private copy of the sixteenth edition of John Keble’s devotional volume, which passed down to her from her sister, Maria. This fascinating look at Rossetti’s drawings provides insight into a visuality as spiritualized as that in her poetry, “discerning the visible in the invisible” (p. 107). Chapter 4, “Christina Rossetti’s Books: The Poet, Her Publishers and the Illustrators” by Stephen Calloway, examines the visual appearance of her volumes, including the binding and illustrations contained in them. He traces these choices through her career and after, examining posthumously published gift books and illustrated editions. The final chapter, by Susan Owens, Nicholas Tromans, and Hilary Underwood, “‘Pictures to the Public View: Artists’ Responses to Christina Rossetti’s Poetry,” like previous chapters, follows its subject chronologically, noting the spectrum from commercial to avant-garde in visual representations of Rossetti’s poetry. Overall, this book offers a comprehensive view of the relationship between text and image extending from Rossetti’s life and work.
Emma Mason makes a substantial, original contribution to Rossetti studies in Christina Rossetti: Poetry, Ecology, Faith (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2018). Mason finds an ecotheology based on Christ as the embodiment of a fully interconnected material and spiritual world to be foundational to Rossetti’s life and work. More broadly, Mason aims to reveal the significant place of Christianity in nineteenth-century environmentalism. She argues against current ecocritics who tend to dismiss Christianity or even to find it openly hostile to environmentalism. Anglo-Catholics, Mason argues, saw all elements of creation as interconnected, every being and thing a material type indicating a corresponding sacred, unseen existence. For Mason, Rossetti’s ecotheology is political, as well as poetic and spiritual: “Rossetti’s spiritual materialism also rejects human mastery and dominion through its focus on Jesus as composite of all things” (p. 22). Mason’s position manages to be both historicist and presentist, insisting on a properly historical view of nineteenth-century Christianity and the relevance of this historical understanding to the current environmental crisis. The first chapter argues that Rossetti’s approach to Christianity in particular arises out of her investment in the Tractarian movement, which Rossetti encountered at Christ Church, Albany Street, where she saw the major figures of the movement preach when she was young and where, Mason argues, Rossetti was rooted in a community whose approach to ideas of communion and...