Title: A Pageant and Other Poems

Author: Christina G Rossetti (1830-1894)
Publisher: Macmillan and Co:
Place:London
Time:1881
Printer: R. & R. Clark, Edinburgh

Call Number: PR5 237 P3


BOOK APPEARANCE


The copy of A Pageant and Other Poems that was retrieved from the University of Victory library has been rebound. Its cover is a grey blue, with no lettering marking the front. On the book's spine, written in silver, is the title of the work: A Pageant and Other Poems. Directly below that, in the same lettering, sits the author's last name, "Rossetti," and then finally, the call number.
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Printers Device.A Pageant and Other Poems.Rossetti. 1881


Inside the book, opposite the title page sits a publisher's device: a circle with the letter M in the middle of a white cross. The emblem was created in 1861 at the request of Alexander Macmillan, the head of the publishing Macmillan Publishing. Surrounding the cross in each of the four corners are symbols. In the direction of North sits three stars; in the East there is a Bee; the Southern position has three acorns; and finally, in the West rests a butterfly. Holtgen references Charles Morgan in his explanation of the symbols: " ... the stars for heavenly glory and light, the acorns for earthly growth and strength, the bee for useful industry , the butterfly for beauty, pure and aimless" (192).
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A Pageant and Other Poems. Rossetti. 1881.



Although the new hardcover binding of the book has helped preserve the work inside, the the original cover was lost. The pages have been trimmed and most of the decorative matter has been cut as well. However, an electronic copy of the book in its original binding can be found through the Hathi Digital Trust Library


THE POETIC WORKS WITHIN

Christina Rossetti's fourth poetry collection, A Pageant and Other Poems, begins with a dedicatory sonnet written to her mother. The first lines read, "Sonnets are full of love/And this my tome has many sonnets" (Rossetti dedication). Mary Arseneau suggests that besides the sonnet being a gesture of love from Christina to her mother, it also acts as a prelude to the works inside the book. The poem indicates that the book will hold many sonnets, which ordinarily would seem a redundant statement. But in fact, Rossetti has two multi-part poems in the collection that are sonnets made of sonnets, and so this line could be read as an introduction to the ways in which Rossetti has constructed her poetry. The poem also affirms that "Sonnets are full of love" (Rossetti dedication), which establishes the tradition of the sonnet form. This is interesting because within A Pageant and Other Poems Rossetti moves away from the "traditions of the genre" (Arseneau) and addresses religious devotion and the quest for God's love.
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Photo Added by Creator. Rossetti, Christina. A Pageant and Other Poems.1881


Another overarching theme found in A Pageant and Other Poems is one of ageing, as found in "Later Life", or the passing of one cycle unto another. This motif threads through poems such as "The Key Note": "I have forgotten everything/ I used to know so long ago[...]/I scarcely think a sadder thing/Can be the Winter of my year" (Rossetti 1) It can be seen in the character of September in "The Months": "My song is a half sigh/Because my green leaves die..."(Rossetti 17). And also in "Mirrors of Life and Death": "Winter which lays its dead all out of sight/All clothed in white/All waiting for the long awaited night" (Rossetti 31).

The title work of the text, ironically, is not highly regarded in literary circles. It is a pageant named “The Months,” written in 1879. The work personifies the seasons, illuminating their race to overcome one another and possess the landscape. Each season is attributed a gender and Rossetti intended that child actors play the parts of the months. The play was written for private viewing at a Christmas party. Since its first production, it has been preformed in both public and private viewings. (Brown, Clements & Grundy).

The most celebrated piece of work in the collection is "Monna Innominata,” which translates to “The Unnamed Lady." The work is compiled is of fourteen poems, which parallels the fourteen lines of a sonnet. In the collection, Rossetti reintroduces Dante’s Beatrice and Petrarch’s Laura to her readership. The poet then questions what it would have been like if these female characters had been given a voice, or how they would have sounded had they been portrayed by a woman. Rossetti often constructed her poems as a response to the patriarchal traditions of the period. Through giving the voiceless object of male desire a chance to express herself, Rossetti succeeds in empowering the consistently subdued female: “By both breaking and naming female silence in a literary tradition that helped enshrine it, Rossetti breaks through that silence” (Moore). It is practices like these that lend credence to the suggestion that Christina Rossetti was a protofeminist of the Victoria era.

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A portrait of Christina Rossetti by Dante Gabriel Rossetti: "Christina Rossetti." Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository.
Rossetti held what would be described today as an almost feverish devotion to her faith. Her family moved from Evangelical to Anglo-Catholic orientation in the 1840’s and the influence of this is carried throughout her lifetime of poetry. In fact, at one time when Christina’s health took a turn for the worst, a doctor speculated that it was perhaps due to a mental illness that was reflective of “religious mania” (Arseneau). Christina was engaged once and proposed to another time and turned down both suitors due to their religious beliefs. Much of her poetry explores her devotion to God: "Low on my knees I love Thee, Lord/Believed in and adored" (Rossetti 189). And as she ages her writing almost singularly focuses on faith. At least a third of the works found in A Pageant and Other Poems are religious poems.








THE POET

Seen as an envoy of female writers in the nineteenth century, Christina Rossetti and her poems have been classified as "heroic" (Duguid) and works of "female genius" (Duguid). Christina began writing at a very early age, and throughout her childhood was surrounded by scholars and artists. Education was highly regarded in her family, and Christina and her three siblings were taught by their mother at home before the boys left for more formal learning. The children were all encouraged in their artistic endeavours, and due to this they became proactive in their creativity. Christina began writing verse before the age of seven, and just four short years later was producing collections of work. Her oldest surviving poem, “To My Mother,” dates back to April 1842, when she was just eleven years old (Brown,Clements & Grundy).

Rossetti’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, became invested in her writing after the private publication of her 1847 book Verses. Over the next couple of years, he read excerpts of her poetry at the male dominated literary clubs he attended. Later, he renamed a few of her poems and submitted them for publication. Historically, Christina has been grouped as an active member of the Pre-Raphaelites. But, in truth, Dante’s attempts to secure her a membership in the Brotherhood were rebuffed on basis of her gender (Brown, Clements & Grundy).

At times in her works, we can see Rossetti challenge the place of women in Victorian society. One of the most poignant examples of this can be seen in her reflection of Dante’s work, “In An Artist’s Studio.” In the poem, Christina illuminates the male artist's obsession with aesthetics and his disenchantment with the reality of the muse. Whether or not Rossetti consciously moved towards a women's "movement" during her life, it cannot be argued that her works questioned the patriarchal society in which she was raised. Christina Rossetti is a fascinating character whose charm only seem to grow as years go on. As Mary Arseneau concludes, "Of all Victorian Women Poets, posterity has been kindest to Christina Rossetti."


References:


Arseneau, Mary. "Christina (Georgina) Rossetti." Late Nineteenth-and Early Twentieth-Century British Women Poets. Ed. William B. Thesing. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 240. Literature Resource Center. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

Brown, Susan, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy, eds. "Christina Rossetti". Orlando: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Online (2006). Web. 14 February 2016.

Duguid, Lindsay. "Rossetti, Christina Georgina (1830–1894)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press (2004). Online Edn. Jan (2009). Web. 14 Feb 2016.

Moseley, C. W. R. D. Höltgen, Karl Josef. Aspects of the Emblem: Studies in the English Emblem Tradition and the European Context. 85 Vol. , 1990. Web.

Moore, Mary. "Laura's Laurels: Christina Rossetti's "Monna Innominata" 1 and 8 and Petrarch's Rime sparse 85 and 1." Victorian Poetry 49.4 (2011): 485-508. Project MUSE. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.


Susina, Jan. "Christina (Georgina) Rossetti." British Children's Writers, 1800-1880. Ed. Meena Khorana. Detroit: Gale, 1996. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 163. Literature Resource Center. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.


Rossetti, Christina. A Pageant and Other Poems. Macmillan and Co. 1881. Print.

Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository."Christina Rossetti."14 Feb 2016



Eng386.UVIC.Spring 2016.