The wit of wrestling: Devotional-aesthetic tradition in Christina Rossetti's poetry

Maria M E Keaton, Marquette University


The classification of texts by authors who have written in several genres and whose work receives alternating critical acclaim and critical disfavor presents a recurring problem of explaining their literary and historical context. For the work of Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), a gap exists between discussion of the traditions from which she drew and discussion of the poetry and prose she wrote which draws from those traditions. Though at least one book-length study deals with positive influences of her faith on her writing, few discuss how her faith and the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite movement reinforce each other in her works. To date, many mainstream treatments of Rossetti's work have focused on perceived disjunctions or dysfunctions in Rossetti as an individual to explain both the immense quantity and the highly-charged quality of her poetry and prose. In this dissertation, I use a primarily historicist/cultural criticism to give die themes and ideas in Rossetti's texts the context in which they need to be read as part of the nineteenth-century Anglo-Catholic and Pre-Raphaelite devotional and aesthetic traditions as joint influences on Rossetti's work. In Chapter Two, particularly, I also use discourse analysis to relate some of Rossetti's prose to the genre of "sage discourse," popularized in the nineteenth century by such writers as Carlyle and Ruskin. I show how this technique enriches her poetry, and explain how her faith tradition informed her use of such speech. Chapter One introduces my explanation of that faith tradition, Anglo-Catholicism. I trace some of the poetics coined by the Anglo-Catholics, explain where similar ideas about creative effort are to be found in Rossetti, and illustrate, through close reading of several of her poems, how their imagery draws from devotional and aesthetic aspects of that tradition. In Chapter Three, I explain her adherence to Pre-Raphaelite principles as well, and give some examples of the synthesis between Anglo-Catholicism and Pre-Raphaelitism in several of her representative poems. Using this evidence, I show that her work in these traditions does not proceed from disjunction, but from their unified effects.

Recommended Citation

Keaton, Maria M E, "The wit of wrestling: Devotional-aesthetic tradition in Christina Rossetti's poetry" (2007). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3298498.