Christina Rossetti: Celebrating Her Natal Day

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:

“A Vision of Fiammetta (detail)” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In April 1842, the English poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, at the age of eleven, penned those opening lines to a poem actually written for her mother’s birthday.

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

 

Christina is the subject of my work-in-progress next novel and today is the 189th anniversary of her birth, December 5, 1830. It is an immense undertaking, satisfying, if very challenging, writing about her. Especially as I am very much occupied and often exhausted by the care of my elderly mom these days. (Hence my infrequency posting lately)

She was part of a remarkable family of English-Italian scholars, artists, and poets, her older brother being Dante Gabriel Rossetti, founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. You can read a brief bio I did of her for The Literary Ladies Guide.

I’m going to share a different excerpt than I did last year when I originally created this post. This one depicts Christina and her mother posing for Dante Gabriel’s first completed oil painting: The Girlhood of Mary Virgin.

The Girlhood of Mary Virgin 1849 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

On the second visit, a few days later, Christina didn’t notice the shadiness and shabbiness of the location and look of Gabriel’s lodging and studio, her mother’s hand holding hers rather than the other way around. Her ascent into a holy scene, where she would inspire the painting of purity, felt like the best thing she had ever done. The light from the east—why Gabriel wanted them there early in the morning—miraculously broke through the rain and fog intent on spoiling that October. This time everything was ready for Christina to pose at the needlework frame Gabriel had convinced Aunt Eliza to part with for a few days, which he counted over a few weeks. No sooner Christina had, as she thought, perfected her leaning, her brother decided he wanted his Mary to sit upright, “in duty circumspect”, to the attention of her actual and acting mother, who was stiffly seated adjacent to her.

Gabriel came over and delicately adjusted their hand positions to be close but not touching. “There must be no doubt you are pious, humble, devoted to, and, yet, distinct from each other.”

“There won’t be, son, if you portray us as we are.”

He had requested his sister wear a modest dress, no bright colors, not black or grey, and with very little lace or other adornment. Christina had one she thought would do: beige, like the beach where she had last worn it, the summer sun had faded it, and splashing algae had stained its hem, its removable collar no longer crisp or undoubtedly white. He loosened her hair and, after putting the pins in his pocket, pushed it behind her shoulders “so it might seem longer than it was”. Fiddling with the folds of her skirt, he ordered her not to move from “how he sculpted” her, asking the same of their mother whose favorite shawl functioned as a wimple, while a large, musty blanket, definitely not favored by her, served as a mantle.

“Don’t close your eyes, Mama,” Gabriel gave yet another command.

“I thought it might be appropriate to pray.”

“Not in the Art Catholic’s church.”

“May we blink?” Christina hoped she might ease the seriousness that overcame Gabriel once he was behind his easel. His refusal to humor her made her say rather harshly, “May we even breathe?”

He grunted and, when he dropped his brush, swore.

“At least, until he makes you immortal,” quipped Mr. Hunt from his own creative corner of the League of Sincerity.

from The Dove Upon Her Branch Copyright © 2019 by DM Denton

Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti from a photograph by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carol)

Sing, that in thy song I may
Dream myself once more a child

from Maud by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti as a child, by William Bell

 

Happy Birthday, Christina Rossetti

 

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.