Christina Rossetti’s Poems
So vast and deep, psychologically haunting and ideologically challenging, is Christina G. Rossetti’s Victorian voice, often embodied in paired protagonists, two opposing impulses of the same soul. This copy of Poems, published in 1901, is rare, a well-preserved copy for bibliophiles who love Christina Rossetti’s high arts—and that of her brother Dante Rossetti.
Poems’ abstract book cover design by Dante, a Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood artist, is the same as that for Goblin Market and Other Poems, 1862-1865. Dante transforms the conventional centralized ruled lines and ornate florid design to asymmetrical, intersected gilded ruled lines and groups of concentrated small golden rings, three in each group, marking his refined minimalism in book design and austere, dignified taste. His design, also influenced by Japanese Zen, expresses a richness in its sparsity, inviting us to open the book and enjoy a sumptuous reading experience. When contemplating about the color options, Dante Rossetti preferred dark colors to make his minimalistic lineation and rings shine, and this copy—being pine green with the gilded lines and rings still aglow—is prepossessing.
In this copy, we can find the wood-engraved illustrations of Charles Faulkner (a master in the golden age of this craft in the 1860s), Buy from Us with a Golden Curl (frontispiece to "Goblin Market and other Poems”), featuring Lizzie tempted by goblins to sell her golden hair (representing the Victorian preoccupation with money and female sexuality) for delicious fruit symbolic of impermissible desire.
We can also find Dante Rossetti’s illustrations. One of them is “The long hours go and come and go” (the third line of The Prince’s Progress), in which he depicts a waiting bride, with a calm demeanor, looking out of her window to suggest both an inward reflection and outward inquisitiveness, a polarity we see in most of Christina Rossetti’s portraits. The flowing fountain, with water swirling in concentric circles, in a labyrinth symbolizes a complex psychological, subconscious impulse.
Another is “You should have wept her yesterday”, in which the tardy Prince mourns at the entrance of his bride’s chamber. Reposing on a high, canopied bier at the back is his dead bride, to whom Christina Rossetti noted, “surely the severe female who arrests the Prince somewhat resembles my phiz.”
This book surely emblematizes the high arts, the austerity elegance of book binding, illustrations, and female poetry in Victorian England.
Poems is an enlarged edition, published by Macmillan and Co., London in 1901. Nice vintage paper texture; no loose pages; clean internal pages; this copy containing an inscription on the top right corner of the first page.
For a reference, I recommend Stephen Calloway’s “Christina Rossetti’s Books: The Poet, her Publishers and the Illustrators” in Christina Rossetti’s Poetry in Art.
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