Christina Rossetti sits alongside Gerard Manley Hopkins as one of the two great religious poets of the 19th century. She is known to many through the only carol that does not tire with repetition – ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, for which she supplied the lyrics. Her liking for simple, austere words and phrases such as ‘bleak’, ‘frosty’, ‘made moan’ and ‘gone’, together with the rhythmic artfulness with which she handles short lines, gives her poetry a sense of tight control. This poet is also the woman who turned away two suitors on the grounds of religious incompatibility. Yet only recently has the complexity of her character and mind come to the fore. She repeatedly interrogates not only theological ideas and beliefs but also the accepted gender roles of her day and their relation to power. She published poems in early feminist periodicals, and volunteered at St Mary Magdalene Penitentiary in Highgate, which encouraged vulnerable women to avoid prostitution by retraining them for domestic service.
What makes Christina Rossetti additionally fascinating is her close association with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. As a poet, she gained the respect of her family early on; in 1847, when she was sixteen, her maternal grandfather privately printed, for friends and family, a collection of her work under the title