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Embodied faith: Ritual, mysticism and performance in Christina Rossetti's poetry and prose

Debra L Cumberland, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Christina Rossetti's poetry and prose has traditionally been interpreted without due consideration of her mystical faith. Rossetti's faith has traditionally been used by critics and biographers to reveal her weakness as a writer, rather than being interpreted as an empowering agent. Situating Rossetti more firmly within Victorian traditions, such as the Anglo-Catholic Church, and examining more closely the mystical imagery in her poetry reveals that Rossetti was a woman profoundly empowered by her faith, rather than debilitated by it. Her closeness to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, with its aesthetics that combined the sacred and the profane, as well as her own circle of female friends, also exerted a powerful influence upon her. In her poetry and prose, Rossetti presents a performative, embodied view of faith, one that offers transformative possibilities for women's entry into language, speech and action. Rossetti's mystical faith was a vehicle enabling people of faith to become, or enact, what she felt we were capable of, and should all aspire to: the model of the female saint or visionary ascetic. ^ Chapter 1 surveys the Rossetti criticism and shows how Victorian, modern, and feminist criticism presented her as an aberration, a repressed, frustrated woman, or ignored her faith altogether, viewing her relationships with James Collinson, Charles Bagot Cayley, or most recently, her father, as the inspiration behind her poetry. Chapter 2 considers the issue of non-agency in Rossetti's writing, while Chapter 3 presents Maude: Prose and Verse as a story about the construction of religious identity. Chapter 4 views “Goblin Market,” from the angle of religious performance, where, by enacting their faith, Laura and Lizzie reclaim the sacred for women. Chapter 5 considers the limits of religious ritual, particularly poems that explore the dark night of the soul and women who initially seem to be entrapped and/or unable to speak. Chapter 6 explores how role-playing shapes identity. Chapter 7 analyzes the impact of female community and religious ritual. ^

Subject Area

Religion, General|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Cumberland, Debra L, "Embodied faith: Ritual, mysticism and performance in Christina Rossetti's poetry and prose" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9997006.