Publication and early responses

Male perceptions of women's poetry

The early male reviewers and critics who received Rossetti's volumes set up a distinction between their expectations regarding the writings of men and the writings of women. For instance, in the Saturday Review, published in June 1866, a reviewer spoke of the poems contained in Rossetti's second volume, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems in the following terms:

There is not much thinking in them, not much high or deep feeling, no passion and no sense of the vast blank space which a great poet always finds encompassing the ideas of life and nature and human circumstance. But they are melodious and sweet … there is a certain quaint originality both in the versification and the concrete style in which the writer delights to treat all her fancies.

By dismissing any trace of deep thinking, by speaking of Rossetti's poems as ‘melodious', ‘sweet' and ‘quaint' and by calling her subjects ‘fancies', the critic confines her writings to his expectations of what is fitting for female verse.

Feminine inspiration

Rossetti's own brother, William Michael, adhered to the standard Victorian pattern of writing about female William Michael Rossettiverse in terms of feminine spontaneity and sweetness. Introducing his 1896 edited edition of her poetry, he writes

I question her having ever once deliberated with herself whether or not she would write out something or other and then, after thinking about a subject, having proceeded to treat it in regular spells of work. Instead of this, something impelled her feelings or ‘came into her head and her hand obeyed the dictation'.

By suggesting that Rossetti's process of poetic composition came solely from inspiration and that the ideas for her poetry simply and spontaneously ‘came into her head', William Michael discredits the idea that Rossetti is a serious poet to be considered in the same framework as her male contemporaries.

Early admirers

Not every early reviewer was, however, so ready to confine Rossetti's poetry to the ideas of spontaneous feminine overflow. Rossetti had a huge assortment of admirers including the poet Algernon Charles Swinburne who called Rossetti ‘the Jael who led their hosts to victory', comparing her to the powerful female leader in the Old Testament Book of Judges. Rossetti also had many admirers in America and during the later part of her career, corresponded with several younger American poets.

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