The supernatural and the gothic

A ghostly theme

Elements of the supernatural can be found in many of Rossetti's poems:

  • The eerie goblin men in Goblin Market have destructive magical powers
  • In At Home, the speaker herself appears as a ghost, returning from the dead to watch her friends as they carelessly live in the here and now
  • The speakers of both Remember and Song (When I am dead) imagine themselves dead. This enables them to observe life from a place that is omniscient and to reflect back on life with an altered perspective
  • The Convent Threshold contains allusions to the gothic (for more on Rossetti's use of the conventions of gothic literature see Literary context > Gothic literature).


The representation of blood is a feature particularly pronounced in gothic literature:

  • The Convent Threshold begins, ‘There's blood between us… / There's father's blood, there's brother's blood' (lines 1-2). The speaker then moves on to claim that her feet are soiled ‘with scarlet mud that tells a tale' (line 8), hinting that her history is one of trauma and difficulty. The representation of blood here is ambiguous and could possibly allude to family rivalry, murder and/or physical struggle. Towards the end of the poem, the speaker recalls waking up from an agonizing dream to find ‘frozen blood' on her sill of her room (line 135).
More on blood as a gothic motif: The depiction of blood on the windowsill is reminiscent of Emily Bronte's 1847 novel Wuthering Heights. In this, Lockwood, the narrator, has a nightmare in which he sees the wrist ghost-child Catherine cut on the broken window pane of his room.

By describing the blood as ‘frozen', Rossetti suggests further an absence of life and points a coldness that is so intense it prevents movement. Rather than turning backwards or moving forwards, the image suggests being literally stuck on the threshold.

  • Blood is the central image of Despised and Rejected. Here, the friend, who can be identified as Christ, speaks of his bleeding feet, handstand heart (lines 45-7). This relates to the crucifixion. By noting the bloody footprints and the mark of blood on the door, the speaker emphasises the shocking nature of Jesus' death. See Blood.
  • In Good Friday, the speaker further contemplates the horror of crucifixion and wonders how she can remain unmoved as she considers ‘drop by drop' Christ's ‘Blood's slow loss' (line 3).
    For more on the gothic genre, see: Aspects of literature > Aspects of the gothic.
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