Innovation and revolution in Christina Rossetti's Second Advent poems

Sarah Turner Waddle

Abstract

Because of their peculiarly religious nature, Rossetti's Second Advent poems are largely ignored in the Rossetti canon; only two other critics have studied these poems, John Waller in 1969 and Diane D'Amico in 1989 and 2003. However, these are core texts for Rossetti studies for they illustrate the four characteristics of her writing: innovation, the importance of a new world order, concern for community, and inalienable Christianity. This study argues that if we focus on these four characteristics of the Second Advent poems, they will teach us to see greater richness in Rossetti's corpus. The four primary characteristics of Rossetti's writing have been obfuscated by early editions of her works. Rossetti's legacy has suffered at the hands of her early editors, her brother William Michael in particular, who portrayed Christina Rossetti as a quiet, almost nun-like writer, removed from the issues of the world and awaiting death's repose. Unfortunately, despite the work of several subsequent publishers and critics, many Rossetti readers still envision her as a passive and reserved writer instead of hearing her active, innovative, and even revolutionary voice. Rossetti was not, as her original editors perceived, repeating already trite religious imagery but instead was reconfiguring nineteenth-century British apocalyptic writing, offering a different premillennial paradigm and presenting a female messianic figure. In this study, I resist the dualism implied by her editors' terms secular and devotional , and I argue that noting the four characteristics of her poetry provides readers with a more authentic perspective on her work. I also argue that community is her primary motif (not soul sleep), thus proving that her work is more dynamic and energetic than we have previously thought. Fortunately, more and more critics are challenging Christina's initial portrayal, realizing that she was a much more creative writer than we have previously recognized. But they are still missing the dynamism inherent in her work. This study reveals the innovation, beauty, and energy that is particularly evident in her Second Advent poems.