Christina Rosetti's "Monna Innominata" is oft examined through the lenses of either giving a feminine voice to a genre lacking in feminine perspective or in elevating the common love poem to the spiritual domain. Yet, to view this poem as a groundbreaking work on either front seems problematic, considering each area carefully. On the area of feminine poems, the preface to "Monna Innominata" itself acknowledges the works of well known poetess Elizabeth Barret Browning and her "Portuguese Sonnets" — works she aims to rival and surpass. On the area of religious elevation, many of the pre-Raphaelites had already long been advocating and agitating for the "elevation of materialism" that follows along the same lines of thinking.
A deeper look into Christina Rosetti's history suggests that in examining the poem purely as a feminist work or a work of elevated spiritualism, many readers may be avoiding the historical context in which the poem was written. Is there evidence, in the text, the poems may tend more towards a personal attempt by Rosetti to deal with her internal romantic problems? William Rosetti himself states: "It is indisputable that the real veritable speaker in these sonnets is Christina herself, giving expression to her love for Charles Cayley." In view of the fact that Rosetti had just had rejected a suitor she felt she loved on the grounds that he was agnostic, can further or more thorough light be shown on the themes and ideas of the poem? How do other details outside the poem inform our reading of it?
1. Does the reference to E.B. Browning and the stipulation of the "unnamed woman" suggest that Rosetti was not dealing with a general feminine perspective, but a very specific perspective of a woman?
2. Do other poems of Rossetti's, such as "An Immurata Sister" complicate a feminist reading of this poem?
An Immurata Sister:
Men work and think, but women feel;
And so (for I'm a woman, I)
And so I should be glad to die,
And cease from impotence of zeal,
And cease from hope, and cease from dread,
And cease from yearnings without gain,
And cease from all this world of pain,
And be at peace among the dead.
3. Does the agnosticism of the love in question inform certain sonnets differently? Does this give a different reading to the end of sonnets six and seven?
4. How does the fact that Rossetti must view her love as unlikely to transcend inform the idea of transcendental love? Examine in particular the 11th sonnet in the cycle.
Last modified 5 March 2008