Mary Arseneau

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


This thesis attempts to establish that Christina Rossetti's particular religious milieu (of which the Oxford Movement was a prominent feature) was a formative influence not only on her religious poetry, but also on the pervasive aesthetic and symbolic practice that unifies the general and devotional sections of her volumes of poetry. Underlying the Oxford Movement (and its emphasis on the Incarnation, its revival of ceremonial in Anglo-Catholic worship, the renewed emphasis on sacrament that it engendered, and the sacramental aesthetic characteristic of Tractarian poetics) is a belief that material creation is able to contain and communicate moral and spiritual meaning. For Rossetti, it is through the Incarnation that the physical world becomes capable of containing moral and spiritual meaning, and it is through an awareness of the Incarnation that Rossetti's characters (and, I will argue, her intended readers) are able to exercise symbolic and spiritual discernment); thus, I have called Rossetti's symbolic method the "Incarnational aesthetic." The first two chapters examine the genesis of Rossetti's aesthetic: Chapter One contains an examination of the Tractarian influence, while Chapter Two evaluates the relationship between symbol and sacrament in Rossetti's aesthetic.;In Chapters Three and Four an argument is made for reading Rossetti's poems, first, in the light of the much-neglected devotional prose works, and, second, within the context of the sequence and structure in which she placed them. Chapters Five through Seven contain a close study of the poems of Rossetti's first published volume, Goblin Market and Other Poems, and demonstrate that this volume can be interpreted as a product of Rossetti's Incarnational aesthetic and its premise that symbolic and spiritual meaning can be communicated by the created world. In the final three chapters, the same approach is applied to Rossetti's second volume, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems, a volume which explores the Incarnational aesthetic with an emphasis on the challenge that moral and spiritual interpretation present.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.