Dinah Roe

The Rossettis In Wonderland : A Victorian Family History

The exiled Italian poet Gabriele Rossetti arrived in London in 1824 with a few letters of introduction, little money and less English. But within a single generation, he would bequeath to his new city a remarkable cultural legacy through the accomplishments of his children. There was the poet and defining Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel; the poet and religious thinker Christina, the nun and Dante Alighieri scholar Maria; and William, who combined a life of English letters and art criticism with a successful career as a civil servant.

The lives and achievements of the Rossettis are placed within the wider context of the artistic, literary and spiritual communities that inspired them and that they shaped in their turn. They worked with each other and in collaboration with the most famous figures of the day – Tennyson, Swinburne and Ruskin – as well as within significant groups like the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Anglo-Catholic Sisterhoods. Even the minor characters in the family story are remarkable, such as the Rossettis’ aunt Eliza Polidori who went to serve as a Nightingale Nurse in the Crimean War, and their cousin Henrietta Polydore who was abducted by her mother and hidden with the Mormons in Utah.

The Rossettis In Wonderland describes the Rossetti family and their rise to fame and influence against the vividly realised background of Victorian London. Each member of this Anglo-Italian family, and their social circle, has an interesting story to tell individually, but collectively, their stories paint a portrait of an era.

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Haus (2011) ISBN: 9781907822018

Poetry Analysis: ‘Christmas Eve’


It is a well-known fact that Christina Rossetti is very good at writing about Christmas (see ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’). Like her contemporary Charles Dickens, she realises that the power of the season does not come from jolly elves and the purchasing of shiny objects.

For the devout Rossetti, the true appeal of Christmas lies in the acknowledgement of its darkness, both material and spiritual. After all, the birth of Jesus Christ contains the seed of his horrific demise. What Rossetti understands is that the dark heart of Christmas makes Christ’s sacrifice and mankind’s salvation shine even brighter.

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‘Front Row’, BBC Radio 4: Dinah Roe reviews ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde’

Click to hear my review of ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde’ at Tate Britain

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Dinah Roe

Dinah Roe is a writer and a lecturer in nineteenth-century English literature. Her latest book is a biography of the Rossetti family, The Rossettis In Wonderland. Born and raised in New York State, she was educated at Vassar College, Oxford (St. Edmund Hall) and University College London. She lives in London with her husband, and enjoys teaching, writing and strolling the banks of the Thames while moodily misquoting The Waste Land. Living abroad has taught her to pay attention to the importance of place. She believes that where we live, and move, and have our being shapes who we are and who we will become.

She is represented by Andrew Lownie

Pre-Raphaelites in the City

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This blog explores the thriving Victorian cities which inspired the Pre-Raphaelites, and were shaped by them in turn. While the Pre-Raphaelites produced poetry and art praising the natural world, most were born and raised in urban environments, and their work retained a cosmopolitan sensibility. Although this blog will sometimes take excursions into the countryside, its focus will remain on city life. If you want more information on images or sources, please get in touch.