Much of the literature of the 19th century grew out of sibling relationships. Tennyson's first publication was a family project, with contributions from three brothers. The Brontės' fiction emerged from the closed world of Haworth parsonage. Harriet Martineau's writing was shaped by complicated feelings for her brother James. The work of the Rossetti family is among the most conspicuous examples of this pattern. Four children were born in consecutive years in the late 1820s: Maria, Gabriel Charles (later to call himself Dante Gabriel), William and Christina. Their father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a political exile, driven out of Italy as a result of his activities as a nationalist. A poet, an ardent Dante scholar and the centre of a group of expatriates, he became a professor of Italian at the newly founded King's College in London, a post which brought more prestige than income. Like Tennyson's despondent father, or the fiery Patrick Brontė, Gabriele Rossetti was a displaced figure. His thwarted ambitions shadowed and deepened the lives of his children. All four took it for granted that they would not be ordinary. It was the children's responsibility to justify their father's life and to perpetuate his dogged ideals. They interpreted their inheritance in different ways. Maria resisted convention by joining an Anglican sisterhood, and Christina, who never married, became the finest poet of the Tractarian movement. Dante Gabriel and William were equally resolute in their rejection of Christianity, but while Gabriel's stormy bohemianism perpetuated his father's stubborn refusal to conform, William, who was always closest to his mother, submerged his aesthetic aspirations in decades at the Board of Inland Revenue.
LRB 20 May 2004 | PDF Download