Classics Club #61: ‘Maude’ by Christina Rossetti ***

The 61st entry on my Classics Club list is Maude: A Story for Girls by Christina Rossetti.  Although the novella was written in 1850, it was not published until 1897, after her death.  Having very much enjoyed Rossetti’s poetry, I was intrigued to read some of her prose, and thought that Maude would be rather a lovely book to begin with.

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti

Maude opens with a vivid and, I felt, rather lovingly crafted scene: ‘”A penny for your thoughts,” said Mrs Foster one bright July morning as she entered the sitting-room with a bunch of roses in one hand, and an open letter: “A penny for your thoughts,” said she, addressing her daughter, who, surrounded by a chaos of stationery, was slipping out of sight some scrawled paper’.

Maude Foster, a young London girl who professes herself to be out of sorts, is our protagonist.  From the very first, she has been well developed: ‘[She was] just fifteen.  Small though not particularly short, she might easily be overlooked but would not easily be forgotten…  Her features were regular and pleasing; as a child she had been very pretty; and might have continued so but for a fixed paleness, and an expression, not exactly of pain, but languid and pre-occupied to a painful degree’.  She has been invited to the countryside by her Aunt Letty, to spend time with her beloved cousin Mary over her birthday.  When she arrives, Rossetti draws an immediate contrast between Maude and Mary: ‘One was occupied by a thousand shifting thoughts of herself, her friends, her plans, what she must do, and what she would do; the other, whatever might employ her tongue, and to a certain extent her mind, had always an undercurrent of thought intent upon herself’.

Maude feels like a relatively autobiographical work in places; our protagonist is particularly fond of writing sonnets, and has a little composition book which she carries around with her in order to record everything when inspiration strikes.  The whole has been charmingly written, and Rossetti has included some relatively original conversations, particularly between the cousins.  The characters are nice to spend time with; they provided rather a lovely diversion from the heavier literature which I have been reading of late.

Maude is a relatively quick read, consisting as it does of 81 pages of relatively large text, and a rather short introduction penned by William Rossetti.  I would have liked to give the book a rating of higher than three stars, but plot-wise, it is a little lacking, and the whole is a little too short to consist of much substance.  I would certainly like to read more of Rossetti’s work in future, however.

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Sunday Poem: ‘The Poor Ghost’ by Christina Rossetti

“Oh whence do you come, my dear friend, to me,
With your golden hair all fallen below your knee,
And your face as white as snowdrops on the lea,
And your voice as hollow as the hollow sea?”
“From the other world I come back to you,
My locks are uncurled with dripping drenching dew.
You know the old, whilst I know the new:
But tomorrow you shall know this too.””Oh not tomorrow into the dark, I pray;
Oh not tomorrow, too soon to go away:
Here I feel warm and well-content and gay:
Give me another year, another day.”

“Am I so changed in a day and a night
That mine own only love shrinks from me with fright,
Is fain to turn away to left or right
And cover up his eyes from the sight?”

“Indeed I loved you, my chosen friend,
I loved you for life, but life has an end;
Thro’ sickness I was ready to tend:
But death mars all, which we cannot mend.

“Indeed I loved you; I love you yet
If you will stay where your bed is set,
Where I have planted a violet
Which the wind waves, which the dew makes wet.”

“Life is gone, then love too is gone,
It was a reed that I leant upon:
Never doubt I will leave you alone
And not wake you rattling bone with bone.

“I go home alone to my bed,
Dug deep at the foot and deep at the head,
Roofed in with a load of lead,
Warm enough for the forgotten dead.

“But why did your tears soak thro’ the clay,
And why did your sobs wake me where I lay?
I was away, far enough away:
Let me sleep now till the Judgment Day.”

 Christina Rossetti

Sunday Snapshot: Five Poets

Edna St Vincent Millay

1. Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
And you did so profane me when you crept
Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
This now is yours. I seek another place.
(From ‘Bluebeard’)

2. Philip Larkin (1922-1985)
Books; china; a life
Reprehensibly perfect.
(From ‘Poetry of Departures’)

3. Christina Rossetti (1830-1892)
Once in a dream (for once I dreamed of you)
We stood together in an open field;
Above our heads two swift-winged pigeons wheeled,
Sporting at ease and courting full in view.
When loftier still a broadening darkness flew,
Down-swooping, and a ravenous hawk revealed;
Too weak to fight, too fond to fly, they yield;
So farewell life and love and pleasures new.
Then as their plumes fell fluttering to the ground,
Their snow-white plumage flecked with crimson drops,
I wept, and thought I turned towards you to weep:
But you were gone; while rustling hedgerow tops
Bent in a wind which bore to me a sound
Of far-off piteous bleat of lambs and sheep.
(‘A Dream’)

4. H.D. (1886-1961)

Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first tasted under Apollo’s lips,
love and love sweetness,
I, Evadne;
my hair is made of crisp violets
or hyacinth which the wind combs back
across some rock shelf;
I, Evadne,
was made of the god of light.
(From ‘Evadne’)

5. Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Don’t discount our powers;
We have made a pass
At the infinite.
(From ‘Kitty Hawk’)