Katherine Mansfield is one of my favorite writers. I discovered her shortly after I began The Reading Life in July, 2009. After reading and posting on all of the stories in her collections, I read an absolutely wonderful biography of Mansfield that greatly enhanced my understanding of her work, Katherine Mansfield The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones. When the biography was published as a Kindle edition I read it again and I often refer to it when I have a Mansfield question or am looking for more insight into one of her stories.
Learning Not to be First The Life of Christina Rossetti by Kathleen Jones is another exquisite literary biography about a woman very different in her work and her life history from Mansfield.
Christina Rossetti (1830 to 1894, born and died in London) was the daughter of Italian immigrants to England. She was the sister of the Pre-Raphalite poet Dante Rossetti. Her family expected, as a woman, that she would accept that the work of her brother was naturally more important than her work. Very much unlike Mansfield, Rossetti never really escaped from the strict control of her very conservative Anglican Church up bringing. Central to this was the stringent requirement that unmarried women remain chast, even sexual thoughts were a sin. In her biography Jones shows us how the quite passionate nature of Rossetti combined with her total internalization of the strictures of the religion in which she was raised and her second in the family status produced a tension which gave forth in her soul beautiful poetry about death, unrealized passion, and the natural beauty of the English countryside. There is a longing for the peace of death in much of her poetry.
Jones does an excellent job placing Rossetti among the other poets of her era, especially writers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. PreRaphalite art can be described as ethereal, other worldly, disembodied from our oh to sordid fkesh and Jones helped me see this in Rossetti's poetry.
Jones tells us that Rossetti was educated at home, reading Italian classics and English novels and poetry. The family suffered a bad financial set back when her father had a nervous breakdown. Her mother became a teacher to support the family. When her sister became a governess Christina feared she might suffer the same fate. Inspired by her reading, after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning she was considerd England's best female poet. She became a very successful poet.
Christina had three serious suitors, men who wanted to marry her but all the relationships ended and she died unmarried. She was, as Jones tells us, in correspondence with lots of illustrious literary figures and very involved with her faith.
Learning Not to be First The Life of Christina Rossetti by Kathleen Jones is more than just a very well researched and elegantly styled literary biography it is also a history of late Victorian Poetry and society.
If you already are a reader of Rossetti, you will enjoy and profit from interacting with her thoughts on the poems, if you are not, upon reading this book, you soon will be.
Official Buography. From http://www.kathleenjones.co.uk/
Kathleen Jones was born and brought up on a hill farm in Cumbria and now lives with her partner, sculptor Neil Ferber, on the edge of the Lake District. She has been writing since she was a child and has published fourteen books including eight biographies, a novel and a collection of poetry. She lived for several years in Africa and the Middle East, where she worked for the Qatar Broadcasting Corporation. Since then she has written extensively for BBC radio and contributed to several television documentaries. Her poetry appears regularly in poetry magazines and anthologies in the UK and North America.
Kathleen was appointed as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow in 2008 and is currently also a Fellow of the English Society. Her two most recent biographies are ‘Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller’ (published by Penguin NZ and Edinburgh University Press) and ‘Norman Nicholson: The Whispering Poet’, (published in 2013 by The Book Mill). She is also the author of two novels, The Sun's Companion and The Centauress
You can learn much more about the work of Kathleen Jones from her home page. She also maintains a very interesting blog I have been following for years.