Christina Rossetti's children's poem was recently recited in an October episode of the hit TV series, 'Boardwalk Empire' (Season 2, Episode 4). The episode's title comes from her poem ‘What Does the Bee Do?', published in her collection of children's verse, 'Sing-Song'. You may recall Margaret's daughter Emily reciting it in the kitchen at the top of the TV program. Christina's poem presents a traditional portrait of Victorian domestic economy, where Father brings home the money and Mother manages the household expenses:
What does the bee do?
Bring home honey.
And what does Father do?
Bring home money.
And what does Mother do?
Lay out the money.
And what does baby do?
Eat up the honey.
Click here to see Arthur Hughes’s original illustration for this poem.
London commuters were surprised during yesterday’s evening rush hour to see an image of Mary Wollstonecraft projected onto the Houses of Parliament. The author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) and mother of Mary Shelley, Wollstonecraft was far ahead of her time in promoting women’s civil and political rights, espousing radical ideas such as: ‘Women ought to have representatives, instead of being arbitrarily governed without any direct share allowed them in the deliberations of government.’ Her appearance on the Houses of Parliament on 16th November 2011 is a timely reminder, both of how far women have come, and how far they have to go to achieve true equality.
William Rossetti would have been thrilled to see this display, and almost certainly would have contributed to the Mary on the Green campaign to raise funds for a statue of the Mother of British Feminism. As a tribute both to William Rossetti and to Wollstonecraft, I’m making a donation, and I hope you will too. Click here to donate.
A beloved staple of English carol services, Christina Rossetti’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ [‘In the bleak midwinter’] was originally published in an American magazine, Scribner’s Monthly in January 1872. The poem was commissioned by the magazine’s editor, William James Stillman, husband of Pre-Raphaelite painter, Marie Spartali. The composition date is uncertain, but it must have been written before November 1871, as her brother William Michael Rossetti records this as the date that Christina received a ‘liberal payment’ of £10 ‘for the little poem’.
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.