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“YOU, GUESS”: THE ENIGMAS OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2016

Adam Mazel
Affiliation:
University of Michigan

Extract

Throughout her life, Christina Rossetti was an enthusiastic writer and player of word games in verse. When she was seventeen, for instance, she spent the summer of 1848 in Brighton playing bouts-rimés sonnets with her brother, William. Together they timed themselves to see how fast they could write lines of verse to a given set of end rhymes: “emotional devastation in ten minutes or less,” Anne Jamison wittily puts it (145). Two years later, Rossetti published under her initials instances of different word games – an enigma (“Name any gentleman you spy”) and a charade (“My first is no proof of my second”) – as part of a series of riddling word games in verse by various authors in the Marshall's Ladies Daily Remembrancer: For 1850. They count among Rossetti's first poetic publications. These popular riddling genres, while perhaps less familiar to readers today, were immediately recognizable to Rossetti's contemporaries. In his 1872 riddle anthology, Guess Me, F. D. Planché defines an “Enigma” as a riddle in verse, or “the most ancient form of Riddle . . . often a real poem as well as a question for solution” (3). In the 1891 Cornhill Magazine, the article “Riddles” glosses a “charade” as a riddle that “turns upon the letters or syllables composing a word” (518). By publishing an enigma and a charade in Marshall's Ladies Daily Remembrancer, an inexpensive pocket book for women, Rossetti capitalized on the association of these genres as written by and for middle-class women, a point that I will argue in more detail later.

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Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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