If you read "Up-Hill" and your first thought was, "Jeepers that Christina Rossetti is so cliché; the whole life-is-a-journey thing is so totally overdone," then you're probably not alone. The "life = road" metaphor pops up everywhere in literature, poetry, and music, and this was just as true in the nineteenth century as it is today. Rossetti's poem is even loosely modeled off one such literary work, The Pilgrim's Progress, which describes one man's conversion to the Christian faith as a long, arduous journey across an allegorical world (you can learn more about the book here). The fact that so many people have found the metaphor to be worth writing about, however, should also be a heads up that A) maybe there's something to it and B) maybe so many people choose the topic because they have different things to say than their predecessors.
Rossetti's "road," for example, is full of so many twists and turns that it's hard to keep track. She started off one of four loving siblings, each of whom was receiving an unprecedented education on account of their father being a professor and their mother being a governess. Somewhere along the way, Rossetti goes through a major religious conversion, puts her life on hold to take care of her ailing father who may or may not have tried to molest her, rejects several offers of marriage, and is diagnosed with a super-scary disease that made her skin change color and all her hair fall out. Finally, she died of breast cancer in 1894. Sounds like quite a ride, eh? Her journey to poetic fame was no easy feat, either. She struggled to be published, fell in and out of favor with the public throughout her entire career, and was consistently criticized for being simultaneously too radical and too conservative for popular tastes. Talk about picking the short straw.
"Up-Hill," published as a part of Macmillan's Magazine in 1862, was Rossetti's first published work and what got her noticed by the public at large. It was a bright spot in the seriously difficult life of a kind of depressed, but incredibly brilliant, woman. And while it's tempting to look at Rossetti's biography and think "I would never, in a million years, want to trade lives with you," at the end of the day what we at Shmoop find so awesome about her whole life-is-a-journey metaphor in "Up-Hill" is the knowledge that someone has made that climb before you and lived to tell the tale. Rossetti, if nothing else, is proof that you can have a seriously awful life and still be famous enough to be on Shmoop. Just remember, if you ever catch yourself feeling blue, there's always that to come back to. And in the mean time, let's dig into "Up-Hill"; we promise it's a journey worth taking.
Take a second to think about the two speakers we meet in Christina Rossetti's "Up-Hill." We've got Speaker #1, the basket case, who is full of 100,000 questions about a journey he or she is about to undertake. Then we've got Speaker #2, the sensei, who basically just tells Speaker #1 to take a chill pill because, even though things might be tough along the way, there's a warm bed, good company, and maybe a couple of beers just waiting at the end of the road (but only if you're over 21).
In the 21st century, it's easy to take Speaker #2 for granted because, let's be serious, information is everywhere thanks to the internet. Whether you're trying to decide what classes to take, where to go to college, or even where to go out to eat, the internet is full of thousands of reviews, articles, and blog entries—all clamoring to tell you just how awesome or horrendous other people have found Professor Whomever's Academically Neglected Tomes of the Eighteenth-Century class to be.
And yet somehow, even in the face of all those students on ratemyprofessor.com and every angry customer who's ever written a Yelp review, nothing is as effective as advice that comes from someone you know. So remember this, Shmoopsters: we all need advice at some time or another, so don't take the knowledge and experience your friends and family members have for granted. They know you, they care about you and, we know it's hard to believe, they might even know a few things that Google doesn't. Life is crazy and unpredictable. It's safe to say we've all been Speaker #1, but you should care about "Up-Hill" because it's a great reminder of just how awesome it is to have a Speaker #2 nearby who is willing to lend you a hand—or ear, foot, or whatever—right when you need it most.
Attention All English Majors
VictorianWeb is totally indispensable if you're doing any writing on this period. Their section on Rossetti is the bomb diggity.
It's All Downhill From Here…
Check out these parodies of Rossetti's poem. Warning: some are better than others.
Ain't No Mountain High Enough
Eager to start your own uphill climb? Some of these mountains should be a worthy challenge.
British People Reading Poems
Some things just sound better in a British accent.
Are We There Yet?
Is it just us, or is there a slight similarity between the donkey and Speaker #1?
Whoa. Here are 63 of Rossetti's poems recorded and posted on YouTube for your listening pleasure.
Here's an audio guide to the incredible complexities of this poetess.
All in the Family
Check out this portrait of Rossetti, painted by her brother.
Here she is, lookin' a little stern.
Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites
The scoop (and pictures) related to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, of which Rossetti was a sort of-kind of member.
It's a Man's World…
…but Christina Rossetti did a heck of a job living in it.
This book promises to discuss the family that helped turn Christina Rossetti into the author and woman she became.