Speaking Likenesses by Christina Rossetti


Christina Rossetti’s Speaking Likenesses (1874) provide reflections on the behaviour of three little girls. By the end of the tales, the girls have been either rewarded or punished for their actions and dispositions. In the first tale, Flora, a privileged and pampered child, becomes increasingly grumpy on her eighth birthday. She is then trapped in a nightmare tea party at which a haughty birthday queen denies her any food, and where the party games are cruel and bullying.

There are obvious comparisons with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll, although Carroll’s fantasies are much less didactic. The two writers knew each other, and Rossetti acknowledged Carroll’s influence. Her intention was to produce a commercially successful book for the Christmas market, benefitting from the growing enthusiasm for illustrated fantasy books. This market had been generated by Alice and other books of that time such as The Water-Babies by Charles Kingsley (1863) and The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (1872). However, Speaking Likenesses did not sell particularly well and was not re-printed. In spite of the similarities to Alice, the stories had none of the humour or nonsense that contributed to the appeal of Carroll’s work. The illustrations are by Arthur Hughes who had previously worked with Rossetti on her poetry book Sing-Song, as well as illustrating Macdonald’s At the Back of the North Wind (1871).

Full title:
Speaking Likenesses
1874, London
Book / Children's book / Illustration / Image
Christina Rossetti, Arthur Hughes [illustrator]
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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