Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Victorian Opinions on Marriage: “No, Thank You, John,” Versus “Dracula”

“No, Thank You, John,” by Christina Rossetti is a poem that shows the power that women can wield in a romantic relationship; the power to say “no.”  While controversial for the Victorian era, Rossetti’s poem shows the amount of agency that women can achieve.  Even though a man may have institutional power over women, “No Thank You, John,” shows that women can still have power, even in a society as oppressive to women as Victorian England.  This is contrasted by Bram Stoker’s message in Dracula, which suggests through Lucy Westenra, that a proposal for marriage should be either accepted enthusiastically, or turned away with great sympathy and sorrow.

In “No, Thank You, John,” the narrator says, “Why will you tease me day by day. . . With always ‘do’ and ‘pray’. . . “And pray don’t remain single for my sake” (Rossetti, 30-31).  Here, the narrator not only tells her suitor that she will never view him as a romantic partner, but she also subtly mocks him.  One of the reasons why the narrator is annoyed with John is because of his constant conversations about loving her, in which he often uses the word “pray.”  The female narrator uses the word “pray” to mock John’s constant questioning of her.  By using John’s own language when rejecting him, shows that she does not care about societal expectations of how a woman should act when a man asks to marry her.  The connotation the narrator’s mockery of John is not necessarily that she is inconsiderate, but rather that she desires her own agency in matters concerning her own future.  At the end of the poem, she suggests that they should “strike hands as hearty friends,” noting that John should not have ulterior motives (Rossetti, 31).  This poem shows the blunt, yet not wholly inconsiderate rejection of John’s marriage proposal to the narrator.

Conversely, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, all men who propose to Lucy are put on a figurative pedestal.  The simple fact that they had asked Lucy to marry them and were rejected suggests that Lucy is obligated to feel guilty for not marrying them; it suggests that although Lucy has agency to decide who marries her, she nonetheless has to feel shame over it.  When Lucy turns down Dr. Seward and Quincey Morris, she reflects that, “women, I am afraid, are not always quite as fair as they should be. . . I can’t help crying. . . I feel so miserable” (Stoker, 65).  The connotation of this passage is that Lucy is to blame for everything, when, in reality, the fact that she is in love with Arthur Holmwood, a perfectly nature occurrence is the reason.  This suggests that a woman’s love for a man is secondary to the man’s heartbreak.  Although unfortunate for Quincy and Dr. Seward, it is not Lucy’s fault, as she has every right to marry who she loves the most.  Victorian society assigns blame to the female in this situation unjustly.

Overall, Christina Rossetti’s poem embodies the more controversial, liberal values of Victorian society regarding marriage, while Bram Stoker perpetuates the Victorian era’s more prevalent, and conservative outlook on marriage.

4 Comments

  1. I think that, possibly because she was also a woman, Rossetti gives many of her female characters a much stronger voice and independent disposition. However, consider that Rossetti still maintains a relatively polite atmosphere when presenting female decisions. In “No, Thank You, John” the narrator can only express her displeasure in a subtle manner, while outwardly maintaining a polite and calm façade. Does this occur because of Rossetti’s view on female behavior (i.e. to be polite always, even in this case of seeming harassment)? Or is it the broader category of classe manners? Even when social situations of discomfort arise, it is the duty of those involved, particularly women, to maintain the “appropriate” outer appearance.

  2. I think the main reasons women’s power and autonomy is portrayed differently between these two pieces of work is due to the different gendered authors. “No, Thank you, John” is written by Christina Rossetti, a female, and “Dracula” is written by Bram Stoker, who identified as male. Rossetti could personally relate to the social expectations in the Victorian era that restricted women of their power and independence. Therefore, she wrote a poem against these social norms. Giving the woman in her poem the power and ability to say no to men, and not having to apologize for it. However, the fact that Bram Stoker is a male might have led him to make Lucy apologetic for turning down a proposal. Bram Stoker would not have taken his proposal being turned down lightly at this time, since it was a woman’s purpose to get married. Upholding a man’s dignity and making sure his pride stays intact, the women must feel guilty and apologize for turning down a man. These two different pieces of work, and different authors, show the differing views some men and women held on marriage in the Victorian era.

  3. I completely agree with your comparison between these two works of literature. While Rossetti takes the more liberal approach and Dracula embodies the idea that women come second to men, it is interesting to look at how each woman specifically reacts to the situation. In Rossetti’s poem, the woman feels no shame and is in fact quite rude to the man she is turning down. However, in Dracula, Lucy becomes distraught and places all of the blame on herself. This comparison justifies how Rossetti goes against the norm of Victorian society. Her poems are powerful in our point of view but were controversial to those of the time period. It would be interesting to see how the three men in Dracula would react if Lucy acted as the woman in Rossetti’s poem. Would they take it well or condemn Lucy for her actions?

  4. Society’s measure of women’s virtuous and chivalry lies within their ability to abstain from sexual and lustrous activity. The choice to say “no” demonstrates their ability to remain pure from the tempting powers. In “Goblin Market,” the men fail in their attempt to tempt Lizzie with their fruit. Lizzie’s choice to abstain from the goblin’s saved her from her own death as well as Laura from death. Abstinence and purity outside of marriage both pose to be critical values of Victorian society.

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