“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.