Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Desire for Love

In Christina Rossetti’s poem “No, Thank you, John”, the speaker, who is most likely a woman, has a tremendous amount of agency for a woman in Victorian society.  When the speaker says, “I have no heart? Perhaps I have not;/ But then you’re mad to take offence/ That I don’t give you what I have not got,” she is getting angry with John because he is asking something of her that she cannot give.  He is saying that she has no heart, but then is also getting angry because she won’t give her heart to him.  This is extremely important to the poem because this idea of love in marriage is stressed over and over at the beginning of the first two stanzas.  The speaker wants to be in love when she marries and that is a very unorthodox idea in this society because women often married for economic stability instead of love.  Rossetti, in this poem, may be giving power back to women by demonstrating that women have the power to say no and can marry whoever they want.  We see other examples of women going against societal norms of marriage in Lady Audley’s Secret when Lucy decided to change her identity and remarry despite the fact that her first husband was still alive.  This showed that a woman could have two husbands.  The difference between these two texts mentioned is that the speaker in “No, Thank You, John” is not punished for her agency, while Lucy in Lady Audley’s Secret is later taken to an insane asylum as punishment.  This poem could potentially prove that women can have agency and choose their own lifestyle, whether to marry or not, without being punished for stepping outside of societal bounds.  We can also see a contrast in many works, such as Rebecca, where the women are mainly seen as wives who perform more traditional roles, such as maintaining the household, and initially choose to marry wealthy men for economic security, instead of seeking out their own desires for love.

1 Comment

  1. The suggestion of women having greater power over their relationships while they’re still in the ‘courting’ phase of things is definitely present here. Until a woman says yes and marries a man, she has far more say in the way that the relationship moves and what her role in it will be (including the potential for leaving). This poem suggests the idea of a woman using that agency early in her interactions with a man because later (after saying yes to John or one of the potential fifty like him) and woman’s ability to choose goes almost entirely out the window because of incredibly strong taboos and logistics.

Leave a Reply

© 2018 Monsters & Madness

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑