Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Be desirable–just not too desirable

In Christina Rossetti’s “A Triad,” the first woman represents promiscuousness–a trait that was deplored by Victorians for its sexual implications. She, like the three Vampire women from Dracula with whom she has the color “crimson” in common, was too sexually aggressive for Victorian society, too forward with her vivacity and desires, and therefore “shamed herself in love” (18).  This is just like Lydia and Kitty, the two flirtatious sisters from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Lydia ends up bringing scandal and shame to her family when she runs off with a soldier who has no intention of marrying her. The implication–which is never stated because it was such “unpleasant” business–was that they were sleeping together out of wedlock. This “shame” is also linked with the muse, the titular woman in “My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. Her husband, the narrator, a very powerful man of an ancient bloodline, grew jealous, as he believed she was having an affair, though he had no proof. He used words to describe her such as “alive,” “depth,” “passion,” “spot of joy” (blushing cheeks), “flush,” and “blush” (Browning 1). Most of these words have a connection to the color red, which, like in Dracula and “A Triad”, represents promiscuity and is reminiscent of sex, or they have to do with passion and vivacity. Like the first woman in “A Triad,” the Duchess “shamed herself” (Rossetti 18), and it ultimately led to her demise, though there was no proof of her affair; it is entirely possible that her husband was possessive and paranoid. Victorian society condemned and rejected promiscuous or forward women as they did not conform like the rest of society. Those who do not conform cannot be controlled, and therefore are made into pariahs. If they are social outcasts, they cannot influence others.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with this post, as it is evident in the texts that we have read that when a woman during this time period expresses her sexuality, it is frowned upon and seen as a danger to society. When a woman expressed passion and agency, especially involving her romantic life, it was frowned upon. The aforementioned poet Christina Rossetti’s poem entitled “The World” also comments on the true nature of women and how others would not tolerate the true desires of women during this time period if they truly understood how they felt regarding their sexuality and agency in life. The poetic voice reveals that she could not possibly behave like the ideal Victorian woman without losing her true identity, so while Rossetti condemned women who expressed their sexuality in A Triad, she interestingly reveals that there must be a balance between this expression and the image of purity with her poem The World.

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