Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

A New Role for Women in A Pause of Thought

The poem entitled A Pause of Thought by Christina Rossetti details the feelings of a poetic voice that longs for something yet feels as though she may not ever have it. The voice states that she is “foolish” for continuing to endure the pain of not having what she wants (Rossetti, 33). Despite the suffering caused by wanting something that may be impossible to have, the narrator remains hopeful and continues to want that which she cannot have. The object of desire is not made explicit, and may be unrequited love or a sense of agency, which were two of the most important things that women during the Victorian era longed for yet could rarely have. The idea of marriage for love was a relatively new idea for women during this time period, as women were supposed to marry for good financial and social standing instead of for love. As well, women were not thought to have the agency of men during this time period, and so the idea of a woman longing for true love and having such freedom in her life was an unpopular idea. The narrator states “And hope deferred made my heart sick in truth: But years must pass before a hope of youth / Is resigned utterly” in the first stanza of the poem, which contains the idea that knowing that the pursuit of agency and love may be fruitless is repeated throughout the poem, as is the narrator’s unwillingness to abandon hope (Rossetti, 32). The poem may be thought to acknowledge the difficulties of a woman’s position during the Victorian era with a sense of doubtfulness that things would change for the better, however it also includes a sense of hopefulness about the status of women in the future. The poem may express the idea of women having their own freedom and agency in love and in life much like the exclusive status of freedom and brotherhood held by the men that Rossetti knew during this time period.

3 Comments

  1. It’s interesting to see how this poem shows the tension between wanting something prohibited and facing societal constraints. I wonder if Rossetti felt this particular way in which she knew she was capable of so much and she fantasized about things she could not have, but society standards were too much to overcome. Perhaps this is why her poems became so famous. The poems were able connect with other women that had similar thoughts and desires as Rosetti did.

  2. I agree that women had a tough time in this era. On my other comment I talked about how marriage is a must for women and anyone who doesn’t married is essentially outcasted. I think it’s so interesting how marriage concepts change over time. People (well some people) stopped marrying for money and started marrying for love instead. Some people even marry within the same sex which is an idea carefully explored in the texts we’ve read; but now it is prevalent i our world today. Marriage has lots of different levels and is different for everyone, which is a concept that seems to be lost on people in the Victorian Era.

  3. To build on your idea that “the pursuit of agency and love may be fruitless,” it is not only fruitless but frowned upon. Women of the Victorian time period were strongly discouraged and often rejected from society for having their own desires and obtaining the idea of marrying for love. Women were held to the societal norm that they were supposed to marry for status, and this was an ideal that was not to be questioned.

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