Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Rosetti Questioning women and marriage

Christina Rossetti, like many other Victoria writers, seems to have complex and conflicting thoughts on the role of women. Many of her poems in Goblin Market and Other Poems center around women, or feature a female speaker. In one poem in particular, “A Triad”, Rosetti writes of three women, 2 of whom are not fit to be wives, and a third who is but dies. This poem ends with the line, “All on the threshold, yet all short of life” (Rosetti, 18). The word life stands out as a potential comparison for love and marriage. Without marrying this man, without him falling in love with each of these three women, they all fall short of having a life. It is so interesting that Rosetti writes about these women needing a man to have a true life, yet only a few pages later she published “No, Thank You John”. This poem is about a headstrong, independent who would, “rather answer “No” to fifty Johns Than answer “Yes” to you” (Rosetti, 31). In this poem Rosetti gives the women power in allowing her to say no to a mans proposal of marriage. Only a few pages before she was saying there was no life without marriage, yet now she is countering that argument. Without marrying a man in the Victorian era, a woman would have no income, no way to support herself, and would not be fulfilling her duty to reproduce and start a family. It truly was unheard of for women to reject a proposal, because they in general would have an easier life if married. The woman speaker in “No, Thank You, John” is clearly breaking the societal rules for women, as is Rosetti for writing about this. These two poems show two conflicting views that Rosetti has written about and may be thinking. We have seen time and time again that the views on women in the Victorian era are complex, and the intelligent men and women who write the novels and poems question the rules through their writings.

2 Comments

  1. I think this post is very interesting because it reminds me of what my blog about Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. In that post I argue that Stoker uses the novel to debate and thrash out his feelings about the possibility of changing roles for women. On one page he makes Mina this fearless woman, who is described with manly adjectives, and is allowed out of the house helping the men. Then, on the next page, he has her described as this motherly figure who must stay in the house to protect her. It seems similar to your argument about the two poems of her wanting woman to be able to have autonomy through “No Thank You, John” and then describing woman as confined to this idea that marriage is “life” in “A Triad”. I would argue that it may have been a theme of this time for authors to use literature and writing as a tool to explore these slowly changing social norms of the Victorian era.

    • solongandthanksforallthefish

      December 6, 2018 at 9:21 pm

      I like thinking that of all the texts that’s been read this semester, the only author who truly promoted a fully feminist message was Rossetti. One might argue that her being a woman author might’ve had to do with it, but then you look back at Mary Elizabeth Braddon and her feminist message could be viewed very negatively, as Lady Audley was a villainous character whose motives and actions were decidedly not only anti-Victorian, but also harmful and dangerous as she struggled to escape from her past life. Rossetti definitely preached more positive messages, such as the one your blog touches on and other moments like the virtues of sisterly love in Goblin Market.

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