Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The Color Red and Promiscuity

Christina Rossetti’s “A Triad” depicts the story of three women searching for love. The first woman was seen as too promiscuous for the time period. She was described as having “lips crimson” and “cheeks and bosom in a glow.” The physical description of her “crimson” lips insinuates that she has desires too forward and strong for those seen as acceptable for women in the Victorian time period, causing her to “shame herself in love.” We saw a similar description in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”, where the wife was described as outwardly flirtatious and having desires. The husband, a powerful man with a strong 900 year old family name, was angered by what he believed was his wife having an affair, although he had no proof. It was in her face that her apparent affair was seen, as it was not “Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek.” Similarly to “A Triad”, the description of the rosy, blushed cheeks is used to depict a woman as being too promiscuous and flirtatious for the time. During Victorian time, the color red was representative of sex, passion, and lust, which is why the emphasis on the rosy cheeks made the women seem too outwardly sexual. During Victorian time, women who had sexual desires were seen as undesirable and immoral, and they were condemned for their actions. This was in an effort to discourage other women from doing the same in order to maintain society’s order and rigid traditions.

3 Comments

  1. We definitely see this red symbol of lust and misbehavior by women in many works. In Dracula, blood is a central topic because we have vampires drinking the blood of innocent people. There is a constant image of red blood circulating in the text. Lucy is a great example in this work of a woman being punished for being lustful and “full of red”. She was constantly given blood by many different men, which was often compared to her being married to all of them, and because of this she was brutally murdered in a rape-like scene as punishment

  2. Demelza Poldark

    December 5, 2018 at 9:48 am

    Your observance that the color red signifies promiscuity and lust draws a parallel to the use of red in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The three vampiric women in Dracula’s castle are seductive figures, described as having teeth that “shone like pearls against the ruby of their lips” (Stoker 45). The “ruby” color of their lips similarly compares to the “lips crimson” in Rossetti’s “A Triad.” Like Rossetti, Stoker uses the color red to indicate a sense of promiscuity, a forbidden and shameful quality for any woman to have during the Victorian era.

  3. I really like this post, especially your description of the first woman. Pointing out the lines talking about her cheeks and other physical features, you then went on to compare her with “My Last Duchess”. These two examples immediately made me think about phrenthogy, something that was present in both texts. The first women’s describes in a voluptuous manner, using phrenthogy we would assume she would live a promiscuous life.

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