Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Unrequited Love in Christina Rossetti’s “A Triad” and “A Pause of Thought”

In Victorian England, a woman’s desire to marry for love was discouraged and shunned as a part of the society’s standards and expectations for women. It was more important for a woman to properly present herself in the marriage “market” than to choose her husband by means of love or passion. In Christina Rossetti’s “A Pause of Thought,” the speaker of the poem yearns for “which is not, nor can be” in a society that restricts women to the role of being a suitable wife (Rossetti 32). She longs for the person she loves, but she feels hopeless the longer she waits for her love to be returned. In the last verse, the speaker claims that she is “foolish” for her feelings of longing, as she is “unfit / for healthy joy and salutary pain” simply due to the fact that she is a woman (Rossetti 33). She claims that the “chase (is) useless,” suggesting that a woman’s pursuit after love is hopeless and cannot be fulfilled within the Victorian Society’s restrictions on women. Rossetti’s “A Triad” has a similar message, as it describes three women who are fooled or disappointed after falling in love or feeling no love at all: “One shamed herself in love; one temperately / Grew gross in soulless love, a sluggish wife; / One famished died for loved” (Rossetti 18). Rossetti suggests that, for a Victorian woman, love only leads to disappointment. Furthermore, this implies that it is hopeless, and even foolish, for a woman to fall in love in Victorian society, as her longings and desires are constrained, and only men are granted to choose someone to marry and love.

2 Comments

  1. When thinking about how these poems relate to the 21st century, it is not hard to see that women today still have a lot of societal expectations when it comes to being a good candidate for wife. Women today are seen as perfect for marriage if they have a college degree, a career, no kids, a good or untainted name, and if they are not problematic. Although some expectations may be different, there are still constraints put on women in order to satisfy men and to uphold the idea of marriage.

  2. I agree that Rossetti’s commentary on the constraints of women during the Victorian era may be easily related to the idea of the ideal woman in the 21st century. Another poem that expresses Rossetti’s desire for agency relating to her relationships is “No Thank you John”, in which she rejects the idea that women should have to marry for wealth and social status and should instead be able to marry for love. Rossetti challenges the gender roles of women in society through these poems that promote agency for women, however I agree in that she also believes that these desires were foolish given the time period. I believe that Rossetti would enjoy the romantic ideals for women in the 21st century, as women have more freedom to express their sexuality and have control of their lives as she had hoped for in “A Pause of Thought,” “No Thank you John,” and “A triad.” There is less emphasis on the image of purity, propriety, and having one’s life controlled by a husband in most modern relationships, which are ideas that Rossetti fought against in her poetry.

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