Red, White & “Femine” Blue

“A Triad” could be perceived as Rosetti’s effort to illustrate the difficulties with love and romantic relationships that Victorian women encountered due to strict norms imposed by the patriarchal society. Although described separately as three different individuals, the three women in this poem serve as the symbolic representations of limited options that women in this era have when it comes to love, yet regardless of their choice, they would always end up being the ones to suffer.
The women in this poem were painted with three different colors that signified their symbolic nature as well as their attitude towards their life and love. The first woman was assigned to the color ‘Crimson’, a color that was often associated with sexual desires and sin in the Victorian era. From this depiction, we could infer the story of a woman choosing to go for the man she loved, and worse, she gave in to lust and gave herself to him without the blessing of matrimony. This reflects the era’s prejudice for women and the shame that they impose on them. As women at this time were not allowed to be sexual or to express her desire for lust, by doing so, she lost her dignity for not preserving her purity. The second woman was portrayed with the color white, which suggested the idealized image of woman’s purity and virginity, the traditional women in the society. The vivid depiction of “grew gross in soulless love” painted a picture of a loveless marriage that the woman complies with. Compare to the first story, she followed the norms, and yet, she still ended up being the “sluggish wife”, stuck in the illusion of a happy ending that society convinced her to obey. Lastly, the color blue, a rarely seen color, was associated with the third woman. When described with the word ‘famine’, the portrayal of this woman appeared to be lifeless, suggesting illness or even death. Like a harpstring that had worn out, the woman had grown tired of looking for love as she chose death over the life of an unmarried woman.
These stories might be a bit of an exaggeration, yet they emphasized how women in those days were restricted to beings with the sole purpose in life was to get married and be wives. Thus, not abiding by those norms would cause them to be shamed and undignified. The poem’s final phrase, however, suggests that regardless of the choices, not each, but all “are short of life.” The ambiguous description does not only characterize a woman in vain pursuit of love but also insists that even “after love” — a supposedly satisfactory experience — the woman remains unfulfilled and unhappy.

4 thoughts on “Red, White & “Femine” Blue”

  1. Women during the Victorian Era always seem to be under scrutiny with their behaviors and beliefs. They are seen solely as wives and mothers, and any woman who would want more or less was deviant. The poem “No, Thank You, John” showed an example of a man’s anger towards the fact that she did not want his hand in marriage, as if it were expected she would simply comply with the offer. However, this poem expresses more freedom of thought on the woman’s behalf because it emphasizes her choice to say yes or no, though she must be prepared for the backlash likely to come.

  2. I do agree with your perception of the poem. The poem, in a very implicit way, does separate Victorian women into three categories which all end up, as you emphasized, unhappy. The first category of women in the Victorian Era is portrayed very harshly as a woman full of sins and wrong decisions, which is obviously unmarried. The second type of woman can be described as the ideal version of a Victorian woman, which is of course married and enjoying the love of her life. Finally, the last category is essentially the future of the second type of woman in the Victorian Era. Married but sad, not as happy as she was in the past. Thus, it does seem that all Victorian women end up lonely, sad, and unhappy.

  3. The idea of the divine feminine as “short of life” and full of color is reminiscent of similar themes explored in the “Lady of Shalott.” The Lady can be seen as all three of Rossetti’s women – the lusty red, the virginal white, and the melancholy blue – in her brief, isolated, and romantic existence. The Lady’s funeral ship and Rosetti’s women both reminded me of the image of a favorite image of the Romantics: the drifting corpse Ophelia. The Pre-Raphaelite Millais would later paint Ophelia laden with flowers (also colorful and “short of life”).

  4. In John Keats’ poem, “La Belle Dame sans Merci,” we can clearly see what happens to a woman who uses her sexual prowess to obtain the men that she wants. This fits in with the description of the woman with crimson lips and glowing cheeks and bosom in Christina Rossetti’s poem, “A Triad.” In both poems, the woman who was thought to be seductive, beautiful, and charming was painted as an evil temptress. When describing this type of woman, it was said that she “shamed herself in love” (Rossetti, 18). In Keats’ poem we can see the knight being made into the wicked woman’s victim, as it was because of her actions that his heart was broken. Within both of these poems, we can see that there were strict gender roles, and if a woman so much as uttered one word about expressing herself sexually, she would be considered tainted and unworthy.

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