Christina Rossetti’s “No, Thank You, John” and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (LAS) both contain critiques of heterosexual courtship and marriage and refute the total control of the male over these relationships. These literary icons were published contemporaneously, both in 1862, and must have riled their respective audiences given what our class has discussed about Victorian sensationalist writing. To begin, LAS contains a whole episode where an older gentleman, Sir Audley, proposes to Lucy Graham and she attempts to dissuade him (Braddon, 17). Although she ultimately accepts, Sir Audley is left feeling disappointed. Much later in the text, it is revealed that Lucy is really an alias for another woman who abandoned her family in pursuit of better status and wealth through unlawful bigamy. Through this sensationalized narrative Braddon critiques marriage practices, the inability for women to attain a divorce once married, and women’s dependence on a spouse for livelihood or enrichment.
In the Rossetti poem, the narrator denies a man during his first overtures to her. To begin, “I never said I loved you, John/ Why will you tease me day by day” sets the stage for heartbreak for this unfortunate man (Rossetti, 30). Rossetti, however, imbues us to consider that he is being ridiculous and that the narrator is making a logical decision. “I have no heart?- Perhaps I have not; But then you’re mad to take offense/ That I don’t give you what I have not got/ Use your own common sense” (Rossetti, 31). Rossetti is denying the premise that any overture for courtship and eventual marriage needs to be accepted due to the dominance of the male figure in the situation. Women have the power to deny them and can be very logical in this decision given that they too can understand the fundamentals of love.
Within these two narratives, we can see similarities within difference. In both, the female figure assumes the position of power by their own accord. Lucy is able to attain social status and security through her acceptance of a marriage offer (in spite of the illegality of doing so) and Rossetti’s narrator is able to drive away an unwanted suitor and thus make her will and forethought known. There are, however, some discrepancies between the two. LAS is resolved with Lucy’s true identity and crimes being revealed. For this she is sent to a mental asylum and dies while Sir Michael Audley becomes a sympathetic, if unwitting, character. There is some back tracking as the once powerful Lucy is reduced to nothing and the “correct” balance of marriage restored. Rossetti’s poem is too brief to go to such narrative lengths, but our sympathies ultimately remain with the narrator. There are simply too many reasons for her to not marry him and this refusal is justified. In then end, the woman is still dominant. Better luck next time, John!