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.

Mother Nature vs Human Power

Seward’s inability to diagnose or relieve Lucy’s illness indicated the effectiveness of Dracula’s assault on Victorian social order while exposing the limits of Western science and technology then. In his letter to Holmwood, Seward appeared to be both hopeful and hopeless at the same time. He was relieved at the thought of having Van Helsing joining him in taking care of Lucy, yet when looking at Lucy’s weak condition, he had to resort to God for his blessing. Consecutively strong words that described Lucy’s unpromising progress, such as her “ghastly, chalkily pale” skin, with the “red seemed to have gone” from her lips and skin, and “bones of her face [standing] out prominently” well-explained Van Helsing’s face expression of horror and helpless. Even the many advancements of medical science had proven to be useless and the only way to cope with the situation was to maintain an open mind and acknowledge the power of superstition. Another prominent theme that emerged from this passage is the binary between human power and the spiritual pathology speaking to God and Mother Nature. According to Seward’s anecdote, although Van Helsing proved himself a competent modern surgeon with one blood transfusion after another, neither his methods nor his knowledge was effective. The transition from reason and science to legend and superstition was made apparent as he placed garlic flowers around Lucy’s room. This detail reflected an irony of the novel pointing at the power of spiritual pathology against Dracula’s attacks when in reality, the Victorian society encouraged them to dismiss such supernatural predators as powerless in a civilized society.

The Silent Protest

“The division between Lady Audley and her step-daughter had not become any narrower in the two months which had elapsed since the pleasant Christmas holiday time had been kept at Audley Court. There was no open warfare between the two women; there was only an armed neutrality, broken every now and then by brief feminine skirmishes and transient wordy tempests. I am sorry to say that Alicia would very much have preferred a hearty pitched battle to this silent and undemonstrative disunion; but it was not very easy to quarrel with my lady. She had soft answers for the turning away of wrath. She could smile bewitchingly at her step-daughter’s open petulance, and laugh merrily at the young lady’s ill-temper. Perhaps had she been less amiable, had she been indeed more like Alicia in disposition, the two ladies might have expended their enmity in one tremendous quarrel, and might ever afterwards have been affectionate and friendly. But Lucy Audley would not make war. She carried forward the sum of her dislike, and put it out at a steady rate of interest, until the breach between her step-daughter and herself, widening a little every day, became a great gulf utterly impassable by olive-branch-bearing doves, from either side of the abyss. There can be no reconciliation where there is no open warfare. There must be a battle, a brave boisterous battle, with pennants waving and cannon roaring, before there can be peaceful treaties and enthusiastic shaking of hands.”

The emphasis on the lack of war is a pattern worth noticing in this paragraph. At the beginning of the paragraph, the repetition “There was no…” and “there was only…” is used to emphasize the absence of effort at reconciliation from both sides. The comparison of their relationship with a widening gulf that could not be crossed by the olive-branch-bearing dove is an excellent comparison that gives the audience a clear depiction of the tension among two people, so great that could never be healed. Additionally, the dove is a religious symbolic image representing peace, calm, serenity – a new start, a new creation, new expectations, and new hope. In this case, the image is employed to indicate that it is impossible to restore and reconcile the relationship between Lady Audley and Alicia. The subtlety in each of their attitude towards one another does not imply a peaceful system that they have set up. In other words, the lack of confrontation could not be inferred as a sign of yielding or serenity, rather it indicates the state of a cold war that is occurring within Audley Court. This attitude is further elaborated with poignant phrases including “ feminine skirmishes”, “transient wordy tempest” to express Lady Audley’s childish satisfaction at Alicia’s petulance. In addition, the use of strong adjectives and vivid descriptions of their emotions and gestures, especially Lady Audley’s, emphasizes the subtle, yet dramatic strain in their relationship.

This paragraph contributes greatly to the storyline by depicting the heightened tension in the relationship between two women and a complete shift of their relationship dynamics as they are now no longer withholding their resentful feelings toward one another. This novel dynamic confirms their individual’s attitude towards Robert as they have now taken sides, one being his ally and one being his so-called “enemy”. Moreover, this detail further explains the confrontation Lady Audley later has with Sir Michael and Alicia regarding Robert’s accusation of her crime while hinting at Robert’s suspicion of her identity. Although it is not directly related to the plot, yet this is an important and interesting paragraph that gives the audience the dynamic of relationships among the three characters Lady Audley, Alicia, and Robert.

Robert Audley

Robert Audley’s appearance grabbed my attention as he was not shown to have any direct relation with Lucy, our protagonist. Nevertheless, the brief description of the character and his career seem to have significant meaning to the story plot as we move along. Robert’s career as a barrister is mentioned four times within a few lines. The pattern stands out as we read through the passage with the phrase “as a barrister” that speaks of Robert’s job when working at Figtree Court. Along with the line “If these things can make a man a barrister, Robert Audley decidedly was one” (Braddon 37), the passage sarcastically described Robert’s bare minimum responsibilities at work. By listing out the only two tasks including having a chamber and dining with powerful and famous figures, Robert was depicted to have a job that requires minimum effort and qualification. Additionally, by stressing the benefits and treatments Robert got as a barrister, the passage implies his intention and motivation when taking on the job, all the while providing insights on his characteristics of a lazy and unmotivated man. The passage went on telling how Robert works at his job with the same spirit. The word “brief” was repeated three times consecutively, pointing at how Robert had no interest as well as responsibility at his job. With the strands “never either had”, “tried to”, and “even wished to”, it could be inferred that Robert is indeed a lazy guy with an easy life depending on his father’s money. These traits of Robert provided a brief characterization of the power and money forces during the mid to late Victorian period society. These characteristics also had me wonder how Robert would contribute to the story’s plot and how he would be involved with Lucy and the Audley’s family.