Christina Rossetti Poems
Dark Fairytale:A Midnight Dynasty Anthology Kindle Edition
In her poem “Goblin Market”, Christina Rossetti uses rhyme and structure to create a childlike presence within her twisted tale. This childlike presence allows Rossetti to cause tension and dread within her audience as the innocence within the rhyme and structure of the poem merges with the poem’s darker context. Her use of structure and rhyme also allows Rossetti to further highlight the dark nature of her characters, such as the goblin men.
Rossetti creates a childlike presence from the very first stanza of her poem. She first introduces the goblin men as they entice people, specifically young maidens, to buy their wares as they cry “‘Come buy, come buy’”. The rhyme established in this first stanza creates a childlike song that contradicts the goblin men who sing it. This song within the first stanza adds an innocence to the piece and is first dismissed by the audience as they grow tired with the song, as one eventually dismisses and grows tired of a child’s song. However, this dismissal is soon removed within the next stanza as one of the sisters, Laura, cautions “We must not look at goblin men,/ We must not buy their fruits: Who knows upon what soil they fed/ Their hungry thirsty roots?” A childlike essence is still present within the rhyme but the darker undertones of the piece are now introduced. This continues throughout the piece, a simple rhyme tainted by a darker context, which allows Rossetti to create tension within the audience through the unnatural contrast of innocent form and corrupt context. This also creates dread within the audience as the innocence brought on by the childlike essence of the piece is slowly corrupted until the goblin men’s true nature is revealed.
This unraveling of the goblin men’s true nature is greater highlighted by Rossetti’s use of structure within the monumental scene between Lizzie and the goblin men. The goblin men display their false front when they first see Lizzie. They “Came towards her hobbling/ Flying, running leaping” and “Hugg’d her and kiss’d her:/ Squeez’d her and caress’d her:” They welcome her as she tries to buy one of their fruit but when she refuses to eat the fruit, their greeting is cast aside to reveal their true nature in the next stanza over as “Their looks were evil”. Rossetti effectively positions the false front of the goblin men and their true nature side by side. This use of structure causes a greater impact within the audience as the illusion that the goblin men first presented is removed not only through reading the poem but also by allowing the audience to visually see the distinction between the false front the goblin men present and the corruption that they truly are. Rossetti’s use of rhyme within this section is also effective in highlighting the goblin men’s true nature as the stanza describing their cruel actions towards Lizzie breaks away from the childlike rhyme that dominates the poem. Rossetti effectively uses both rhyme and structure to create a childlike presence to her poem that contradicts its darker context. This allows Rossetti to cause tension and dread within her audience, as well as effectively highlight the true nature of the goblin men.
Christina Rossetti. Life and Literary Works
The notion of repression was present in her life from the moment she was born, as her mother, Gabriele Rossetti, was a poet who was in exile from her home in Italy due to her political views. Christina therefore spent her childhood growing up with the knowledge that her mother’s true voice was always silenced, and that ability to learn how to repress innermost desires most likely transferred to the young Christina, and affected her in later life.
After a long period of what was perceived as experimental or explorative writing, Rossetti turned strictly to writing religious poetry in the middle of her life, possibly in an attempt to focus her mind onto what she thought she truly believed at that time. As sexual desire was a frequent topic of her past writings, this sudden disregard for her more unfocused writing of her youth suggests a need to abandon all sexual tension and replace it with the fulfilment she received from being a devout Christian. The poem “Goblin Market” is a good example of this change: “Sweeter than honey from the rock,/ Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,/ Clearer than water flow’d that juice;/ She never tasted such before,/ How should it cloy with length of use?/ She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more/ Fruits which that unknown orchard bore”. This quotation is full of extremely sensual and sometimes erotic imagery that show her desire for Jesus, a male figure who possessed the ability to fulfil her needs without mortal complications such as abandoning her or causing her hurt in some way. The poem “I Know You Not”, written in 1864, is an expression of similar sentiments to “Goblin Market”. The same longing for Jesus to fulfil each and every one of her needs is present in her writing, but this time it is reduced to the most basic level of human needs that is food and water: “I thirst for thee…/ My heart calls thine, as deep to deep…/Hungering, thirsting longing of my heart”. This quotation neatly shows how deeply rooted and fundamentally desperate her desire for religious fulfilment has become.
In the summer of 1845, when Rossetti was just 15, she suffered a serious mental breakdown that forced her to leave her school and not return, and it was following this difficult period in her life that her writing began to turn exclusively religious. However, although spiritual and emotional needs are primarily the focus of her writings after this period, her physical needs are not completely overlooked; the poem “Roses on a Brier” is a good example of this, as it is one of the best representations of her physical desires being fulfilled that she ever wrote and it is particularly grounded in sexual frustration, more so than “Goblin Market”. The opening stanza is particularly relevant: “Neither bud nor brier,/ Neither pearl nor brine for me:/ Be stilled my long desire;/ There shall be no more sea.” This clearly shows Rossetti’s deep dissatisfaction with the sexual desires she experiences, as it can never be a pure desire to harbour. It is also important to take note of the comparison of Rossetti’s sexual desire to pearls and wild roses. Pearls carry the obvious metaphor of new life due to being born out of the sea, and wild roses are not cultivated and they grow in the wild in an unprotected state similar to that which Rossetti would find herself in should she bow to the desires she implies here.
The poems “Like as the heart desireth the water brooks” and “Thy fainting spouse” are also relevant to the relationship between Rossetti’s devoutly Christian beliefs and her sexual frustration. Both poems show a strong lust for Jesus to enter her life, with “Thy fainting spouse” showing Rossetti as the wife of Jesus. It is important to note the title of this poem; regardless of the fact that Rossetti calls herself Jesus’ wife, she still feels weak, be it in terms of either physical or mental exhaustion in Jesus’ presence. “Thy trembling dove” reinforces this idea, but with the added tone of colloquialism of “dove” as a name one lover may use to refer to the other. “Like as the heart desireth the water brooks” is more openly lustful than “Thy fainting spouse”; there is a juxtaposition between the title, taken from the text of Psalm 42, and the lyrical quality of the poem, which emphasises Rossetti’s lustful longing. She states that as a deer longs for water at the “water brooks”, her heart “yearns” for Jesus as she cannot survive without the life-renewing properties he would bring her, similar to that of the water. Water allows all forms of life on Earth to survive, and as Jesus is portrayed as the one in control of the life-affirming “water brook”, he therefore has total control over Rossetti’s heart and desires.
The final aspect to Rossetti’s suppressing of her sexual desires that must be considered is the pressure that existed at the time for women to bear children. In the poem “The Long Barren”, Rossetti, in a similarly lyrical style to that of “Thy fainting spouse”, asks for God’s help to bear children and “bring forth fruit to Thee” whilst still remaining true to her religion and not bowing to her sexual desires. This idea is also present a little later in the poem, with the lines “strengthen me…that better fruit be borne”. This underlying sadness in the knowledge that she would never have children is present in much of her poetry, often in the form of a plethora of floral imagery and ideas surrounding the withering of nature before its time, for example her reference to her rapidly “fading beauty” in the collection of shorter poems, Flowers. “Dead before Death” also shows Rossetti’s despair in the knowledge that as far as society perceived her, her life would be fruitless and without reason if she never bore children: “…fallen the blossom that no fruitage bore,/ All lost the present and the future time”.
To conclude, Christina Rossetti lived her life constantly being undermined by a psychological battle between wanting to fulfil her sexual desires and also to stay true to her religious inclinations. She was trapped within the walls of a society where women were hugely limited in terms of sexuality, politics, education and, essentially, expression. It was impossible for this battle to ever be resolved, due to these cultural limitations that limited Rossetti in almost every aspect of her life.
Christina Rossetti’s Use of Characters in Babylon the Great and Maude Clare
Explore the way in which Christina Rossetti creates character in Babylon the Great and one other poem.
Within Rossetti’s poetry she uses character adeptly in order to represent ideas or symbols. Babylon the Great is a poem based on a passage of revelations 18:8 where a queen of sin appears in her dreadful awe and Rossetti makes her character a temptress to communicate the ideas that the Babylon communicates in the bible. Another poem in which Rossetti creates a character is also Maude Clare where a jilted lover interrupts a wedding and through her defiance that her character is formed.
Firstly, the way in which character is used in Babylon the Great is created is through the way is described with powerful adjectives such as “foul” and “ill favoured” to show the reader that she is a character filled with evil intent but is deceiving people with a mask to “dream her fair” but in reality is a foul beast. Rossetti is creating a character that is powerful and can alter what is real or an illusion in order to manipulate her prey. Babylon appears to be a beautiful, lustful woman who will “mesh thee in her wanton hair” as man gives into the temptation of the flesh. This character is promiscuous but also predatory creating layers of character. On the surface there is the beautiful woman who “lusts not for love” in which seems appealing to any man and this is accentuated by the anaphora of “love, but thro and thro” which reels the reader in as the words roll of the tongue nicely a Babylon draws you in. In addition to this, Rossetti repeats the word “gaze” in order to make more tempting to look upon Babylon as if she is testing the resolve of the readers themselves. However beneath that façade is the “spotted panther” who has no “blood in her cup but filth is there” which could indicate an absence of Christ who is represented by red wine in the Holy Communion. This creates a character that is not with God but were riddled with “plagues out of view” which could be a reference to the ongoing sexual transmitted disease crisis in the Victorian period but show the degradation of that society in a new light. Deep bible study has always been a concurrent activity in all of Rossetti’s life and towards the end of her life, she published The Face of the Deep which was an analytical study of the book of revelations. Through this study, she sprinkles the commentary with poetry such as Babylon the Great and Our mothers, lovey pitiful to represent different ideas communicated within Revelations. Through Babylon she exploring the sin of temptation and lust thus replacing love from Jesus and she characterises this further through clothing too. The “scarlet vest, gold, and gem” show opulence and greed compared to the humble Christ figure, which appeared in the previous passage creating a juxtaposition of ideas.
Character is also used in Maude Clare to display the fallen woman. Both poems depict female characters in Victorian society would deem as outcasts or negative. Maude Clare has a very strong character that dominates the story to highlight the injustice of her fall. She is described with the simile “like a Queen” which ascends her to the top of the social strata in the poem but also creates an image to the reader of a queen which connotes beauty and confidence. This is also suggested in her gait, which a “lofty step with mien” was showing that image of confidence that befits the label of royalty. This is contrasted with Lord “pale with strife” who was meant to be figure of the patriarchy but instead has his voice removed and has his mother and wife to stand up for him only emphasising Clare’s dominance. Rossetti also utilises speech to give her a voice and her grievances, which completes her building of character, and tell her side of the story. Her defiance is also bravery as it is a last resort for Maude as she is doomed to live a life a fallen woman because what she had perceived as love. A sense of betrayal is given to the reader when she describes the “day we waded ankle-deep for lilies in the beck” the flower imagery connoting purity and innocence suggesting she was a respectable woman who was simply in love. Contextually, romance in a Victorian woman’s life was idealised as innocent and pure as sex was ideally left until after marriage a romance taken away from Maude Clare as the semantic field used of blooming nature such as “we plucked from budding bough” or the fact the “lilies are budding now” suggest at virginity being taken. Her tone of voice is clearly gives that sense of betrayal that it gives that sense of pathos to her character. Nell, in a sense, has taken her place and by the end of the poem finishes it is Nell who is victorious as despite Maude Clare being “taller by the head, more wise and much more fair” she is now married and in the eyes of a Victorian society successful. Perhaps Rossetti is exposing the hypocrisy of the society and this frustration is manifest in Maude Clare with her passing on a “paltry love” which essentially meant paying the high price of being a social outcast for a romance that in the end meant little.
In terms of structure, Babylon the Great is in Petrarchan sonnet form which creates character because originally these sonnet forms were used to describe graceful and respectful women which the women in this poem is not. The juxtaposition used will accentuate both the beautiful and horrific features of Babylon therefore creating a more vivid image to the reader of what this awesome creature was like. The form follows strictly to the ABBA rhyme structure in the octave with a volta to switch rhyme scheme in the sestet shows on the outside something can look appealing and normal but within could reveal a complete contrast. This is also reflected in the character of Babylon who may appear to those who gaze upon her, as a beautiful woman similarly a standard sonnet may seem enticing to the reader; it draws you in.
Maude Clare is a ballad with multiple voices so the form allows character to be created. Maude Clare makes an instant impact by changing the rhyme scheme from ABCB to ABAB. This creates character because it gives Maude Clare more flow and grace due to the increased rhyming pattern to accentuate the iambic pentameter that reflects class relative to her looks. This change in rhyme also exposes sudden disruption in the poem, which is what essentially Maude Clare is when she confronts her scorned lover. It reflects the abrasive side of Maude Clare’s character and this is accentuated by the use of trochees on words such as “you” and “take to reflect how emotionally hurt she is actually is. Furthermore in her last speech Rossetti uses a half rhyme of “love” and “thereof” to show this was a half love that was half formed adding that sense of futility to her downfall.
In conclusion, both poem create strong characters from two powerful female roles. Rossetti gives voice to women in a society where they little or virtually none. Rossetti dove deep into the bible throughout her life and novel Face of the Deep shows in which Babylon the great resides. Such knowledge was able to ferment a stronger character for Babylon, which was reflective in both form and content. However, through Maude Clare we see a more social approach and the popular presentation of the fallen woman is questioned by Rossetti.
Victorian Views on Love and Gender in Christina Rossetti’s After Death
From the Inside, Out
In “After Death” by Christina Rossetti, the cultural views of the Victorian era are challenged. Rossetti uses different styles of writing in order to portray her abnormal perspective—at the time—regarding love and gender during the late nineteenth century. In the poem, Rossetti uses word play such as the use of active verbs and polysemous words and phrases to reject the strict Victorian views on love and gender.
The voice of the poem comes from a female who is dead, but still experiencing what is going on around her. Although the poem is spoken in past tense, it is from the first person point of view and is formed to create the sense that the speaker had witnessed the event in the present, even though she was not alive. By arranging the poem in this format, Rossetti is able to demonstrate to the audience with a sense that women have intelligence even though it was not a normal thought when discussing women during the Victorian era because women were thought to be weak innocent and vulnerable.
During the Victorian era, women were strictly thought as a way to build a family; it was ideal to have a home with a family in the Victorian era, and women were needed to procreate. Women were seen by society to be homemakers and would often give up their individual rights when they married. By giving the woman speaker a voice in the poem, Rossetti goes against the social norms of the Victorian period and allows the woman to have a voice. By using the first person, the speaker, even though dead, she is able demonstrate how women are individuals and should not hide themselves from the world because society says to.
Rossetti is also able to use the poem to describe the time period of the Victorian age. In the first three lines of the poem, gentle active verbs, such as “swept,” “strewn,” and lay are used when talking about the appearance of the surrounding objects. By using gentle verbs, Rossetti describes how the Victorian society believes that the culture that surrounds them is calm and normal in their ways, yet they forget about the bigger issues at hand. Victorian culture appeared to be strict and sturdy, because they had a sense of perfection and goals that were ideal to society. The society focused on the appearance of things—such as focusing on the appearance of a household and family without looking deeper into the love and relationships within it—before analyzing what was beneath the appearance, which is shown by Rossetti introducing the poem with a description of the room, and then slowly making her way into the depth of the poem, regarding the dead woman and the actions of the living man starting in the fourth line.
At the start of the fourth line, the male character is introduced and the gentle active verbs transition into coarse active verbs. The coarse words that are used when describing the actions of the male, such as “crept” and “ruffled,” are used to describe the ideal views that Victorian society held for males: that they were supposed to be strong and dominant, and that the overall society was not supposed to show emotion with regards to love. The male in the poem coincides with the culture of the Victorian period by not altering the corpse or blatantly showing any deep emotion towards the woman.
As the man encounters the dead woman, he does not take her hand or even pull back the shroud to reveal the speaker’s face, demonstrating that he is abiding by the ideals of Victorian society and acting in ways that would not reveal any acts of affection and love towards the speaker. By not outwardly displaying his feelings towards the woman and refraining from puling back the shroud, the man is shielding her from the cruel judgment of society. Yet despite his composure appearing to be put together, the speaker notices him turn away, she “knew he wept” exposing the case that men do have emotions, but the culture is causing them to hide from them and is inhibiting them from living life fully.
As the poem continues to the last three lines, the speaker concludes with, “He did not love me living; but once dead/He pitied me.” By saying he did not love her living, Rossetti proposes two meanings: that he did not love her when he had the chance, when she was alive, and also that he did not love her whole-heartedly—both showing the effects that the Victorian culture had on people during the time. Instead of enjoying the time while the speaker was alive, and embracing his feelings of love and affection, the male had to abide by the rules of society and repress his emotions to satisfy the society’s ideal male appearance of a strong, emotionless man. But Rossetti demonstrates that gender does not need to be black or white regarding the actions of each; women are not innocent and weak as Victorian culture typically presented them to be. Instead, Rossetti presents women to be strong and intelligent.
By demonstrating how the dead woman can understand and interpret the actions of the male, even though she is not living anymore, gives a sense of intellect for the woman. Rossetti also demonstrates intellect by showing how women can process different emotions through the last phrase of the poem: “very sweet it is/To know he still is warm tho’ I am cold.” This phrase demonstrates a sense of the speaker being passive aggressive towards the male character—showing that she is not blind to his actions, and that she too has intelligence. In a passive aggressive sense, the speaker is saying that the male is still alive and is able to find love, but because of the Victorian culture, she is left cold, dead, and with no love.
Throughout the poem, Rossetti also uses the two characters to describe the different roles and views during the Victorian era. She uses the male to demonstrate how even though he is supposed to appear to be strong and dominant by Victorian society, he reveals the irony in it because he is submissive to the unwritten rules of the Victorian culture. On the other hand, the woman is used to describe how women are trying to rebel against the social norms cast upon them by society, by showing the woman to lifeless in Victorian culture, but at the same time, still able to witness what is occurring. By contrasting the two, Rossetti allows the inner feelings of women to be displayed because the dead woman does not have to hide her true self from the living Victorian society, not that she is no longer a part of the living world.
At the end of the poem, Rossetti leaves the Victorian society with a warning that if the culture is not altered, people will be left cold, lifeless and loveless. Just as the man did not realize the feelings that he had towards the woman until she was dead and gone, Rossetti is saying that people do not appreciate what they have until they have lost it, and because nothing lasts forever, people should take advantage of what they have while they have it.
The Clear Value of Romantic Love: “Soeur Louise de la Misericorde,” “Twice,” and Other Poems
The idea of romantic love being presented as invariably negative in 19th century literature is questionable to some extent. Romantic love is often characterised as being damaging and hurtful in Rossetti’s poetry through the contrast with divine love in poems such as ‘Soeur Louise de la Misericorde’ and ‘Twice’, supported by her religious devotion and dedication to God. However in other poems such as ‘A Birthday’, romantic love is presented as something that brings a newfound vitality to the speaker’s life. Through closer analysis of these three poems, it becomes possible to disprove the idea that romantic love is invariably presented in a negative light.
This idea of romantic love being invariably negative is explored in the poem ‘Soeur Louise de la Misericorde’. The poem centres around a woman who has recently become a nun, in order to distance herself from her identity with earthly love: ‘I have desired and been desired’. The first line immediately creates a wistful tone, suggesting that the speaker is unable to recall her experiences with earthly love without feeling the emotional pain attached to it. Similarly, the use of the past tense indicates that the speaker is desperately attempting to distance herself from her previous desires to escape judgement. This is particularly relevant to Rossetti and women of the Victorian era, where they would be shamed and sometimes even ostracised for expressing their romantic and sexual desires. This ridicule is also present when the speaker says that ‘dying embers mock my fire’. This is perhaps a metaphor to show the public ridicule that she has received, since fire is often synonymous with desires. The shift from past to present tense also shows that the speaker has repressed her desires and that and that they are now ‘dying embers’, relating to the vow of chastity taken before a woman becomes a nun.
Punishment of desires is also shown in ‘Goblin Market’, where despite being warned by her sister that ‘their evil gifts would harm us’, Laura is unable to suppress her desire to taste the goblins’ fruit. This has strong Biblical overtones, relating to the fall of man in Genesis when Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit. The idea of the fallen woman was relevant in Rossetti’s life also, since she devoted much of her time to a home for fallen women in Highgate. This shows that Rossetti has had a first-hand experience with how love and desire can have an impact on women, which may have influenced her writing and gives a suggestion as to why romantic love is presented us invariably negative.
Romantic love is also presented as invariably negative in ‘Twice’, where the speaker turns to God following rejection from a male suitor. From the beginning of the poem, a sense of the speaker’s vulnerability is shown instantly: ‘I took my heart in my hands’. This shows the speaker’s fragility and nervousness, suggesting that they have little experience confessing their true emotions to someone. The emphatic positioning of ‘I’ also presents a character that is active in voicing her feelings, which contrasts with the coy image that a Victorian woman was expected to present. This sense of defiance is also present when she asks her lover: ‘This time let me speak’, suggesting that she is a typically submissive character whose desires are overshadowed by her male counterparts. It also shows that the speaker has had to defer to male judgement in order to feel validated and has remained quiet as a result.
Female defiance is also present in Rossetti’s poem ‘No, Thank You, John’, where the speaker states that she ‘never loved you, John’. This is an effective opening line to the poem, because it immediately presents the reader with a female resolute in her words who is reclaiming her sexuality for herself, unlike the typical woman in Rossetti’s poetry who is subservient to men. Following the speaker’s rejection in ‘Twice’, she seeks out God to comfort her broken heart: ‘refine it with fire and gold’. This creates the suggestion that divine love has the power to absolve someone of their desires and presents it as everlasting, whilst romantic love is fleeting. However, despite the speaker having found a new lease of life, by submitting to God she is still deferring to male judgement. Despite this, the point still remains that the speaker is happy in this position compared with her experience of romantic love, meaning that it is presented as negative when contrasted with divine love.
However, even though a large amount of Rossetti’s poetry presents romantic love as negative, others – such as ‘A Birthday’ – take a more optimistic approach to love. In the poem, the speaker describes her heart as being ‘like a watered shoot’. The implication here is that romantic love has revitalised the speaker’s life and using natural imagery in this context enhances the vivacity of the situation and shows the beauty of romantic love. The use of this imagery also suggests that experiencing romantic love is completely natural, which contrasts with Rossetti’s other poems where divine love is favoured and sexual desires must be repressed. The positive perception of romantic love is also reinforced at the end of the poem, with the speaker declaring that ‘the birthday of my life is come, my love is come to me’. This shows the positive effects that romantic love can have on a person, suggesting that the speaker has found a new purpose in life – or at least appreciates the beauty of life because of it. The use of a ‘birthday’ to describe romantic love emphasises the idea that it should be celebrated and the joyful tone of the poem reinforces the idea that it is a celebration of love, meaning that love is not presented as invariably negative in Rossetti’s poetry.
Overall, it seems unfair to suggest that writings of romantic love are invariably negative. Whilst it is true in many of Rossetti’s poems – including ‘Soeur Louise’ and ‘Twice’ – that women are either hurt or punished in romantic love, others such as ‘A Birthday’ put forward the idea that earthly love is joyous and should be celebrated. Therefore, though there are few poems that argue against the statement, it means that it can still be disproved that romantic love is written to be invariably negative.
Male and female relationships in Maude Clare.
Composed in 1857, Maude Clare is written as a narrative in which Maude Clare confronts her previous lover on his wedding day. As is common in her poetry, Rossetti uses this fictional event to discuss the theme of male and female relationships. The ambiguity of Maude Clare can perhaps be seen to reflect Rossetti’s own conflicting views on the relationship between men and women; as a devout Anglican, Rossetti struggled throughout her lifetime with the biblical view that women are inferior to men, and her own ideas, perhaps influenced by the beginning of the suffrage movement, that the two sexes are equal. Whilst she certainly did not consider herself a feminist, Maude Clare, along with several of her other poems, suggests that she was supremely uncomfortable with the typical Victorian relationships between men and women, particularly regarding the double-standards surrounding sexuality.
A major theme which is discussed in Maude Clare, particularly at the beginning, is the relationship between men and women within the context of marriage. The way in which Rossetti initially refers to Nell as ‘his bride’ whilst Maude Clare, who is free from marriage, is immediately presented as a dominant force as the poem takes her name. This suggests that, through marriage, Rossetti believes that women lose their identity and autonomy. In fact, the possessive pronoun ‘his’ suggests that, as a result of marriage, Nell has become nothing but an object owned by her husband, an idea typical amongst the Victorians, where marriage was as much the conclusion of a business contract between the groom and father of the bride as it was a religious ceremony. Whilst Rossetti may present marriage as something which works to the disadvantage of women, the fact that lord Thomas’s father is absent from the poem suggests that men place little value upon it. As it is only his mother who congratulates her son with ‘smiles’ on his wedding day, Rossetti perhaps implies that marriage exists only to provide security for women, whilst it constrains the more sexually promiscuous men. This idea which is supported by the penultimate line of the poem in which Nell says ‘I’ll love him till he loves me best’, adding to the idea that marriage is a means by which a woman can make a man faithful to her. Whilst on first reading lord Thomas’s mother’s response to her son’s wedding may seem joyful, the fact that she speaks ‘almost with tears’ creates a troubling undertone. Possibly she is grieving for her son’s loss of freedom which the constraints of marriage will bring, but Rossetti’s comparison between Nell and Thomas’s mother (she is not ‘so pale as Nell’) suggests that she is tearful on Nell’s behalf; as Thomas’s mother says ‘your father thirty years ago/had just your tale to tell’, Rossetti implies that, just as Thomas had had a previous relationship with another woman, so had his father, and so Nell is effectively following in the footsteps of Thomas’s mother. Thus, she is perhaps aware of the fate which marriage will bring Nell. Whilst in ‘In the Round Tower at Jhansi’ Rossetti presents marriage as something which is filled with an all-consuming love, shown through the Skenes’ agreement that ‘it is not pain thus to kiss and die’, in Maude Clare she presents it as something which is devoid of happiness. For example, it is strange that Thomas’s mother does not hope that the newly-wedded couple will be happy, but rather hopes that they will ‘live but as true’, or as faithfully, as she and her husband have done, suggesting that happiness is simply too much to expect. However, the contrast here between Rossetti’s portrayal of relationships within marriage in ‘Maude Clare’ and ‘In the Round Tower’ can perhaps be explained by the fact that Thomas and Nell’s marriage follows Thomas’s relationship with Maude Clare, whilst it could be assumed that Mrs Skene was Skene’s first love, as their marriage is so idyllic. Thus, it is perhaps marriage following a relationship with someone else which Rossetti is criticizing, rather than marriage as a whole.
The two main female characters in this poem can be seen, through their relationship with Thomas, to represent the two archetypal biblical women; Eve, the sexualized temptress who lures the unwitting Adam (or Thomas) into sin (through their illicit love affair), and the idealized virgin Mary, represented by Nell. However, through her exploration of the role of Maude Clare, Rossetti subverts this role of temptress, presenting her as justified in her vengeance on Thomas, who is equally to blame for her pre-marital loss of virginity. Maude Clare’s desire for vengeance is clear when she says ‘I have brought my gift my lord’, evocative of traditional fairy-tales where the curse cast on the protagonist is disguised as a ‘gift’, such as in sleeping beauty. Thus, Maude Clare destroys all that could possibly be good in the couple’s relationship when she ‘blesses’ the ‘hearth’, ‘board’, and ‘marriage bed’. The ironic use of the word ‘bless’ which has distinctly religious connotations perhaps suggests that Maude Clare is in fact doing the bidding of God; because Thomas has sinned by having sex with Maude Clare without marrying her, he must face the consequences. In fact, contrary to societal expectations of the time, Rossetti does not explicitly condemn Maude Clare for expressing her sexuality through her pre-marital relationship with Thomas, as the images which represent her loss of virginity (such as the ‘lilies’ which they ‘waded’ for in the ‘beck’) are entirely positive, and typical of the romanticized ideals of what a relationship should be like. Similarly, the alliterative ‘b’ in ‘budding bough’ creates the impression of vitality and passion, implying that Rossetti does not view their relationship itself as problematic, but the way in which Thomas then did not marry Maude Clare. However, this is something which is unusual within Rossetti’s poetry; in ‘Soeur Louise de la Misericorde’ Rossetti criticizes female lust, having the tormented voice of her poem exclaim ‘oh vanity of vanities desire’. Likewise, in Goblin Market, Jeanie (and very nearly Laura) is destroyed by her lust which leads her to eat the goblins’ ‘fruit’ (or lose her virginity to them). As a strong Anglican who never married, Rossetti’s conflicting ideas can perhaps be attributed to her own presumed lack of experience surrounding sex. Furthermore, the recurring motif of the lily, a flower commonly associated with virginity, suggests that Maude Clare was once as pure as Nell, yet the lily ‘fades’ once she has been corrupted by lord Thomas, much in the same way that Laura’s hair turns grey once she has been corrupted by the goblins.
In contrast, Nell, who could be considered to be Maude Clare’s foil, represents the virgin Mary, just as Maude Clare might once have done. At the beginning of the poem Nell fulfills the Victorian stereotype of a bride, submissive and accepting, much like Mrs Skene in ‘In the Round Tower…’, who clearly relies on her husband for instructions, as is indicated by her frequent questions. However, at the end of the poem, Nell takes on a much more powerful voice, silencing Maude Clare’s attack. Nell’s use of a syndetic triad when she says ‘and what you leave’, ‘and what you spurn’, and ‘and him I love’ creates a tone of authority. It also mirrors Maude Clare’s use of triads with her repetition of ‘to bless’, perhaps indicating that the control has shifted from Maude Clare to Nell. Whilst we might expect Nell to be shocked by Maude Clare’s revelation, she instead responds calmly, humbly accepting Maude Clare’s ‘gift’ of Thomas’s ‘fickle heart’ and ‘paltry love’. Perhaps Nell had prior knowledge of their relationship, or simply loves her new husband so much that the revelation of his sexual history matters little, yet this seems unlikely, as she does not attempt to defend Thomas from Maude Clare’s criticisms and accusations. Alternatively, it is marriage itself which Nell respects, and so she realizes that, now she is married, she must accept Maude Clare’s gifts, as to spurn her husband would be to go against the vows which she just made. This is supported by the way in which she quotes the wedding vows, saying ‘for he’s my lord for better and worse’. Thus, Rossetti suggests that, as marriage is a religious ceremony, Nell’s loyalty to Thomas is in fact born out of respect for God, and so perhaps Rossetti believes that a person’s relationship with God is far more valuable than the relationship between men and women. This idea is also expressed in Rossetti’s ‘Soeur Louise de la Misericorde’, in which the speaker laments the sinfulness of desire, having instead turned to God in becoming a nun, and also in ‘Twice’, where, on being rejected by a man, the speaker instead offers her heart to God.
Whilst the relationship between the two women is fraught with conflict, it is unclear who Rossetti intends us to sympathize with. Although Nell seems to defeat Maude Clare by the end of the poem, the poem nonetheless is named after Maude Clare, suggesting that she is the focus. Perhaps, then, Rossetti intends us to sympathize with them both, even though they are (or at least were once) effectively in competition with each other. In terms of who is held in the highest esteem by men, the answer is clear: Nell, as she is a ‘maid’, and so a virgin. However, Rossetti brings the injustice of this to our attention by having Nell admit that Maude Clare is ‘more wise and much more fair’. That it is still Nell who Thomas chooses is indicative of the huge value which was placed on female virginity within male-female relationships, a massive double standard, as within the poem Thomas’s lack of virginity is not even raised as a problem. In this way, Maude Clare is reminiscent of Goblin Market, where, on losing her virginity, Laura is abandoned by the goblins to ‘dwindle’, whilst the goblins are allowed to continue to tempt more ‘maids’.
Whilst Rossetti encourages us to sympathize with the two female characters, she is far more critical of the role of men within relationships. This is immediately made clear through lord Thomas’s comparatively weak characterization; whilst Maude Clare, Nell, and even his mother have a considerable amount of dialogue, lord Thomas simply stutters ‘Maude Clare’. This perhaps reflects Thomas’s weak moral compass in not marrying her. Therefore, Rossetti subtly undermines the Victorian and biblical concept that men are the strongest in the relationship, both intellectually and morally. That he is unable to ‘match’ Maude Clare’s ‘scorn’ also suggests that he, unlike Maude Clare, is unjustified in his scorn, and so is entirely to blame within the relationship. This is a stark contrast to the speaker’s rejection of John in ‘No thank you John’, where we sympathize with the speaker who tries to rid herself of John’s unwanted affections. However, unlike Thomas, the speaker of ‘No thank you John’ gave John no reason to believe she loved him, as is shown when she says ‘I never said I loved you’. Likewise, just as the goblins in ‘Goblin Market’ are characterized as being unpleasant, or even repugnant, as Rossetti compares them to typically repulsive animals, such as a ‘rat’ and a ‘snail’, Thomas is presented entirely negatively, as he is reduced to nothing but a ‘fickle heart’ which is rejected by one woman only to be self-sacrificially accepted by the next. Rossetti here may be making a more general comment about masculine love; by modifying the nouns ‘love’ and ‘heart’ with negative adjectives she suggests that the love of men within a relationship is worthless. However, Rossetti perhaps allows us to sympathize, or at least pity Thomas to an extent; the sustained vowel sound in ‘gazed long’ creates a wistful tone, suggesting that he still loves Maude Clare, and perhaps realizes he has made a mistake in rejecting her in lieu of Nell.
As it is written in the form of a ballad, Maude Clare’s regular rhythm and rhyme scheme creates an almost fairy-tale like atmosphere, possibly intended to suggest that the relationship between Thomas and the two women is an all too common tale. Alternatively, the way in which Rossetti subtly subverts the ballad form by using an abcb rhyme scheme instead of abab implies that instead she is debunking the idealized ‘fairy-tale’ of love, showing relationships between men and women for what they really are. Whilst the story of the poem is generally linear in its progression, Maude Clare disturbs this by bringing to the forefront her past with Thomas, suggesting that a man can never truly escape past relationships. In fact, the strong sense of place which is created within Maude Clare’s description of the past through her use of alliteration in ‘budding boughs’ and the onomatopoeic ‘plucked’ (suggestive perhaps of the premature ending of a relationship) creates the impression that it is Thomas’s relationship with Maude Clare, and not Nell, which is most viable, even though it took place out of wedlock.
Overall, Rossetti presents male and female relationships in Maude Clare as being extremely problematic, at least where a man has rejected a woman who he has essentially corrupted by taking her virginity. Whilst some of Rossetti’s poetry does present male-female relationships positively (such as ‘In the round tower at Jhansi’), Rossetti’s overriding conviction appears to be that relationships between men and women are destructive, as is the case in ‘Goblin Market’, ‘Soeur Louise de la Misericorde’, and ‘Twice’. However, the way in which Rossetti’s concept of romantic relationships changed radically from poem to poem alludes to her own conflicting beliefs at various stages of her life.
Loss as a Central Theme of “Shut Out,” “Up Hill,” and Other Poems
It is undeniable that the theme of loss is weaved throughout much of Rossetti’s poetry, often reflecting the emotional hardship of her own life. It stands out clearly in Shut Out as a key part of Rossetti’s message and is arguably used as a vehicle to demonstrate areas of loss and isolation that were present in Rossetti’s own life. Through considered use of language, Rossetti creates contrasting atmospheres of loss and hope that clearly help highlight the emotional and spiritual difficulties of loss, as well as brandishing a selection of poetic techniques that help in her presentation of loss as a life altering, soul consuming emotion. It could almost be said that the use of the Garden of Eden as a central plot point is merely a catalyst to further express her feelings on the topic. Ultimately, we are painted a complex yet concise picture of Rossetti’s feelings towards this theme in all of its complexity.
Rossetti presents the impact of loss as a battle of contrasting emotions, although initially suggesting that loss has a life destroying effect upon a person there are definite sparks of hopefulness within the poem. The clear use of contrasting imagery throughout the poem is a demonstration of loss’s fluctuating effects. Within the first stanza, the cold and lifeless imagery of the “iron bars” gives an almost unnatural depiction of Rossetti’s feelings. Her choice to use the image of prison-like bars perhaps suggests that these feelings of loss are purely a construction of man, not nature, or in the view of Rossetti, God. This point is further supported by the juxtaposition used in the description of the gardens natural charm. By describing the flowers as “bedewed and green”, we are presented with the idea that Rossetti views the climb out of loss as a gift from God. The connotations of freshness and purity relate directly to Rossetti’s open devotion to the Christian Faith. Ultimately through this clever use of juxtaposition Rossetti is able to convey the eruption of contrasting emotions felt after a loss of any form, the relevance of these are everlasting, even to a 21st century reader. This point is further complimented through Rossetti’s use of a large shift in tone between the sixth and seventh stanzas. The penultimate stanza has a heavy semantic field of pain and isolation. The speaker is described as being “blinded with tears” not only showing the feelings of depravity but also creating a violent undertone. This is however soon juxtaposed with the final stanza’s depiction of a “lark” building a nest within a “violet bed”. The themes of rebirth and natural beauty are heavy within this stanza not only further demonstrating the extreme flurry of emotions associated with loss but also painting a hopeful future for all who are crippled with the pains of loss. When looking broadly at all of Rossetti’s work, it is easy to find other examples of this idea that beyond loss hope still prevails.
Within the poem Up Hill, Rossetti demonstrates her confidence in her own faith and depicts heaven to be a welcoming place for all who believe. The poem is littered with dark imagery and language possibly describing the pain of losing someone, which is ultimately countered by the reassurance of the second speaker who is symbolic of any Christian’s view on death; they do not fear it, as they will reach paradise after death. Like Shut Out, Up Hill places a considerable focus on contrast, utilising the two speakers to demonstrate the polar opposite emotions given by loss. Once again, we are shown a hopeful future for those suffering from the pains of loss; however, in this example Rossetti tackles the more abstract aspects of loss as she delves into the core philosophy of her faith. Rossetti also presents the theme of loss as not only a devastating emotion, but as an ever-present part of people’s lives, that has the power to dictate their feelings actions. Ultimately, she has depicted loss as an emotional prison that prevents the victim from enjoying the life they were given by god. Her use of a clear and consistent rhyme scheme, with the ABBA structure, is used throughout to give a tight, controlled tone to the poem, Rossetti may feel that the ‘prison’ of loss has prevented her from wallowing in her other more joyful emotions. This idea is further supported by the mention of the “wall” built to exclude the speaker from her lost garden. A wall has very obvious connotations of segregation and permanence, enforcing the idea that loss has an almost unnaturally controlling effect upon a person. This and the tightly structured rhyme scheme is accompanied with the Ballard form that the poem takes. The obvious connotations of the Ballard is that there is a moral lesson to be learnt. In this sense, it could be said that Rossetti believes that God created loss as lesson to teach his followers, a possible question of their faith.
Throughout Rossetti’s life, she devoted herself to God, often choosing the virtuous path of Christianity over her own aims and desires. Although questioning her own faith in defiant moments within her life, her passion for God is present throughout her poetry. The idea of the structure and form of the poem mirroring the emotional imprisonment of loss is also apparent in the final stanza where syntactic parallelism is used to further enforce the fact that the pain and turmoil caused by loss can distort the lives of its victims in an almost calculated fashion. Conclusively, Rossetti views the theme of loss as a oppressive part of people lives with the capacity to carve said lives into whatever cruel path it sees fit. Once again, these ideas and techniques are found within many of Rossetti’s poems. In The Round Tower at Jhansi, human structure is once again used to emphasise the catastrophic effect of loss upon the unfortunate. Like the previously mentioned “wall” the Tower at Jhansi is used to emphasise the permanent impact of loss on the mental state of those who have suffered its pains. In The Round Tower can also be compared to shut out in terms of its Ballard form and tight ABAB rhyme scheme. The theme of loss is shown in an overly emotional tone as the two lovers defy the law of Christianity and take each other’s lives as to escape the “wretches below”.
Rossetti demonstrates to her readers that loss can influence every aspect of their lives, not only changing the way in which they view the world, but also consumes all they knew to be true. In fact, Rossetti succeeded in representing loss as a darker, more morbid state. She presents the theme subtly in all aspects of her poetic prowess and is able to cast light on a theme that has infinite relevance within our world.
Biblical Allegories in Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’
Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ can indisputably be called her most popular work considering the amount of critical attention it has attracted leading to disparate readings that delve into multifaceted motifs, each giving birth to fresher perspectives. Claimed to be as a work for children by the creator, this ambiguous poem has been interpreted as a work charged with implied homo-erotic imagery, as one of the pieces that contributed to the buildup of impending first wave of revolution by the ‘fairer sex’ against the conventions of the Victorian era, as an allegory of the fall and redemption of humanity. Goblin’s Market encompasses a plethora of literary themes with its feminist undertones, gothic style, sexual innuendos and hence the space for diverse readings should be permissible. However, even Rossetti’s assertion that this deceptively simple poem was simply intended for children does not diminish the irresistibility of the prospect of giving it an allegorical reading as “nearly all her poems contain important allusions to and quotations from The Book of Common Prayers and the Bible.” (Jerome McGann). Hence, an interpretation of this poem through an allegorical lens would be an enlightening one considering the symbols it contains.
The poem opens with a detailed description of tempting fruits, which haunt the sisters “morning and evening” (lines 1-2) as they hear the enticing cries of the goblins, “Come buy our orchard fruits, / Come buy, come buy” (lines 3-4), while recognizing the dangers of getting themselves involved with these creatures. Unlike Lizzie, Laura cannot resist the lure of their fruits which she obtains in exchange of giving them a “golden lock” of hers. Shackled by the experience, Laura states to wither away as her addiction prevents her from any sort of ingestion besides the fruit which she does not have access to anymore as she is unable to find the goblins. Compelled by her love for Laura, Lizzie ventures out to approach the goblins for a fruit for her dying sister, who instead attack her as they are infuriated by the fact that she talked back to them. Persistent in her resistance, she does not give into the violence or the bullying of the goblins and runs home to Laura with her tossed silver penny covered in the juice of the goblin fruits, which eventually saves Laura’s life. Rossetti’s narrative follows the standard pattern of the Biblical Fall— “temptation, fall, redemption, and restoration” (Christensen). However, the poem offers a different vision, carrying philosophical and sociological implications as she converts the parable into a feminist commentary by gendering the characters. Marian Shalkhauser identifies Lizzie as Christ and Laura as “Adam-Eve and consequently all of sinful mankind,” concluding her brief study with the statement that Rossetti created “a Christian fairy tale in which a feminine Christ redeems a feminine mankind from a masculine Satan” (19-20).
As June Sturrock suggests that this poem is “inescapably a Genesis story”, the climatic fruit eating scene where Laura indulges into the pleasures of the forbidden can find its correspondence to Genesis 3:1-7 – the Fall of Eve. In the Biblical context, Laura mirrors Eve’s actions in the garden of Eden as both the women give into their temptations due to the cunning of the goblins and the serpent despite the warnings, and undergo a fall – both physical and mental in the case of Laura. Sarah Fiona Winters notes that Laura’s failure to accompany Lizzie out of the glen at twilight echoes Eve’s ill-fated decision to wander away from Adam. Satan tries to persuade Eve that night “is the pleasant time”, just as the goblins manage to cause in Laura a “longing for the night”. The implication of man being subjected to death and decay in the Genesis can be seen reflected in these lines by Rossetti “Her hair grew thin and grey;/ She dwindled” (lines 277-278). The post lapsarian Laura is also shunned by the Goblins, as she cannot see or hear them, after a bite of the forbidden fruit, just like the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden. This adaptation however does not result into guilt or shame on Laura’s part, just desperation and craving, like Eve’s fall does.
As Laura begins to waste away from desire, Lizzie intervenes. Strong Christian symbolism is evident in this aspect as a substantial number of critics have noted the relation between the unselfishness of Lizzie in “Goblin Market” and Christ’s sacrifice of himself. Rossetti fills the outlines of Lizzie such that her selfless actions imitate that of Christ who suffers in order to bear the sins of the humankind – Lizzie heroically endures the attacks of the goblin’s for the sake of her sister. The reactions of the goblins on Lizzie’s approach are much alike to those of the Roman soldiers who tormented Christ as he readied himself for the crucifixion, “Laughed every goblin/When they spied her peeping/Came towards her hobbling/Flying, running, leaping/Puffing and blowing/Chuckling, clapping, crowing/Clucking and gobbling/Mopping and mowing/Full of airs and graces/Pulling wry faces” (lines 129-138).
The lines that describe Lizzie’s refusal to not give into the torture of the goblins – Like a lily in a flood/Like a rock of blue-veined stone/Lashed by tides obstreperously/Like a beacon left alone (lines 409 – 411) – seem to contain some theological references. When Rossetti compares her protagonist with a “lily”, a “rock” and a “beacon” this for the poet herself would have evoked three scriptural images that she elsewhere identified with Christ: the “lily of the valley” (Song of Solomon 2:1-3), the “true rock” (Matthew 16:18), and the “light of the world” (John 8:12). Hill argues that the image of Lizzie as a “rock of blue-veined stone lashed by tides obstreperously” is an image of Christ, and the entire scene is a description of Christ’s sacrifice, just as Lizzie sacrifices herself for her sister. The line “Eat me, drink me, love me” (line 471), suggests D’Amico, is reminiscent of the Eucharist in which Christ’s flesh and blood are offered in the form of bread and wine. Laura’s salvation is accomplished when she devours the goblin juice that Lizzie brings back as it functions a strong antidote to the illness caused by her earlier consumption of the same fruits. This accomplishment through the consumption of Lizzie’s body, is much allegorical to the Holy Communion.
Despite the strong allusions between the scriptures and the poem, Rossetti resorted to rewriting the traditional story of redemption despite adhering to its grid. Cullinan’s explanation for this rephrasing would be Rossetti’s intuitive sense to avoid the glorification of suffering which the original story does as this could have a damaging effect on the suppressed portions of the society – especially women. In representing woman, not as a passive object of profane love, but a subject and an agent in religious devotion, she also challenges the Victorian “cult” of angelic womanhood. This Victorian masterpiece has enough redrafting to put forth pioneering ideas towards the progression of women, and enough retention to reinvigorate the Christian tradition.
Christensen, Matt. “Can I know it? —Nay: An Alternative Interpretation of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market.” Victorian Web.
Cullinham, Colleen Carpenter Redeeming the Story: Women, Suffering, and Christ Paperback – August 27, 2004 D’Amico, Diane, Christina Rossetti: Faith Gender and Time. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1999.
Sturrock, June Protective Pastoral: Innocence and Female Experience in William Blake ‘s Songs and Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market 1994
In a traditional Victorian society which was patriarchal, it was expected that women remained subservient and complaint at all times, obediently yielding to the inclinations of both men and the community around them. The women in Christina Rosetti’s poems, however, were defiant and daring, innovating beyond the conventional standards of women, and rarely allowing anything to repress them. From “Jesse Cameron’s” adamant refusal to marry to “Maude-Claire’s” determined endeavor to break a marriage. A variety of instances in numerous poems by Rosetti portray women whom incessantly break traditional social norms, subliminally implementing that women merit more rights and liberties. Conversely, on some occasions, it seems that despite attempting to shatter conventions, the women are repressed, either way, not truly succeeding to make themselves independent.
An example of a defiant woman is the narrator in “Cousin Kate”, someone who had a sexual relationship with a “lord”, without being married. The poem is essentially directed at her “Cousin Kate” whom supposedly “grew fairer” than the narrator which then lead the “lord” to choose her, and “cast” the narrator aside. Instantaneously, noticeable references to a sexual relationship are made, for example; “Plaything”, and “his love”. The narrator additionally states that “he changed me like a glove” meaning she has clearly experienced some sort of catharsis, where the liberation leads her to become a changed woman. The tenor in the poem is extremely vengeful, and the narrator is clearly spiteful, this elucidates her defiance as women were expected to be forgiving in the past. However, in this case; she expresses bitterness, planning to retrieve her payment for their betrayal, and clearly illustrating her rebelliousness. Nevertheless, there are signs that the narrator has submitted to conventions, meaning that there are signs that the narrator has forgiven the “lord”, as women were supposed to. The narrator only addresses; herself, and her cousin throughout the poem, sometimes beginning stanzas with “O Lady Kate”, and “O cousin Kate”. In addition, even the poem’s title is “Cousin Kate”, which clearly displays that her anger is directed to her. This could indicate that the narrator wasn’t truly defiant as she did succumb to the conventions of their society.
“Maude Claire” follows the story where the protagonist, which “Maude Claire” herself, attempts to gain the upper hand over a married couple, amidst their wedding ceremony. She is clearly a defiant character as she has had a sexual relationship with the groom in the past, and isn’t willing to let him go, despite the fact that such acts were frowned upon, and unforgivable during the Victorian period. In addition, “Maude Claire” in fact begins to taunt the “bride” and groom, uttering that she has “bought” a “gift” to “bless the marriage bed”. Although her words don’t come across as particularly derisive; as she continues to talk, she clues at the intimacy that she and “Thomas” used to have, presenting her “half of the golden chain”. Her intention here was clear; she wanted to unnerve “Nell” whom was the “bride”, and ensure that “Thomas” submitted to her, meaning that she was entirely in control of the situation and able to acquire what she desires from it. “Maude Claire” is somewhat successful as she leaves “Thomas” “faltered in his place”, and hiding “his face”, displaying that she is a dominant character. As she addresses “Nell”, the reader learns that “Nell” isn’t as passive or docile as she has been behaving during the majority of the poem as she takes control here, becoming dominant over both “Thomas”, and “Maude Claire”. She states that she’ll “love him till he loves [her] best”, as “Thomas” seemed to be enamored by “Maude Claire”, although he had married “Nell”. There seems to be some role reversal present in the poem as “Thomas” is more submissive, however, the two main females are more assertive.
Nevertheless, as defiant as both “Maude Claire”, and “Nell” attempt to be, they still seem to be at a disadvantage here, with “Thomas” getting the most out of the situation anyway. It appears that at the end of this, “Thomas” will have a woman loving him, and he wouldn’t be alone unless the women decide to team up, and go their own way. Nonetheless, this is extremely unlikely to occur due to the way in which they have been raised; in a Victorian patriarchal society. For example; “Maude Claire” has been used, and cast aside, however she cannot do anything about it but taunt as the society doesn’t allow her too. In addition, “Nell” seems to love him unconditionally as she doesn’t appear perturbed that her husband has had another lover. However, her unresponsive behavior may be due to her being repressed, leading her to be denied the right to protest, similarly to “Maude Claire”. Although Thomas is clearly caught between two women, the situation is actually in his favor because they seem to be fighting over him (despite “Maude Claire’s” dismissive actions), and this subliminally reinforces traditional patriarchal values, leading women to be further oppressed. As defiant as they may seem, all things considered, they are brawling a man who played with their hearts, and are, therefore, still getting played by him because they fail to realize that they are only raising his status and placing him on a higher threshold.
Ultimately, Rosetti’s women are clearly defiant and rebellious as they attempt to override the traditional patriarchal values that the Victorian society uphold. Nevertheless, in some cases, they have to conform to the convention in order to spare themselves getting shunned by the society, which could then lead to repression. However, Rosetti has presented them as defiant, showing that she believed women deserved more rights.
Conflict in Cousin Kate
“Cousin Kate” follows the story of a former “cottage maiden” who was jilted by her lover, “a great lord” for her cousin, “Kate”. The poem presents the protagonist’s feelings and thoughts throughout the poem, congruently conveying her motives, and views about the events that have transpired to her. She expresses her discernment in a bitter manner, ultimately feeling vengeful and plotting her retaliation against her cousin, whom she believed wronged her by marrying the “the great Lord”. The conflict throughout transpires between “Kate” and the narrator, displaying her bitterness, however, she also exhibits an acrimonious attitude towards the “Lord”, and at times chagrins herself over any decisions she made.
The first indicator that the conflict may be between the persona and “Cousin Kate” is in the title. If Kate wasn’t a significant individual in the poem, then the title wouldn’t be her name, showing that she has a certain prominence. The narrator introduces her “cousin Kate” in the third stanza, opening the first sentence with “O Lady Kate, my cousin Kate”, suggesting that she is the cause of her troubles, and the reason why when she “moans”, she is an “unclean thing.” In addition her words seem almost mocking or sarcastic as if she’s only taunting the “Lady”, Kate has been elevated to, showing that she believes Kate’s higher status is temporary. The persona had been used and discarded by the “great Lord”, stating that Kate “grew more fair”, leading “the lord” to choose her, and “cast” the narrator “by” She expresses her chagrin here, using the word “cast” as though she was toy that was disregarded because something prettier was found. This quite easily reflects the Victorian society that they lived in, where a male was allowed to have many sexual relationships, however, a female was condemned for having one without being married, and was lessened to “an unclean thing.” Status also plays a huge role as the male involved was called a “Lord”, and the persona used to be a “cottage maiden.”
In the sixth stanza, the narrator openly expresses that she “wouldn’t have taken his hand”, if they were to have opposite roles, stating that she would have “spit in his face”, which is quite a violent reaction, and clearly illustrates the true extent of the persona’s anger towards Kate. Her conflict with her cousin is also reflected in the opening sentence “O cousin Kate”, the use of “O” is somewhat irritated, as if she is enervated of her cousin’s behavior, later expressing that her “love was true” but Kate’s was “writ in sand” once again ridiculing Kate’s relationship with the Lord. Previously she also states that since Kate was “bound” by the Lord’s ring, “the neighbours” call her “good and pure”, however they called her “an unclean thing” The “neighbours” were essentially the Victorian society which disproved of non-monogamous sexual relationships, meaning that the persona was shunned from their social relations. Nevertheless, Kate, in spite of taking her cousin’s lover was accepted because he married her. The narrator’s main source of conflict seemed to center on the fact that Kate accepted the Lord’s hand, and had no regard for narrator’s relationship with him.
On the other hand, since the poem is a dramatic monologue, numerous references to mournful language can be located throughout, suggesting the persona’s main conflict may be with herself, and not with her “Cousin Kate”. For instance, at the end of the first stanza, the use of rhetorical question displays her regret; “why did a great lord find me out…” Her use of “a” is impersonal and displays detachment, meaning that she wishes to distance herself from the situation, and possibly remain unaffected. Furthermore, the persona states in the second stanza that “woe’s me for joy thereof”, meaning that her problems began she fell for the lord, causing her “to lead a shameless shameful life” which she knows was scandalous, however, couldn’t help indulging herself in it. The persona seems to be extremely remorseful now as in the fourth stanza, she compares her life with Kate. The juxtaposition between “I sit and howl in dust”, and “You sit in gold and sing” illustrates the true vigor of the persona’s pain, further displaying that the main conflict may be with herself and not “Kate”. Though Kate is referred too, the narrator’s use of “howl” expresses her frustration and loneliness as wolves are known to “howl” when they are forlorn, and in need of assistance, showing she is struggling with inner conflict. The “howl” may also refer to the men of the Victorian society, and how they displayed wolfish tendencies, such as being lustful and shameless, however, were never scorned for it, disparate to women, who were.
This links to the next point; that the narrator’s main conflict is with the “lord”, and not her “cousin”. In the first stanza, her question “why did a great lord find me out…” could be directed at the “lord” himself. It is almost as if she is blaming him for finding her out. In addition, she also states that he “lured” her to the palace, meaning that she was tricked and deceived, enticed under false pretenses to go to his palace home. She subsequently goes on to say that it was his fault that she “lead a shameless shameful life”, affirming that she was his “plaything”. The sexual undertone suggests that the “lord” possessed no actual feelings for the persona and used her as a time pass. In addition, in the fifth stanza, although she bluntly addresses “Kate”, there is an underlying sense of despair and anger towards the “lord”. For instance; the persona states “if he had fooled not me but you” here, despite directing the section to “Kate”, the use of “fooled” suggests that she actually accuses the “lord” instead because it is possible that they were both “fooled”. The persona additionally states that she had “spit in his face”, demonstrating that she is irate with him. What further advocates that the persona’s rage was targeted at the lord are her non-conformist nature. In a traditional Victorian society, women were expected to forgive and forget, nevertheless, it is clear that the persona has not done either. Moreover, she is non-conformist as she began a sexual relationship before getting married which was seen as decadent in the past. Therefore, her anger towards the “lord” isn’t unusual, because she is unlikely to forgive and forget due to initially infringing the rules of the former society.
Nevertheless, the final stanza of the poem contains a twist which ultimately illustrates that the persona’s main conflict was indeed with her “cousin Kate”. In the first few she utters that she has a “gift” that “Kate” is unlikely to receive, which is her “son”. This implies that “Kate” is infertile, and the persona finally seems to have the upper hand, which leads you to wonder whether she had ulterior motives. The person refers to her “son” as her “shame” and her “pride.” The juxtaposition between the two portrays the complication the narrator has found herself in. on one hand, her son is her “shame” as he is a constant reminder that she is shunned by her society, and reduced to “an outcast thing”. Nevertheless, he is her “pride” as he will aid her in accomplishing her ultimate goal. Her revenge on “Kate” and the “Lord”. Since the second line of the stanza implies that “Kate” cannot have children; “and seen not like to get…” it is only plausible that the Lord’s inheritance is passed along to his only living heir, which is the persona’s son. The last few lines tie the poem together, allowing the main source of conflict to be established; between Kate and the persona. “Your father would give lands for one.” Due to her son, the persona is able to instigate her revenge against Kate, as she christens him her “gift”, inferring strongly that her taunts were aimed at Kate.
Largely, the persona’s conflict mostly occurred with her cousin, who didn’t think twice before marrying her lover; the lord. The fact that Kate’s name is in the title, and the majority of the taunts and spiteful words throughout are directed at Kate is evidence enough that the persona was extremely irate with what her cousin had done. She was so infuriated that it had left the persona feeling; shunned, malicious, and vengeful at the end. Despite some instances indicating that the persona’s anger was dictated elsewhere, ultimately, Kate was the true cause of her anguish and the reason for her vindictiveness