“Far from being repressed, woman in Rossetti’s poems are defiant” How far do you agree with this view?
I agree with this view to a certain extent, as there are elements of both repression and defiance within many of Rossetti’s poems.
Firstly, in the poem Maude Clare rather than women it seems to be the man that is repressed to some extent as Maude Clare and Nell are both defiant as they both seem to have strong opinions that are voiced clearly whereas Thomas remains in silence and is not successful in declining his mother’s wishes. Maude Clare shows defiance towards the wedding of Thomas and Nell in the ninth stanza where she presumably says ‘I wash my hands thereof’ in a tone of anger. However, I think this could also be Maude Clare pretending she is okay and that it does not bother her so much anymore so that she does not look like the fool that she was.
Secondly, the speaker of Cousin Kate is very bold in language. Although she acknowledges what her reputation is which is not so positive she is firm and does not accept that it is the truth. The speaker in fact says that Cousin Kate is the one that has been fooled in stanza five, ‘ If he had fooled not me but you’. This however also suggests repression of Cousin Kate as she is described as a wretched fool and that she is not as innocent and pure as society claims she is. This could be in referral to Christina Rossetti’s own life as she was engaged twice but they broke off suggesting that there may of possibly been something negative about Rossetti and that they were attracted by other fair maidens.
Thirdly, the speaker in Sister Maude shows great defiance towards Sister Maude as she has betrayed the speaker. Sister Maude supposedly stole the speaker’s lover however the speaker only seems to show anger towards Sister Maude and not towards her lover as if it was solely Sister Maude’s fault. The speaker also speaks in great defiance of their own character as if the speakers were much purer than Sister Maude. The speaker is so angry that she to an extent curses Sister Maude in the very last line of the fourth stanza, ‘Bide _you_ with death and sin’. This is beyond the limit at which you speak to another human being for cursing someone with death is not in our hands but of Gods. Therefore this line is in contrast to the beliefs of Christina Rossetti, being a devout Christian surely she believed life and death is not a human decision.
However, there is much evidence to suggest that there is an overall theme of repression, which depends upon ones interpretation such as in Maude Clare. Although Maude Clare is confidently voicing her thoughts she however before the mentions events had occurred was oppressed by Thomas, she was thrown to the side when mummy called. She was abandoned, hurt and left with no closure. This could possibly be the feelings that Rossetti went through when her fiancé’s left her even though she claims the break ups were due to religious issues. Maude Clare lacks power but some may say this is because of her position in society but Lady Nell who is of higher status still lacks power. She did not have the authority to chose who she was to be wedded to so, the theme of female repression does seem to exist in Rossetti’s poems.
In Addition, the speaker of Sister Maude and Cousin Kate are both oppressed by society. The views and prejudices made upon their characters affect their both their social lives and their personal lives. Sister Maude is in dispute because of what someone has told her parents in accordance to the first two lines of the first stanza. However in Sister Maude’s case the person who represses her is her sister, Maude. Whereas the speaker in Cousin Kate has been repressed by society and call her an ‘outcast thing’. The use of the word thing makes her seem as an object and less than a human being. Also, the events that seem to have taken place suggest that the speaker of Cousin Kate was repressed by her lover, used and then thrown when something he could not posses came along.
Furthermore, there is also evidence of repression in the poem Jessie Cameron to the character of Jessie Cameron if the audience wishes to believe or suggest the ending of death. There is an urge to believe that Jessie Cameron was murdered in the poem due to the missing bodies and no one witnessing what had occurred at the beach. This notion of murder highlights the ill treatment of women and suggests that women are seen weaker and more susceptible to the harshness of others.
In conclusion, I believe that there are both elements of defiance and repression in Rossetti’s poems, which could symbolise events that occurred in her own life or in the lives of others she may have, knew. However, fundamentally the uses of both themes allows the audience to relate the events to their own lives and what occurs in reality as well as showing individuality between women which supports the idea of Rossetti to have been a feminist.