Christina Rossetti goes against the Victorian expectations of meek and delicate femininity, to deliver a bold message to a hopeful suitor.
2018 marks the centenary of the Representation of the People act, which allowed the first women to vote. The fight for equality in society had been gathering momentum for decades before this, with the Victorian period being a time of great change in many ways.
Regarded as one of the most important female writers of the 19th century, Christina Rossetti held complicated views and was thought to be largely ambivalent to the women’s suffrage movement. Rossetti, however, was a clear feminist thematically in many of her works, as well as often speaking out for greater parliamentary representation for women. As an individual, she challenged the ‘normal’ expectations of women in Victorian society, embodying the spirit of societal change which was taking place at the time, whether she embraced the role or not.
In this piece, No, Thank You, John, Rossetti is speaking to a persistent admirer, delivering a bold and clear message regarding her feelings towards him.
This poem was read at The Reader’s 100 Women event at Blackburne House as part of Liverpool Light Night on Friday 18 May.
No, Thank You, John.
I never said I loved you, John:
Why will you tease me, day by day,
And wax a weariness to think upon
With always “do” and “pray”?
You know I never loved you, John;
No fault of mine made me your toast:
Why will you haunt me with a face as wan
As shows an hour-old ghost?
I dare say Meg or Moll would take
Pity upon you, if you’d ask:
And pray don’t remain single for my sake
Who can’t perform that task.
I have no heart?—Perhaps I have not;
But then you’re mad to take offence
That I don’t give you what I have not got:
Use your common sense.
Let bygones be bygones:
Don’t call me false, who owed not to be true:
I’d rather answer “No” to fifty Johns
Than answer “Yes” to you.
Let’s mar our pleasant days no more,
Song-birds of passage, days of youth:
Catch at to-day, forget the days before:
I’ll wink at your untruth.
Let us strike hands as hearty friends;
No more, no less: and friendship’s good:
Only don’t keep in view ulterior ends,
And points not understood
In open treaty. Rise above
Quibbles and shuffling off and on:
Here’s friendship for you if you like; but love,—
No, thank you, John.