I don’t like of most of the poetry that came out of the Victorian Era. That isn’t some big generalization, after two British Literature classes and reading some in my free time, I know for a fact that most of it bores me. However, reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock reminded me of one of the few Victorian Era poems I do like, No, Thank You John by Christina Rosetti. The entire poem is an epic (and hilarious) rejection of a man that is polite and brutal all at once. When comparing the two poems No, Thank You John and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, one might notice that not only are they from different eras but they offer different, almost polar opposite, perspectives on gender.
During the Victorian Era, women did not enjoy the rights and standing in society that men did. The Victorian woman, for the most part, was expected to take care of the home and children and put their focus on being a good wife for their husbands. They were property to their spouses, controlled by their husbands in every way. Christina Rossetti’s Victorian Era No, Thank You John empowers women, giving a voice that they did not usually have at the time.
No, Thank You John is entirely spoken from the female perspective. The unnamed speaker is confronted by ‘John’, a would-be suitor. Instead of accepting his advances, she proceeds to politely, yet bluntly, reject him. Her stance is made perfectly clear from the opening lines, “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”?” (Rossetti). The fact that she dominates the conversation is worthy of note. ‘John’ has no lines or dialogue at all. ‘John’ is not described at all. The reader has no idea what he looks like. The reader has no idea what his reaction is to the rejection. ‘John’ is ultimately unimportant.
Again, during this time, women had little control over their lives. In the matter of ‘John’, however, the woman is allowed some agency. She does not succumb to societal pressures or any pressures exerted from her would-be suitor. The speaker stands her ground. This woman is sure of her mind and the decision that she has made. “I have no heart?-Perhaps I have not; / But then you’re mad to take offence / That don’t give you what I have not got:/ Use your common sense.” (Rossetti.) She takes a jab thrown by ‘John’ in the past or at the time of the confrontation and flips it on him, not hurt or affected by the insult in the slightest.
On the other side of the coin, The Modernist Era saw the rise of the modernist anti-hero. These characters were typically devoid of the qualities of stereotypical heroes. They were not particularly strong. They were not exceptionally heroic or brave. These were mediocre, ordinary men. They reflected the newfound realism of the Modernist Era and could be just like any other man. T.S. Elliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was written during the Modernist Era and reflects it as well.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is spoken entirely from the male perspective. He speaks on his evening, where he attended a party or gathering of sorts. He wished to speak to some of the women present but did not. Like the speaker in No, Thank You John¸ he dominates the conversation. Unlike the speaker in No, Thank You John, the women are the ones who do not get to speak.
“In the room the women come and go,/ Talking of Michelangelo”(Elliot), Prufrock says. In this poem, the women are many and faceless. Prufrock describes them all en masse. “And I have known the arms already, known them all—/ Arms that are braceleted and white and bare, /[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]” (Elliot). There is no particular woman that he interacts with. The conversation does not vary and to Prufrock, the dress and appearance is all the same. They are objectified and are ultimately unimportant.
In conclusion, both poems are like two sides of a coin. No, Thank You John shows an empowered woman of the Victorian Era. She is confident in herself, is in charge of the conversation and gets what she desires. On the opposite side of the coin, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock shows a modern man who is not confident in himself at all and accepts his lot in life.
Rossetti, Christina. “No, Thank You John.” Broadview Anthology of British Literature Concise Volume B. Concise ed. Vol. B. New York: Broadview, 2007. Print.