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Literature: Rose Madder
First edition cover

A 1995 novel by Stephen King, and the final part of what some fans call "the abused wife trilogy" and some others call "that phase in the 1990s where King became preoccupied with misogyny and feminism".

Rose Daniels walks out of her marriage after years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. She arrives in a new city and slowly begins a newer, better, more hopeful life. Only this is a Stephen King novel and her husband, Norman, is not going to let her go as easy as that. And is also befitting King, there's also a mysterious portrait of a woman in a rose madder dress...

This novel contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Gertrude Kinshaw. She even manages to fight off Norman, who is much stronger, is a reasonably skilled fighter, is armed with an electroshock weapon, and IS UTTERLY BUGSHIT PSYCHOTIC.
  • Alien Geometries: The Temple of the Bull, and the Bull Erinyes itself, don't quite fit with conventional geometry: looking at them is described as giving a headache like watching a movie out of focus. The temple's geometry becomes 2 dimensional when the Bull is no longer in residence.
  • Anti-Hero: Rose Madder is a very psychotic individual but she does help Rose out in her strange way.
  • Ax-Crazy: Although Rose Madder is Rosie's ally, she's a few cards short of a full deck due to a disease that is making her slowly rot, losing both her mind and control of her magic.
    • Norman is most of a deck short of a full deck, into outright delusional.
  • Batman Gambit: Rose Madder wanted to kill the Bull Erinyes and save the child being guarded in its maze, but it was invulnerable as long as it remained within. So she had Rosie do it knowing that it would leave the maze in order to kill her, where it would be vulnerable.
  • Becoming the Mask: Inverted with Norman, as it is implied that the mask represents what he really was all along: a mad, mindless, charging bull. In his case, he also literally becomes the mask, as it soon becomes his actual face.
  • Body Horror: Although Rose Madder appears to be a beautiful woman, underneath her glamour she's rotting from the inside out. And on top of THAT she's actually some sort of spider being hiding her true form so she doesn't drive mortals insane. Also, Norman when possession by the Erinyes turns hhim into a cyclopean Minotaur.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: Rose Madder's value system is... different.
  • Catch Phrase:
    • Norman - "I want to talk to you up close."
    • Rose Madder - "I repay."
    • Rosie - "I'm really Rosie, and I'm Rosie real..."
  • Clingy Costume: Norman should not have put the bull's head mask on. Though actually its more like he's clinging to the mask once he's possessed by the Bull Erinyes.
  • Contrived Coincidence: A wizard seems to be doing it. For example, as Norman is being possessed by the Erinyes he happens to see a kid with a bull mask that he steals for a disguise.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Peter Slowik and Anna Stevenson are bitten to death by Norman. In the end, Norman gets one of these when Rose Madder talks to him up close.
  • Demonic Possession: Once Rosie angers the Erinyes by rescuing the child it was guarding, it possesses her (already insane) husband to get its revenge.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Norman may be a homophobic bastard, but he does rub a guy off to get information about where Rosie is (though it turns into a Groin Attack at the end). It's also implied that he bit off Peter Slowik's penis.
  • Determinator: Norman, when it comes to finding Rose. Not a good thing for anyone in his path.
  • Dirty Cop: Norman and, to a lesser extent, his partner. (It says something about Norman that this "lesser extent" includes rape.) After her life with Norman, Rose thinks that all cops are like this, but eventually realizes that it isn't so. A police detective working Norman's attacks specifically tells her that he hates cops like Norman above and beyond "ordinary" criminals because they have betrayed the public's trust in them, and make the job for honest cops that much harder.
  • Does Not Like Men: Surprisingly most women from the shelter avert this. Rose Madder, however, thinks all men are beasts and at best can be tamed.
  • Domestic Abuse.
  • Domestic Abuser: Norman is an example turned Up to Eleven.
  • Doppelgänger: Rose Madder looks awfully similar to Rose Daniels.
  • Dye or Die: Rose dyeing her hair from brunette to blonde on a whim ends up inadvertently saving Rose from being recognised by Norm on the street one day.
  • Easy Amnesia: the waters of the stream near the Tree of Death have amnesia so easy you can forget your own name. A drop at a time of the water every now and then stops Bill from going mad from the revelation.
  • The Fair Folk: Rose Madder herself-she's never called a fairy, but she has the traits.
  • Freudian Excuse: Norman was beaten and sexually molested by his father, though it ultimately doesn't excuse what he does.
  • Gainax Ending: we never find out what Rose Madder really was, why she wanted to save the child from the maze, where she was taking it, what she planted the Erinyes body with, who made her sick, what will happen to the new Tree of Death...
  • Giant Spider: Rose Madder's true form.
  • Humiliation Conga: Norman, near the end. He gets beat up and pissed on by a fat woman, forced to wear a grotesque bull mask to hide his identity, has his sanity slowly ebb away, gets taunted by the wife he's abused for fourteen years and then, just as it seems things can't get any worse for him, he gets horrifically killed by a diseased insect-woman. Humiliation conga indeed. Not that he didn't deserve it.
  • Ironic Echo: After Norman runs into Rose Madder (whom he mistakes for Rose), she turns around and shows her true form a spider with bulging red fox eyes. She says to Norman, " Come here Norman, I want to talk to you and I want to do it right up close!
  • Iron Lady: Anna
  • A Load of Bull: One lives in the Temple of the Bull (obviously). Later, Norm gets a bull mask stuck to his head and becomes one.
  • Magical Negro: Dorcas, maybe literally.
  • Man Bites Man: And woman. Norm's favorite instruments of torture are white and pearly and number 32.
  • Nice Guy: Bill Steiner.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Norman and his ability to 'troll' for people, which reads like it could either be a psychic talent distorted by his own preconceptions or just good detective skills.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Norman Daniels. While hunting for his runaway wife, he shaves his head and pretends to be a paraplegic, to avoid being recognized by the (many) people on the lookout for him.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Norman hates pretty much everyone, but some groups he hates more than others; he's virulently misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic.
  • Portal Picture.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Rosie and Norman have psychic dreams, about each other and the future. These are not always recognized.
  • Rape and Switch: A minor character reminisces about having been gay ever since two of his father's friends took turns performing oral sex on him when he was a young child.
  • Sanity Slippage: After Rose leaves Norman, he begins to slowly go mad.
    • Also Rose Madder herself as a result of her disease.
  • Scars Are Forever: Rose still bears the scars from Norman's abuse.
  • Spooky Painting: Before the Rose Madder painting becomes a Portal Picture, it is also this.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Gertrude Kinshaw.
  • Scry vs. Scry: Rosie and Norman spend a lot of the first half of the book doing this to each other. Especially notable since neither character is aware they're doing it. Rosie is just getting promptings from her instincts that save her without knowing it and Norman doesn't believe his detective skills are supernatural. See Psychic Dreams for Everyone.
  • Time Abyss: Implied for Dorcas, almost certainly for Rose Madder.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Rosie, especially once she enters the world of the painting, and has to deal with Norman.
  • World Tree: one of them anyway, the Tree of Death. Rose Madder makes Rosie plant a new one in her world to replace the one that died. Since this is Stephen King, it shouldn't be surprising that the Cosmic Keystone isn't exactly nice.


RoadworkWorks By Stephen KingRose Red
Rose DaughterLiterature of the 1990sRoswell High

alternative title(s): Rose Madder
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