Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Rose Madder

Go To
First edition cover

A 1995 novel by Stephen King, and the final part of what some fans call "the abused wife trilogy".

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 of course, utterly 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.
  • Babies Ever After: Rose and Bill have a daughter after the whole adventure named Pamela Gertrude (after Pam Haverford and Gertrude Kinshaw).
  • Advertisement:
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: Since Rosie's major experience with police is Norman and some corrupt buddies of his, she's terrified of cops. She does eventually meet some good cops who take guys like Norman very personally.
  • Bait the Dog: Despite being abusive, Norman did seem to spend a lot of money on the diamond ring he gave her...but as Rose discovers after she leaves him, the diamond ring was actually worthless.
  • 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.
  • Beardness Protection Program: In preparation of his attempt to find Rosy at the Daughters and Sisters picnic, Norman goes to a barber and has himself shaven bald to lower the chances of anyone recognizing him.
  • 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.
  • Berserk Button: Norm loses it when Gert calls him "fagboy".
  • Big Bad: Normal Daniels, Rose Daniels abusive and psychopathic husband and a crooked cop who she escapes from at the start of the novel and who searches for her using his skills as a police officer.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Rose Madder's value system is... different.
  • 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 him into a cyclopean Minotaur.
  • Catchphrase:
    • 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 at first it is more like he's clinging to the mask once he's possessed by the Bull Erinyes. Once he enters the world of Rose Madder however, the mask becomes his true face and he is no longer able to take it off.
  • Continuity Nod: "Wendy" refers to ka and the city of Lud a couple of times, putting the novel in The Dark Tower universe.
  • 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.
  • Cop Hater: Rose's abusive ex is a cop, so she became afraid of all cops.
  • Creepy Changing Painting: The Rose Madder painting keeps changing over the course of the story. First small changes, like new details being added, but it undergoes a massive change after Rosie's adventure in which she saves the baby from Erinyes; the sky in the painting suddenly clears up, no longer showing an approaching storm.
  • 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. Anna Stevenson even scoffs at other shelters for abused women that follow a strict policy not to involve any man with their work, and claims men are not their enemies unles they prove themselves to be. Rose Madder, however, thinks all men are beasts and at best can be tamed.
  • Domestic Abuse: Rose married Norman Daniels, and for 14 years have suffered domestic abuse which includes physical violence that took away the life of her unborn baby. Rose had enough, and ran away from Norman's home.
  • Doppelgänger: Rose Madder looks awfully similar to Rose McClendon.
  • Dramatic Irony: Once Norman reaches the city Rose is staying at, he passes a woman in a shop, and comments to himself that she "Had an ass like Rose used to before she let herself go". Unbeknownst to him, it is Rose, who had dyed her hair blonde and styled it differently.
  • Dye or Die: Rose dyeing her hair from brunette to blonde on a whim ends up inadvertently saving Rose from being recognized by Norm on the street one day.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After Rose Madder kills Norman, Rose is free, knowing Norman can never harm her or any of her loved ones again. She and Bill lead a happy, normal life raising their daughter.
  • 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.
  • Eye Scream: Pam Haverford gets her eye pierced by a coathook when trying to escape Norman after he caught her at the Whitestone Hotel to ask about Rose.
  • The Fair Folk: Rose Madder herself—she's never called a fairy, but she has the traits.
  • Fate Worse than Death: What drives Rose to leave Norman is the thought that if she stays with him, one of two things will happen: either his excessive abuse will kill her or his abuse doesn't kill her and her miserable existence will prolong for another fourteen years.
  • Freudian Excuse: Norman was beaten and sexually molested by his father, though it 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.
  • Hero of Another Story: Rose Madder, possibly. She seems to be on the Order side of things cosmically speaking, which is as good as cosmic beings ever get in Stephen King's world. She's desperately trying to complete some epic scale quest before dying, and it's large and complex enough that her role in helping Rosie isn't even really a blip.
  • 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
  • It's All My Fault: Anna tells Rosie that battered woman have a tendency to blame themselves for everything. She tells a story about a woman she met, who blamed herself for the Challenger disaster, because she wrote "...not one but two letters supporting the manned space program".
  • Killer Cop: Norman. He kills at least six people during the book (including two cops, three people who helped Rose, and a hooker), and while he's disposing of a hooker he strangled, he mentally comments it's not the first time, implying previous murders. He's also strongly suspected of killing an inconvenient victim of his own police brutality who was taking him and his department to court over it.
  • The Kindness of Strangers: Chapter II is even named after the trope, as it sees several strangers help Rose, starting with Peter Slowik from the traveler's aid point directing Rose to the Daughters and Sisters. The trope is also averted in the same chapter though, with some people that Rose asks for directions angrily refusing to help her.
  • Man Bites Man: And woman. Norm's favorite instruments of torture are white and pearly and number 32.
  • 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.
  • Mythology Gag: Paul Sheldon's Misery novels make an appearance.
  • Neck Snap: How Norman kills Pam Haverford after his interrogation of her goes off the rails (see Eye Scream above) and she begins to scream.
  • Nice Guy: Bill Steiner.
  • Not the First Victim: Already established as a ruthless abuser and corrupt cop, Norman Daniels' true insanity shows when he strangles a prostitute after deluding himself she's his runaway wife, Rose. He cleans up the scene and dumps her body, nonchalantly noting to himself that this wasn't his first time. Later, Rose is horrified when she realizes Norman murdered a woman who was supposed to testify against him while they were still married.
  • 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: The painting of Rose Madder eventually begins to act as a portal to another world. In this world, there is another picture that shows Rosie's room, and acts as a Portal Picture back to Rosie's world.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Rosie and Norman have psychic dreams, about each other and the future. These are not always recognized.
  • Punk in the Trunk: After killing the two cops guarding Rosie's house, Norman stuffs one of them in the trunk of their police car.
  • 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. He's aware of it, but doesn't really mind.
    • Also Rose Madder herself as a result of her disease.
  • 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.
  • Scars are Forever: Rose still bears the scars from Norman's abuse.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The song "Really Rosey" sung by Carole King and written by Maurice Sendak is referenced through the book, including being on the preface of the book.
      I'm really Rosie/And I'm Rosie real/You better believe me/I'm a great big deal
    • In chapter 1, part 1, Rose believes her life isn't real, and would wake up in a Walt Disney animated movie as one of the heroines.
    • In chapter 1, part 7, Rose compares the bus station speaker with the voice of God from Cecil B. DeMille movies.
  • Spooky Painting: Before the Rose Madder painting becomes a Portal Picture, it is also this.
  • 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.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Norman manages to dispose of the two cops guarding Rosie's house by pretending to have a heart attack, and kill them when they get too close and lowered their guard.