Rose Madder (novel)

Infobox Book |
name = Rose Madder

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Stephen King
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Fantasy novel
publisher = Viking Press
release_date = June 1995
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 432
isbn = ISBN 978-0670858699
preceded_by = Insomnia
followed_by = The Green Mile

"Rose Madder" is a 1995 novel by Stephen King. It deals with the effects of domestic violence (which King had touched upon before in the novels "It", "Insomnia", "Dolores Claiborne" and "Needful Things") and, unusually for a King novel, relies for its fantastic element on Greek mythology. In his memoir On Writing, King states that Rose Madder and Insomnia are "overwritten, working too hard novels."

Plot summary

In the present tense prologue, which takes place in 1985, Rose Daniels's husband, Norman, beats her while she is four months pregnant, causing her to suffer a miscarriage. Rose briefly considers leaving Norman but dismisses the idea: Norman is a policeman, and is excellent at finding people. Norman also has a violent temper and was recently accused of assaulting an African-American woman named Wendy Yarrow. The subsequent lawsuit and Internal Affairs investigation has made him even more volatile.

The story then jumps ahead to a morning nine years later, when Rose is making the bed. She notices a drop of blood on the sheet that had probably leaked from her nose the night before — Norman had punched her in the face for spilling some iced tea on him. Rose realizes that she has passively suffered through Norman's abuse for fourteen years and that if she continues to put up with this treatment, she might be killed. But then Rose wonders: what if Norman "doesn't" kill her? What will she be like after fourteen more years of Norman "talking to her right up close", as he puts it?

Rose (who whimsically begins to think of herself as "Rosie Real", in homage to Maurice Sendak's children's musical "Really Rosie") then makes the difficult decision to leave her home, located in an unnamed city in the Northeast and take the first bus out of town. After Rose arrives at her destination, an unnamed city in the Midwest, she is disoriented and afraid. When she arrives at the bus station, she meets a man named Peter, to whom she briefly describes her situation, and she is given directions to a women's shelter called "Daughters and Sisters", or D&S for short. There, she quickly makes several friends and, with the help of the D&S director, gets an apartment and a job as a hotel housekeeper.

A few weeks later Rose decides to pawn her engagement ring, but learns that it is worthless. Before she leaves the pawnshop, however, she notices a painting of a woman in a rose madder gown and immediately falls in love with it. She trades her ring for the painting, which strangely enough has no artist's signature. Outside, a stranger asks her to read a passage from a novel, and is so impressed that he offers her a job recording audio books. Then, one of the workers at the pawnshop, Bill Steiner, asks her out. It seems that after suffering for years, Rose finally has everything she could want: a great job, a home of her own, friends and a man who loves her.

Unfortunately for Rose, Norman is determined to punish her for leaving him. Using his excellent tracking skills, he finds out where Rose went and begins to hunt her down. While Norman gets closer to finding Rose (and begins to lose what little self-control he has), Rose discovers that her new painting is not as ordinary as it appears.

For one thing, its image expands to show more of the painting's world. For another, Rose finds that she is able to enter the painting, much like how Alice steps through her mirror in "Through the Looking-Glass". And on the other side, there is a woman called Dorcas who resembles Wendy Yarrow, and the woman in the rose-madder gown. Rose never learns this woman's real name so she refers to her as "Rose Madder", not only because of her outfit but also because she is insane and possibly dangerous. King provides many hints that the world of the painting is also the world of The Dark Tower, most notably references to the city of Lud.

Rose Madder asks Rose to rescue her baby from an underground labyrinth which is the demesne of a one-eyed bull called Erinyes (who appears to have been based on the Minotaur). Rose does so, and Rose Madder promises to repay her. Rose returns to her world and puts the strange incident at the back of her mind, but when Norman attacks some of her friends from D&S, murders the director, and then follows her to her apartment, she realizes that she will need a little help from Rose Madder.

Rosie tricks Norman into following her into the world of the painting, where he meets a particularly violent and gruesome end at the hands of Rose Madder. Rosie returns to her world and leads a normal life with no further summons from Rose Madder. She marries Bill and has a daughter but finds that the violent rages which characterized both Norman and Rose Madder have begun to spring up within her. She then remembers that Rose Madder, perhaps foreseeing the problem, gave her some magic seeds and told her to "remember the tree". Rosie plants the seeds in a secret grove by her favorite lake and finds the seeds grow into a beautiful but deadly tree.


The city Rose McClendon lives in at the start of the story is unnamed, but geographical references do not seem to add up. The city is 250 miles away from the next major city to the west, and 800 miles from Rose's destination city, which seems to be Chicago . That describes Albany, NY (250 miles from Buffalo, 800 from Chicago), but the city is also said to be a lakeshore city, which does not fit Albany. The man who panhandles Rose at the bus station makes reference to Saranac Lake as if it's a nearby vacation spot for the wealthy; Saranac Lake is in northeast New York State, near no American city large enough to be Rose's home. The bus that Rose takes out of the city swiftly gets onto I-78, heading west -- which would put Rose's home city in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, which would in turn keep it from being a lakeside city. Rose makes reference to baseball pitcher Roger Clemens, who at the time of the book's publication had been with the Boston Red Sox his entire career, suggesting a New England location, since Rose is a native of the area the city is in. But her destination city is described as not only 800 miles away, but in another time zone, and the New England states are too far away from the Central Time Zone to allow for that.

It seems likely that the jumbled geographical references are deliberate, to make the city feel like a city somewhere in the northeastern United States, without making it any real-world location.

References to other King works

"The Dark Tower" novels

* "Rose Madder" and Dorcas had spent time in the city of Lud.
* "This world, all worlds." And many bulls in each one. These myths hum with truth, Rosie. That's their power. That's why they survive."
* In the tenth section of the book, "Rosie Real", Rosie wonders if her Bill will drink the Pepsi with the "liquid amnesia". "Either he'd drink it or he wouldn't. Ka, she thought, and then, What?"
*Rose Madder's true form of a spider is similar to that of Mordred Deschain. Dorcas even says that she will have to hand over her baby to someone. Quite possibly the Low Men. Rose Madder's personality is also similar to that of Mia's.
*When Norman looks into Rose Madder's eyes he sees the rose from the vacant lot.


* The Misery Chastain novels by Paul Sheldon, the protagonist of "Misery", are frequently referenced.

"It (novel)"

*Rose Madder's spiderlike form and apparent glamouring abilities can possibly be traced to IT's spider body and shapeshifting abilities.


*Cynthia Smith, a prominent character in Desperation, is at the Daughters and Sister's shelter where Rose stays.


* ISBN 0-451-18636-2
* ISBN 0-613-09625-8
* ISBN 0-670-85869-2

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