The younger lady was in the lovely bloom and spring-time of womanhood; at that age, when, if ever angels be for God’s good purposes enthroned in mortal forms, they may be, without impiety, supposed to abide in such as hers.
While introducing Rose Maylie, the narrator imbues her with all the qualities of goodness by comparing her to an angel. This description signals to the reader that Rose, like Oliver, possesses a pure soul dedicated to the well-being of others. As the novel progresses, she becomes Oliver’s fierce defender. But she also attempts to help others who have less merit, like Nancy. She acts selflessly to protect others, such as when she refuses to marry Harry.
“But even if he has been wicked,” pursued Rose, “think how young he is; think that he may never have known a mother’s love, or the comfort of a home; that ill-usage and blows, or the want of bread, may have driven him to herd with men who have forced him to guilt.”
Upon seeing the “robber” for the first time, Rose feels shocked to find an angelic-looking boy—Oliver—and immediately comes up with reasons for such a child’s engagement in illicit activity. Readers may note that her recitation of “what ifs” ring all too true at this point in the novel. Every dour possibility listed as being a cause for a boy’s turn to criminality applies to Oliver. Here, Rose shows herself to be astute as well as tender.
[I]f an enthusiastic, ardent, and ambitious man marry a wife on whose name there is a stain, which, though it originate in no fault of hers, may be visited by cold and sordid people upon her, and upon his children also: and, in exact proportion to his success in the word, be cast in his teeth, and made the subject of sneers against him[.]
While Rose lies ill, Mrs. Maylie tries to convince her son, Harry, to give up pursuing an engagement with Rose. She reasons that Rose’s past would negatively impact his career and any children he might have. This conversation provides a first clue about Rose’s background, which seems similar to Oliver’s. Rose was fortunate to find a champion in Mrs. Maylie, but society at large judges even a young woman as kind and good as Rose as tainted by events outside of her control, namely, her parentage.
“In a word,” said the young lady, turning away, as her temporary firmness forsook her, “there is a stain upon my name, which the world visits on innocent heads. I will carry it into no blood but my own; and the reproach shall rest alone on me.”
Agreeing with Mrs. Maylie’s opinion of her tainted name and situation, Rose gives Harry her final answer and declines to marry him. She keenly understands that society will never forgive her for the “blight” upon her name, and she refuses to ruin Harry’s prospects for a future political career or pass on the stain to her own children. Like Oliver, Rose lives with barriers to achieving happiness because of something her parents have done. The deeds remain undisclosed, conveying that whatever the reality of the matter, prejudice itself holds the power to control lives.
I offer you, now, no distinction among a bustling crowd; no mingling with a word of malice and detraction, where the blood is called into honest cheeks by aught but real disgrace and shame; but a home—a heart and a home—yes, dearest Rose, and those, and those alone, are all I have to offer.
Harry tells Rose that he has renounced his legal career and political aspirations in order to become a country parson. He has given up his social position in order to minimize his station in life. Should Rose marry him, she need not fear that people in high society will cast aspersions on her name nor that she will bring down her family. Harry’s transformation allows Rose to find happiness in a simpler life.