Friday, May 3, 2013

Reading Response: Her Fault

Ned Sparrow
Frances DeRosa
19th century Literature and Culture

Her Fault
The Fallen women in 19th century society:  The Lady of Shalott

             A common theme in Victorian literature is the fallen woman; she has turned away from the good graces of society and god. Having broken these social and ethical bonds they become outcast, but this is believed to be of their own volition.  So neither her community nor the men around her are to blame.  This philosophy is alluded to in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott.
            The poem describes a woman known as the Lady of Shalott an island not to far off from Camelot, she is mythical to the people around her because no one has ever heard or seen her. She is confined within a tower and held there by a curse.

“She has heard a whisper say, 
A curse is on her if she stay 
       To look down to Camelot. 
She knows not what the curse may be, 
And so she weaveth steadily, 
And little other care hath she, 
       The Lady of Shalott.” (Part 2)

Lady Shalott starts out as a woman living within the rules and superstitions of her society even if it goes unnoticed by those around her. Her life is lived peacefully until she notices that she is quite alone. A knight wondering by catches her attention and she slips from her diligence and violates her curse by looking directly at Camelot.
As he rode down to Camelot. 
From the bank and from the river 
He flash’d into the crystal mirror, 
“Tirra lirra,” by the river 
       Sang Sir Lancelot. 

She left the web, she left the loom, 
She made three paces thro’ the room, 
She saw the water-lily bloom, 
She saw the helmet and the plume, 

       She look’d down to Camelot. 
Out flew the web and floated wide; 
The mirror crack’d from side to side; 
“The curse is come upon me,” cried 
       The Lady of Shalott. (Part 3)

Down she came and found a boat 
Beneath a willow left afloat, 
And round about the prow she wrote 
       The Lady of Shalott. 

And down the river’s dim expanse 
Like some bold seër in a trance, 
Seeing all his own mischance— 
With a glassy countenance 
       Did she look to Camelot. 
And at the closing of the day 
She loosed the chain, and down she lay; 
The broad stream bore her far away, 
       The Lady of Shalott. (Part 4)

After her interaction with Lancelot, she strays from her duties and ethics and is punished for her choice to do so. She drifts down the river in a boat to Camelot slowly dying. When Lady Shalott reaches Camelot she is treated as a spectacle.  The woman has fallen and is to be admonished by others or held in a terrible reverence.
            To be cursed is certainly something terrible, however the curse in Lord Tennyson’s poem is extremely vague. There is no certainty that one truly hangs over her head but with Camelot mentioned in practically every stanza it is hard not to draw comparisons to Guinevere and her own tragedy with Camelot. The mention of Lancelot who plays a factor in the fall of both women encourages the hint at the fallen woman. The Lady Shalott is more isolated from society so its impact seems quite striking, but their view has indeed impacted her. She is at fault for her own downfall. The afore mentioned curse is terribly vague, something will happen to the lady when she looks directly at Camelot, this seeps into her head that danger or harm will come to her when this occurs. So when she absent-mindedly cracks her mirror, suddenly the lady is overwhelmed that this is the start of her whispered curse. She therefore enacts it upon herself when nothing may have transpired if she had not acted so rashly, making the onset of her curse a self-fulfilling prophecy.
            A woman who strays from the path, provided by society, has strayed on her own accord. Whether this has been out of curiosity or malicious intent it may be unclear but it is preordained her fault. Which remains true even if she were following the cue of others, Lancelot a reference to Guinevere, that regardless of the temptation, the woman, should not have strayed from the path

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