The Lady of Submission

Of all the poems that Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, one poem that struck me particularly was The Lady of Shalott. After reading this poem, I definitely knew that it was something that I wanted to go back on and analyze closer, see if I could pull out any new or more complex themes that I had overlooked from my first reading of the poem. One thing that I thought of was the word and concept of submission. How, in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, did he evoke submission? I am one of many who was very puzzled by the last part of this poem, in regards to what it is that Lancelot had to say about the dead body of The Lady of Shalott. In this post, I strive to make the claim that Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott is a poem that promotes women to be submissive.

It is important to give historical context to the time period in which Tennyson was writing in. Tennyson’s works were within the Victorian Age, which was a time of economic growth due to the industrial revolution, but literature was also very much defined by the “Victorian temper” of moral responsibility. It is also intriguing to note that The Lady of Shalott is a revisit to the Renaissance period, with its themes of knights, towers, and magic. This revisiting to the Renaissance period in the midst of the Victorian period is intriguing because I believe that both periods deal a whole lot with submissions in their literature due to the theme of chivalry in the Renaissance and then the “Victorian Temper” in the Victorian period.

In the second stanza of the poem we find Tennyson describing the place in which the Lady of Shalott lives in. “Willows whiten, aspens quiver,/ Little breezes dusk and shiver/ Through the wave that runs forever/ By the island in the river/ flowing down to Camelot./ Four gray walls, and four gray towers/ Overlook a space of flowers,/ And the silent isle imbowers/ The Lady of Shalott./” (Tennyson 1161). Here we see Tennyson build up the environment that surrounds the Lady of Shalott, describing the “willows whiten” and talks about the “little breezes dusk and shiver”. I believe Tennyson is really contrasting the beauty of the scenery in these lines because of how different the environment around the Lady of Shalott is because she only surrounded by “four gray walls, and four gray towers,”. I also want to look at Tennyson’s word choice of “forever” in the line “Through the wave that runs forever/ By the island in the river/ Flowing down to Camelot./”. I believe that because of Tennyson’s specific word choice of describing the river as running “forever”, he really is emphasizing the imprisonment of the Lady of Shalott, he even states that the river runs freely “down to Camelot”, which is the one place she cannot go, thus evoking this feeling of raw desire and jealously by the Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott’s profession in her imprisoned state is a very convenient one, in regards to historical context. Tennyson writes “There she weaves by night and day/ A magic web with colors gay./ 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./” (Tennyson 1162). Weaving   has both roots in the Middle Ages, the era in which Tennyson chose to set this poem in and it also was re-vitalized during the Victorian era due to industrial revolution and the booming success of the establishment of mills/factories. In this stanza, Tennyson wonderfully paints the tone of fear that the Lady of Shalott has of this “curse”. One of the most ironic lines in this whole poem is “She knows not what the curse may be,/ And so she weaveth steadily,/” (Tennyson 1162). Tennyson states here that the Lady of Shalott not aware of what would or could happen if she left the tower, but rather illustrates that if she were to leave the tower, it would mean she has left her “job” of weaving. This is interesting because many of the women who worked in the mills and factories during the Victorian era, worked simply because it meant employment and many of the women refused to leave their job because they did not know what would happen to them without their employment. It is essential to remember that working conditions  for these women were horrendous and although many hated their work, many had no other choice but to stay. In my opinion, the line “she has heard a whisper say,/ A curse is on her if she stay/ to look down to Camelot./” is Tennyson stating that women who look away from the societal values of submission, submission to labor for instance in this stanza, they will then be “cursed” or held in extreme judgment by high society.

In the eventful conclusion of Tennyson’s poem he writes the final stanza of “Who is this? and what is here?/ and in the lighted palace near/ Died the sound of royal cheer;/ And they crossed themselves for fear,/ All the knights at Camelot:/ But Lancelot mused a little space; He said, “she has a lovely face; God in his mercy lend her grace, The Lady of Shalott.” (Tennyson 1166). I think that the initial questioning of all the people who discover the dead body of the Lady of Shalott was very intentional by Tennyson because society will refuse to take ownership of any death or tragedy that occurred due to the values they it holds. Many women had died due to working in the mills and it was very common for the foremen of the mills to decline responsibility. Now Lancelot’s first and last interaction with the Lady of Shalott is very intriguing. Lancelot is the only one who approaches the dead body, which is ironic because if you follow my logic of taking ownership, Lancelot does exactly that by being the one to walk up to the body and that is ironic because it WAS Lancelot’s fault that the Lady of Shalott died because it was him that “she left the web, she left the loom,/ she made paces through the room,/”.

Print - The Lady of Shalott

This is an engraving illustrated by Dante Gabriel of the final stanza in the poem The Lady of Shalott.

 

Citations 

“GCSE Bitesize: Working Conditions in Factories.” BBC, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/shp/britishsociety/livingworkingconditionsrev1.shtml

Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature The Victorian Age. E, W.W. Norton, 2012.

“England Textile Occupations Silk, Cotton, Weaving (National Institute).” England Textile Occupations Silk, Cotton, Weaving (National Institute) Genealogy – FamilySearch Wiki, http://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/England_Textile_Occupations_Silk,_Cotton,_Weaving_(National_Institute).

Rossetti , Dante Gabriel. The Lady of Shalott. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1857, Victoria and Albert Museum E.1284-1912, Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case EW, shelf 143.

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Victorian Project

Brit Lit Victorian App

Here is the link to my pitch for my new app: Victorian Leap. In this app the goal is to recognize texts and be able to pick who the author is, the date it was written, and the name of the piece. At the same time there is a fun aspect to it where you will be able to use a launch pad (if you’re familiar with the video game Madden- the launch pad resembles this) and aim while at the same time avoiding jumping snakes in the rivers and under the logs.

Enjoy. (:

No Peeking

No Peeking is an educational and entertaining app that is based off of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. Find out if you can dodge the villagers and farmers that our Lady sees every day. How about Sir Lancelot? This app puts your reflexes and sight memory to the test.

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/14Oh8_Y0RwwA21GmbAbY4R4t4omOOdfbNGb-QTcv1Nls/edit#slide=id.p

Sex in the…Woods?

Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti is a poem that could be associated with many diffe-

depositphotos_58431387-stock-illustration-black-and-white-goblinrent meanings. Some believe that it is an innocent moral fable; some believe that is shows a lesbian dynamic between two sisters. I, however, believe that the poem shows the tale of what happens when virginity is lost before marriage–it is a poem about sex and the problems that it creates. The key elements in disguising the theme of sex are the fruits, goblins, lock of hair and the fate that is stowed upon the young woman who falls for the call of the mysterious goblins.

One of the most important characters in the poem are the goblins. The poem opens up with: “Morning and evening/Maids heard the goblins cry:/’Come buy our orchard fruits,/Come buy, come buy:’”. If a reader is looking at this poem from an industrialist view they could think that the goblins are merchants and they are selling the fruits that they have grown; if looking at it from a sex oriented point of view, one could say that the goblins and fruit have very different meanings. Goblins are foreign beings, they are not common and are not humanistic; the fruit, when reading the next several lines, are not common fruits and are exotic. Both elements, therefore, would be intriguing to the maidens who hear their cry. Being uncommon, the fruits and goblins would beg for young women to want to know more and to want to try their “fruits”. The fruits, however, are not fruits at all.

 

 

There is one scene, in particular, that stands out and shows that the fruits take on a whole new meaning: “‘Buy from us with a golden curl.’/She clipp’d a precious golden lock,/She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl,/Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:/Sweeter than honey from the rock,/Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,/Clearer than water flow’d that juice;/She never tasted such before,/How should it cloy with length of use?/She suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more/Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;/She suck’d until her lips were sore;” (Rossetti). At first glance these lines show that a young woman bought fruit with a lock of hair and thoroughly enjoyed it; she sucked the juices out of it until her lips hurt from doing so. However, when looking deeper into the meaning, it could be argued that the goblins are not just selling her fruit, but rather taking a piece of her that cannot just be replaced. 

The lock of hair is not just a payment, but rather a symbol of losing part of oneself–in this case her virginity. The fruit and the action of eating it has also been sexualized by the use of the phrases: “Clearer tan water flow’d that juice”, “She never tasted such before” and “She suck’d until her lips were sore”. This link shows a live version of these lines and allows the audience to see that there is more to the event than a girl eating fruits that she bought from everyday merchants (starting at second 21).

Another hint at the fruit not being what it is made out to be is what happens to those who consume it. After Laura ate the fruit she stopped hearing the call of the goblins and fell ill. This could suggest that the loss of her virginity made her worthless. She could not hear the goblins call because she was no longer wanted due to her loss of this precious gift before marriage and her illness shows that once a woman’s virginity is gone, she loses her spark. She did not lose her virginity in wedlock and therefore is, seemingly, punished for it. The only thing that could help her is having access to the fruits again, but the goblins do not want to allow for that. They already got what they wanted and want nothing else to do with the poor girl who could not resist temptation.

In a piece by Lesa Scholl, it says that “The forbidden fruit undoubtedly refers to female sexuality…yet it can also relate to female education and knowledge” (Sholl). I found this to be interesting because knowledge in women, at one time, was feared. It was also said that “intellectual activity would cause their reproductive organs to malfunction, securing the double bondage of sexuality and the intellect on women” (Sholl). This theory is one that could be argued because the illness that Laura gets could be seen as organ failure caused by the consumption of fruit that is really female sexuality. There is another case in the poem where the woman who consumed the fruit actually died from this travesty.

There could also be an argument that this poem has to do with a lesbian attraction between the two women. The piece has a seen where Lizzie comes home anRossetti-golden_headd says, “She cried, ‘Laura,’ up the garden,/‘Did you miss me?/Come and kiss me./Never mind my bruises,/Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices’” (Rossetti). These lines could be taken as them being attracted to each other and having intimate relations. I, however, believe that this is a scene where one sister went to extremes to save another from her fate after going against advice to hold onto her virginity.

Dr. Catherine Brown gives an analogy on how to think about sex in literature during the Victorian Era. She says that it is like when you watch a movie from the 1950s and a man and a woman, who could have interest in each other, disappear into a closet–you can assume what is happening, but it is not right there in front of you for you to see. There is a video on Youtube that Dr. Brown has posted that goes into this by using examples from literature, making it easier to understand why Rossetti may have tried to pass this poem off as moral fable. The technique used in this era was to insert topics that were taboo in a way that was hidden and could only be found when studied or read closely. Goblin Market seems to really portray this idea by using fruit to talk about sex and the act of losing ones virginity.

Works Cited

Schll, Lesa. “Fallen or Forbidden: Rosetti’s ‘Goblin Market.’” The Victorian Web, 23 Dec. 2003, http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/crossetti/scholl.html.

Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market” 1859.

https://depositphotos.com/58431387/stock-illustration-black-and-white-goblin.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goblin_Market