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Victorian Expectations of Women and "The Lady of Shallot"

Page history last edited by Gizem Özgül 14 years, 11 months ago



The Lady Of Shallot-Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)


“The Lady of Shallot” is a Victorian ballad  by the Englis  poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The poem relates the story of a woman who is cursed to remain inside a tower on Shallot which is an island located in the river which flows to Camelot. Nobody knows of her existence, as her curse forbids her to leave the tower, or to even look outside its windows. She is forbidden by the magic to look at the outside world directly. Instead, a large mirror within her chamber reflects the outside world, and she weaves tapestry illustrating its wonders via the mirror’s reflection. The farmers who live near her island hear her singing and know who she is, but never see her.  As the poem progresses, the lady becomes increasingly aware of the love which is abundant in the outside world, and she tires of her lonely existence in her tower saying she is “half-sick of shadows”. Then, the lady sees Sir Lancelot riding down to Camelot. The lady leaves her room to look him directly from her window, and the curse immediately fulfills the curse. Her tapestry begins to unravel, and the mirror cracks as she realizes the consequences of her injudicious action. She runs away quickly from her tower and finds a boat in the river which she marks with her name, and unties from its moorings. She dies before her boat reaches Camelot, where she would have finally found life & love. Sir Lancelot bends over the beauty of this unknown woman when the inhabitants find her body. Sir Lancelot does not never ever know that the lady loves him, comes for him, and dies for him.

Its emphasis is generally on spiritual nobility and the melancholy of the more sorrowful aspects of love, such as unrequited love; the woman dying for love; the fallen woman who gives up everything for her love; and the dead woman of unique beauty.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson leaves the cause of the curse and its meanings unknown. Tennyson makes the lady a passive figure. He focuses the readers’ attention on the physical situation of the lady, and the contrast between the interior world and the exterior world, and this makes the reader to think the differences between the two worlds. This emphasizes the Victorian belief in two separate realms; private and public with separate genders assigned to each. The passive interior belonged to women while the active exterior world belonged to men. The poem reflects the medieval settings from the point of view of Victorian ideology. Women’s work is inside the home while active work in the outside world is the job of the male. The Lady of Shallot preserves her safety by staying within the confines of her tower, and not participating in any kind of active motion. This fits perfectly with the concept of actual Victorian women, which was expected to accept her role as female defender of the home.

The Lady of Shallot perfectly implies the Victorian image of the ideal women: “virginal, spiritual and mysterious, and dedicated to her womanly tasks”. The Victorian women exist as unthreatening and so unable to harm to the realm of men, as long as she remains inside the tower. However; in the lady’s look towards Camelot and the outside world, the lady has dared to search the confirmation of her identity in a zone which is reserved for male. Yet; death becomes only acceptable consequence of the inappropriate behavior of the lady.

To many Victorian women, the home was more than just a house; it was a fortress of moral excellence. “ANGELS IN THE HOUSE” 



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