The Gothic Castle in “Christabel”

“Christabel” begins with the night castle that belongs to the Baron. The castle is conventionally a male-governed space, a fortress, symbolizing military success (“The gate that was ironed within and without, / Where an army in battle-array had marched out” (120-121)) and safety (“Saying that she should command / The service of Sir Leoline, / And straight be convoyed, free from thrall, / Back to her noble father’s hall” (102-105)). But on the other hand, the castle, being a frequently used trope in gothic literature, also represents history (especially family history), an enclosed space with restrictions. Part I of “Christabel” takes place at night and is a completely female-dominated narrative. All of the characters are female, including the ghost of Christabel’s mother and the mastiff. Being a male-owned property, the castle acts as a way of repression for women. Christabel can only seek her freedom at night, outside the castle. After what’s possibly a sexual dream about her “betrothed knight” (28), that made her “moan and leap” (29), Christabel went to the woods to pray for his health. The woods have the connotation of promiscuity and fertility. The outside becomes a symbol for the liberation of desires, which the indoors (the castle) represses. This liberation of sexual desires invites a supernatural encounter with Geraldine.

Christabel’s room is portrayed as a hidden place, deep in the castle, where the ghost of her mother roams. The poem dedicates 7 stanzas to their journey from the woods to Christabel’s room. They had to cross the moat, the gate, the court, pass the mastiff’s kennel, the hall, go up the stairs and past the Baron’s room. And they end up in a room where “not a moonbeam enters” (168), in which “The lamp with twofold silver chain / Is fastened to an angel’s feet” (174-175). The chain fastened to the angel’s feet embodies Christabel’s lack of freedom in the castle. This room that is decorated with strangely carved figures (171), hidden deep in the castle, is full of secrets, and unspeakable horrors will soon unfold there.

3 thoughts on “The Gothic Castle in “Christabel””

  1. Jen, I love the connection you make between the castle and how it acts as a visual representation of female oppression by their male counterparts. I also think that the claim you make about the woods is particularly strong. Christabel uses her nighttime escape to the woods as a way to break free from the Baron’s hold over her and I think it is so fascinating that it is only in the woods that she is able to sexually express herself without fear of being ridiculed. I would love to hear more about the supernatural element that you begin to talk about and learn how that might tie into questions regarding the sublime and the Gothic.

  2. I appreciated how you denoted the setting of the castle as being an inherently Gothic space as it deals with inheritance and bloodlines of wealth and power. Although patriarchal inheritance is the most common, especially in the time of “Christabel”, another facet of the Gothic is inheritance through the matriarchal line. Coleridge demonstrates this Gothic aspect with the pervasive presence of Christabel’s mother in the poem, despite her early death. Christabel inherits her wine recipe, which she provides Geraldine with, the Gothic underscoring the reason for the spooky connection between the latter and Christabel’s mother.

  3. I think it’s really interesting that you pointed out the castle as a masculine stronghold. I’m so curious now about what this means for romanticism as a masculine pursuit for individualism and how it can be applied to women as well. We have talked in the past about how women enter the genre differently because they don’t have the same access to unrestricted exploration of individualism. With Christabel however, she can explore to a certain extent, but, as you pointed out, with restrictions, both the night and the shackles. She is still physically tied to masculine structures of power.

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