The Unjust Death of Victorian Women

The Lady of Shalott is a lyrical ballad about a woman living alone in a tower on the secluded Ise of Shalott that is upriver from the great kingdom of Camelot. The poem pulls from many different stories in legends. Camelot, where it takes place, sleeping beauty from the tower and spindle, Arachne, and Penolpe (Odyessiouse’s wife) with the weaving. The Lady of Shallot is not allowed to look down at Camelot; she is forced to look through the reflection of her mirror or else be cursed.

The relationship between beauty and death in The Lady of Shalott is looked at through the lens of nature. “waterlilly, daffodilly, and water chilly” is the soft, flowy language used at the beginning of the poem. This is supplemented by the alliteration found at the end of each stanza. As the poem gets darker, the reaper is introduced, foreshadowing the wilting and eventual death of The Lady of Shalott. “I am half sick of shadows,” says the Lady of Shalott, looking longingly down at Camelot. The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when she glimpses Sir Lancelot. So desperate for connection, she watches him and hears his song. This delusion causes her to look out at him, and her mirror cracks. Like most women in Victorian literature, her life is ruined by a man. As she floats down to Camelot, she morphs into this creature. “…steady stony glance…bold seer in a trance…Mute, with glassy countenance.” this reminded me of Dracula and Lucy’s transformation into this sultry evil woman. As Lady Shalott dies, she is compared to a dying swan, which symbolizes the death of her innocence. Her features sharpen as she sings her death song, and people fear her. It is only when Sir Lancelot redeems her is she finally accepted.

3 thoughts on “The Unjust Death of Victorian Women”

  1. I find the contrast between the initial beauty and delicate imagery of “waterlilly, daffodilly, and water chilly” and the later dark and ominous tone of the poem to be quite striking. It mirrors the transformation the Lady of Shalott undergoes as she becomes consumed by her longing for Sir Lancelot. The imagery of the reaper and the wilting of the Lady of Shalott serves as a powerful reminder of the inevitable grip of death, while the comparison to a dying swan evokes a sense of tragic loss of innocence. The connection you draw to Dracula and Lucy’s transformation further highlights the idea of the Lady of Shalott’s descent into a darker, more monstrous state. The poem’s ending, with Sir Lancelot’s act of redemption, offers a glimmer of hope amidst the prevailing themes of death and loss

  2. I think this theme of unjust deaths in women has gone on for centuries because of Victorian literature. It is such a timeless theme, a woman restrained, unable to express herself or indulge in any of life’s pleasures without consequence. Reading your blog post reminded me of all of the Disney princess movies I watched when I was younger. Cinderella lives as a maid but gives in to temptation of freedom from her little rat friends and a moving pumpkin, of course the stroke of midnight is her consequence…and it has a happy ending. The Lady of Shallot is like a Disney movie with a realistic ending.

  3. Women are often the butt of the proverbial joke in media and literature when it comes to meeting terrible fates. Particularly in Victorian literature, has a woman in any of the things we read not meet a terrible end? Come to think of it, no. From the Lady of Shallot to Lady Audley to that Crazy Duke’s (now ex) wife. The only time a woman survives this fate is to take it upon her self to act with urgency like with La Belle Dame sans Merci.

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