Throughout our various readings of Victorian literature, we have continued to see themes surrounding love, sexuality, desire, and ambition; these themes largely manifesting in stories about women. One pattern, that is important to note, is that of the varied means in which these women place their goals and desires and how they manifest in their respective stories. One example can be seen in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott”. The poem of “The Lady of Shalott”, follows a woman who is entrapped in a castle during what seems to be Arthurian times, deriving from the legend of Camelot, in which the Lady is forced to weave, isolated from the rest of the world, under the threat of a curse in which she does not know the full consequences of. She is further punished by being prevented from even looking through her window to see life outside of her tower, and is compelled to quell her curiosity for the outside world by looking at a mirror near her loom; only seeing the reflections of those outside of her tower rather than as they truly are. Within the second part of this poem, the Lady notes, “[There] Came two young lovers lately wed; ‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said The Lady of Shalott” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Part II). In this moment, we see one of the primary “dreams” of the Lady revealed. She has no knight to “save her”, no person to love, and whether she craves a relationship, that being romantic or platonic, she wants kinship of some kind. The fact that we do not know why the Lady of Shalott is imprisoned adds to the tragedy of this story, as this plot element left unexplained makes it all the more applicable to a myriad of situations, and therefore, all the more relatable to a reader who may feel entrapped in their life in some capacity.
I am further reminded of this suffocating theme in Christina Rosetti’s poem, “A Pause of Thought”. One stanza reads, “I looked for that which is not, nor can be, And hope deferred made my heart sick in truth: But years must pass before a hope of youth – Is resigned utterly” (Rosetti, 32). A lack of choice, or a wish or dream going unfulfilled, are understandable fears that plague almost, if not, everybody. The concept of complicated desires, goals, and ambitions, is inherently human, and, as emphasized through these two poems, often forgotten when understanding women’s roles in Victorian society. I am reminded of a scene from the 2019 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, in which Jo proclaims, “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it… But I’m so lonely.” Jo’s frustration, similar to the frustration expressed in both Tennyson and Rossetti’s poems, manifests from a fear not only of one’s dreams going unfulfilled, but that a choice must be made in order to make those dreams more simple, or attainable in some capacity. The Victorian attributions of simplicity, obedience, and a promotion of binaries, becomes this inherently limiting feature of daily life, and while men may have felt this burden too, Victorian women bore it like no other.