Beyond the Mirror: The Lady of Shalott and the Fight for Self-Determination

Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” is viewed as a romantic ballad, filled with vivid descriptions and a tragic ending. However, beneath its surface beauty lies a deeper exploration of themes that represent the Romantic era. The poem, through the plight of the Lady of Shalott, challenges societal expectations and explores the dangers of isolation and repressed desires. “The Lady of Shalott” is not merely a romantic ballad, but a powerful critique of societal constraints and the yearning for self-determination. We see evidence of this throughout the poem. The Lady’s confinement to the tower, her dependence on the mirror, and her forbidden desire to experience the world directly all highlight the restrictive nature of her existence. As she states, “I am half sick of shadows,” revealing the emotional toll of her isolation and the yearning for connection with the world beyond the mirror. The poem further emphasizes the Lady’s lack of agency by portraying her as a weaver of tapestries depicting scenes she has never experienced firsthand. She is merely a passive observer, forced to create a second-hand reality through her art. This reinforces the societal expectation that women should remain confined to the domestic sphere, unable to participate fully in the world around them. The Lady’s eventual transgression, when she looks directly at Lancelot, symbolizes her defiance against these constraints. This act of self-assertion, while leading to her death, also serves as a moment of liberation. As she sings, “Out flew the web and floated wide, The mirror crack’d from side to side” she breaks free from her metaphorical prison and asserts her individuality. “The Lady of Shalott” transcends its romantic façade to offer a powerful critique of societal expectations and the desire for self-determination. The poem’s enduring appeal lies in its exploration of themes that resonate with readers even today, reminding us of the importance of challenging constraints and pursuing our own desires.

Doyle’s use of suspense

Quote:“I listened with rapt attention to the strange story which Dr. Watson had told me. It was so different from anything which I had ever heard that I was at my wits’ end to know what to think of it. That a venomous snake should have been used in such a way seemed to me to be incredible, but the fact that the creature had been found in Dr. Roylott’s room, and that it was undoubtedly the same one which had caused the deaths of Mrs. Stoner and Julia Stoner, was so obvious that it could not be denied.” (Chapter 1 


This passage from “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is a key example of Doyle’s use of suspense and atmosphere to create a chilling and suspenseful story. The passage begins with Watson recounting the strange story of Helen Stoner, a young woman whose sister has recently died under mysterious circumstances. Stoner believes that her stepfather, Dr. Roylott, is responsible for her sister’s death, and she tells Watson that she fears for her own life. Doyle uses a variety of techniques to create suspense in this passage. First, he describes the story with the words “strange” and “incredible,” which sets the tone for the rest of the story. After that, he uses vivid language to describe the snake, such as its “venomous fangs” and its “cold, slimy scales.” Lastly, he creates a sense of urgency and danger by suggesting that Helen Stoner is in danger from her stepfather. The passage is also significant because it introduces the reader to the main character, Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a brilliant and eccentric detective who is known for his ability to solve even the most difficult cases. In this passage, Holmes is introduced as a listener, someone who is willing to listen to all of the facts of a case before drawing any conclusions. This is an important quality for a detective, and it is one of the things that makes Holmes such a successful investigator.

This close reading of the passage helps us to understand Doyle’s use of suspense and atmosphere, as well as the character of Sherlock Holmes. It also provides us with a deeper understanding of the sensation genre. Sensation fiction is a type of fiction that is designed to thrill and excite readers. It often features elements of mystery, suspense, and violence. Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” is a classic example of sensation fiction. The story is full of twists and turns, and it keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Throughout the reading I found myself changing my guess of what happened multiple times based on the information given. The close reading of the passage also helps us to understand the importance of foreshadowing in sensation fiction. Doyle foreshadows the murder of Helen Stoner by describing the venomous snake and the danger that it poses. This foreshadowing creates a sense of suspense and anxiety in the reader, and it makes the murder more shocking and unexpected. Overall, the close reading of this passage from “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” helps us to better understand Doyle’s writing style, the character of Sherlock Holmes, and the sensation genre as a whole.

Dracula: A Reflection of Victorian Fears

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a complex novel that can be interpreted in many different ways. However, one of its central themes is the fear and anxiety that Victorians felt about the changing world around them. The novel’s exploration of sexuality, gender roles, and the rise of technology all reflect the anxieties of the time. The novel explores the rise of new technologies, such as blood transfusions and typewriters. These technologies are seen as both beneficial and dangerous. On the one hand, they can be used to save lives. On the other hand, they can also be used to create new forms of evil, such as the vampire Lucy Westenra. The novel also challenges traditional Victorian gender roles. Mina Harker, is a strong and intelligent woman who takes charge of the group’s fight against Dracula. This contrasts with the more passive and traditional role of women such as Lucy Westenra, Dracula’s other victim. Dracula is a seductive figure who preys on women, and his victims are often portrayed as being sexually awakened by him. This reflects the Victorian fear of female sexuality, which was seen as a dangerous and uncontrollable force. Stoker’s use of these themes reflects the anxieties that Victorians felt about the changing world around them. The Industrial Revolution was transforming society, and traditional values were being challenged. Stoker’s novel explores these anxieties through the figure of Dracula, a creature from the past who threatens to destroy the modern world. “The old centuries had, of course, been cruel to women, but the new time was keener and crueller still. They had lost their old place in men’s lives, and had not yet found a new one. They were no longer needed for the hard work of the world, and they were still debarred from the most of its activities. They were the slaves of convention, and they paid for their protected position as idols by having to sacrifice the reality of life.” (Chapter 18) This passage reflects the Victorian anxiety about the changing role of women in society. The Industrial Revolution had led to a decline in the need for female labor, and women were still denied many of the rights and opportunities that men enjoyed. Stoker’s novel explores this anxiety through the figure of Mina Harker, who is both a traditional Victorian woman and a modern heroine.

Lady Audley’s Isolation and Vulnerability: A Closer Look

Quote: “For the first time in her life, a vague feeling of terror took possession of her. She stood for a few moments, motionless and pale, looking down at the letter in her hand.

 She tried to think, but her mind was a blank. She tried to remember what she had done with the other letters, but she could not. She felt herself losing her self-possession, and with it her courage.” (Braddon Ch. 14)

This passage depicts the fear and anxiety of Lady Audley as she realizes her secret is at risk of being exposed. The repetition of the word “She” is emphasizing the isolation and vulnerability of Lady Audley. Notice that when Lady Audley first finds the letter from her past, she is alone, adding more emphasis on the feeling of isolation. She is not with her husband or any of her friends to turn to for support. The letter from her past has left her completely immobilized with fear and I would argue that this passage is about Lady Audley realizing she is losing control of her life.  The clustering of words such as “fear,” “terror,” and “blank” creates a sense of unease and the fact that Lady Audley cannot remember what she has done with the other letters suggests that she is overwhelmed and not capable of making rational decisions. These patterns and repetitions are common throughout the novel. Lady Audley is a character who is constantly struggling to keep her secrets hidden. The repetition of these words and phrases reflects her inner turmoil and her fear of being exposed.