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Lecture 9

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English 2307E
Krista Lysack

English 2307E Thursday February 13 Lecture 9 Tennyson Tennyson, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ • A possible source for the poem: o The story of Elaine in Mallory’s ‘The Death of Arthur’ – Elaine died from unrequited love of Sir Lancelot • Tennyson’s version of Elaine is a weaver • This poem might be an oblique way to address the question of the relevance of the artist in the Victorian period o There was a concern over whether artists could thrive during this period • Tennyson situates the narrative in an unspecified Medieval period o It is in the time of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table • There is something organic about this society – we are in the countryside, there is a busy river, and reapers on either side of the river working in the barley field (an idyllic, agrarian setting) o There is a castle with a tower on the side of the river where the Lady of Shalott spends her days o There is a feeling of community amongst the labourers, a feeling of commercial activity (barges transporting and trading down in Camelot) o It is only the reapers who can hear the lady and know of her presence (otherwise she seems invisible) • The Lady spends her days weaving o The weavers are a class being wiped out in favour of mechanical technology at this time (it would resonate with Victorian readers at this time) o There is increasing alienation from products – they are being produced in factories • There is also an alienation that the Lady of Shalott experiences o She is alienated from the world – she doesn’t have any direct contact o The mirror makes her experience of the outside world that much more remote  She doesn’t get to participate directly – she has to experience the outside world through the mirror  Plato: Art is always seen through a mirror, a reflection of the world • For a time, the Lady goes along with this (seeing that she must use the mirror to find scenes to weave into her tapestries) o She says that she is “half sick of shadows”  She wants to see the real thing – she doesn’t have a direct, embodied relationship with the world  Seeing the two lovers makes her see even more that she doesn’t have that relationship with the world (the idea of desire precipitates this declaration) • Lancelot comes around and the Lady leaves the tower • She gets into a boat and rides down to Camelot, putting her name on the boat o She dies in the course of this ‘artistic statement’ • Lancelot’s obituary ends the poem with a ballad o It seems offhand, dismissive, and misses the scope of the Lady’s sacrifice (writing her off) o It speaks to her anonymity – no one really knows who she is or what her story is o It is almost as if no one appreciated her sacrifice all these years • The Lady of Shalott as an example of the difficulty of being an artist in the Victorian period: o The artists are worried that they work so hard and toil for their masterpieces, but in the end no one will fully appreciate how much has gone into it o There is a fear of anonymity, being misunderstood, and your art not being able to make a difference o Does art have a place in the society? • This poem is often read in the context of increasing worry about the artist in Victorian society o There was a sense of increasing marginalization, especially for the poet o The arts didn’t go dead in the Victorian period, but while the novel was taking off (Dickens, Bronte, Elliot), there was less certainty about poetry o There was an anxiety about whether the arts were useful and had utility • The poem also talks about the female artist or poet o Female poets had particular difficulty carving out a space and readership, as well as being accepted for publishing (poetry was still regarded as ‘male’) • The Romantics didn’t really have these same anxieties – the Victorians were concerned with application of knowledge and its usefulness, but the Romantics couldn’t care less about that (they thought that the more isolated and remote the artist is, the better they can access their experience) Victorian Prose Non-Fiction: A Sampler These writers were the ‘public intellectuals’ of their day (like Noam Chomsky or Naomi Klein). • Carlyle’s ‘Captains of Industry’ o Carlyle was the son of a clergyman o He was worried about his own time because of the
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