Study Guide

Christabel

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Christabel Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Christabel has two parts, written in 1797 and 1800, with the second part a distinct falling-off from the preceding. In the first part, the maiden Christabel, rather unwisely for a defenseless young girl, goes into the woods at midnight to pray for her betrothed knight, where she discovers the beautiful but evil Geraldine, who claims that she has been abandoned by five would-be rapists. At once, the idea of sexual violation comes into the poem. Christabel takes pity upon Geraldine and brings her to the home that she shares with her father, Sir Leoline. Geraldine, like evil spirits traditionally, cannot cross the threshold of the castle, so poor, duped Christabel carries her, in an ironic inversion of the marriage ritual.

Christabel brings Geraldine to her bedchamber and tells her guest about her mother’s having died when she was born. They undress, Geraldine revealing her magic and mystery in an undescribed horror visible on her chest and side. Naïvely, Christabel sleeps with her visitor. In the conclusion to the first part, the narrator acknowledges that Geraldine now has Christabel at her mercy and that only the unlikely aid of the spirit of Christabel’s mother can save her. Geraldine probably is a lesbian vampire, as is most persuasively argued by James Twitchell and Camille Paglia in Harold Bloom’s collection of essays on Coleridge.

The second part of the poem concerns the day after the previous waking nightmare. Sir Leoline...

(The entire section is 448 words.)