Can you explain who is Madeleine in Charlotte Mew's poem "Madeleine in Church"?

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choucksolace eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Various details in Charlotte Mew's poem "Madeleine in Church" suggest that Madeleine is a former prostitute, who has escaped her fate as a fallen woman through multiple marriages but still feels at odds with the conventional Victorian ideal of womanhood.

The name Madeleine is a form of Mary Magdalen, a biblical woman who repents from a sinful lifestyle, presumably prostitution, to follow Jesus. The poem questions whether Mary gave up her pursuit of passion or merely tranferred it to her devotion of Jesus.

The speaker chooses to kneel by the statue of a saint rather than that of Christ on the crucifix; while Christ is divine, human saints are fallible and make their share of mistakes in life. She feelts that Christ could never truly understand worldly temptation. She compares the paint on the plaster face of the saint to the paint on her own face, which alludes to the image of a prostitute as a painted lady. She also makes several references to streets and gutters, comparing her soul to a "dark ditch" and a rose trampled in the "highway dust."

Madeleine feels torn between a Christian life, which demands that she reject and repress earthly pleasures, and her sensual response to the world around her, which has a divinity all its own.


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