How did Tennyson presentation Victorian women in "The Lady of Shalott"?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One difficulty with the question as phrased is that in the poem "The Lady of Shalott" Tennyson is not directly portraying Victorian women. The poem is explicitly set in the middle ages in the time of the round table, and thus the woman who sacrifices all for her unrequited love of Sir Lancelot is not a Victorian, but a medieval, woman.

Another question is whether the picture of one woman is meant to represent all women or just one specific individual out of Arthurian legend. In "The Princess," Tennyson's longest and most profound poem about women, the eponymous heroine is portrayed as strong, intelligent, and advocating women's education. So we might look at Tennyson's medieval women as exemplifying "the bad old days" before the more enlightened society of Victorian England gave women additional rights and freedoms and assume that the poet's attitude was condemnation of the subservience of women. This might be a good biographical reading as Tennyson saw dominance by his future father-in-law over his future wife as a source of much misery.

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The Lady of Shalott

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