Evaluate Tennyson's "The Lady of Shallot" according to the criteria from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Aurora Leigh".

Expert Answers
pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Intersecting themes in the two works deal with the rights of women in Victorian society, male domination in society and how they set the rules and expectations for women.  

Aurora Leigh is a champion who redefines a woman's existence by deciding to stay unmarried and devote herself to her writing believing that to be a great poet she must surrender herself totally to the work, she shuns the idea of romance in favor of the solitude required by an author.

The Lady of Shallot by Tennyson can be viewed as a symbolic representation of how few choices Victorian women had and many which imprisoned them, like a loveless marriage or a controlling father who dismisses all suitors as unworthy, which results in the young woman being held captive in the family home without ever experiencing love or romance, and who escapes one day to find love or run away with a man rejected by her father, some she has fallen in love with. She leaves the protective environment, the family home, and figuratively dies to her family.

Elizabeth Barett Browning did not shy away from writing about hot button issues of her time. 

"More than any other major Victorian poet, she explicitly and directly confronts political issues, particularly those concerning women. Like Tennyson, her husband, and many other contemporaries, she began as a disciple of Shelley who found the Romantic visionary mode compelling, and like them, she later developed a poetry of social, moral, and political commitment."

Using the two works, you could focus on the theme of how society imposes prisons on its members, particularly in this period in history, women.  

"Elizabeth Barrett Browning's, Aurora Leigh (1857) argues that society imposes prisons on its members and that overcoming these prisons requires a strong will, much knowledge, and appreciation of true love and partnership. Aurora serves as Barrett Browning's example of the woman confined by society's unjust rules."

Tennyson examines a similar theme in "The Lady of Shallot." The lady imprisoned in the tower is a symbolic representation of young Victorian women who are held captive in their family homes as a way of protecting their virtue, honor and the family's reputation.  The young woman is controlled, protected and guarded so that she can be matched in marriage to a suitable husband, found by her father or male relative.  

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, before she married Robert Browning was literally kept as a prisoner by her father who was a tyrant.

"Elizabeth and Robert, who was six years her junior, exchanged 574 letters over the next twenty months. Immortalized in 1930 in the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street, by Rudolf Besier (1878-1942), their romance was bitterly opposed by her father," 

Or, the lady in the tower could be trapped by a marriage that was arranged by her father to a man that she does not love and who married her just to bear his children.  She longs for real love, to be "in love," in the same way that Elizabeth Barret Browning describes in "Aurora Leigh" with regard to her main characters desire to be freed from the prison of that she initially puts herself in to become a great poet, life without real love.

"These lines show that Aurora has made a 360 degree turn since the beginning of her poem, when she spurned Romney's proposal. Now she believes that she must not live without the love she once cursed. "





bradbque1 | Student

according to Aurora Leigh this is a bad poem.

Fist of all here is the criteria form Aurora Leigh in my oppinion. 

She says poets should have double vision, to enable them to see the glory of their own age. She says a poet who can not find poetic subject in their own time is to distrusted, especially those who go back centuries in time to find setting for their poems. It is bad poetic practice to ridicule current customs and go back to King Athurs court or greek gods to write poetry. The high point of Browning's criteria is realism. Accurate representations of daily life are what constitutes living art and therefore good poetry. I dont believe i read anything in Aurora leigh about feminine writing or staying true to it, as you said in your question.

"the lady of shallot" is exactly what Browning was telling poets not to do. It has the damsel in distress, it's writen in King Arthur's time, and its about a knight that comes to the dames rescue.

   "I do distrust the poet who discerns no character or glory in his own times, and trundels back his soul five hundred years, past moat and drawbridge, into a castle court." "But of some black chief, half knight, half sheep lifter, some beauteous dame, half chattel and half queen."

She's saying writers like Tennyson are holding back the art of poetry. When future writers look back to the 1800's to see the world through Tennyson's writing all they'll find in this poem is fairy tales of a time when Tennyson never lived. This type of writing is not progressive.

Im homeschooled as well, i always make sure when im stuck on a question to check as many references and others answers as i can find from enotes, google, bing, wikipedia, whatever you may use and then double check the answer in my textbook. Also if youre haveing a hard time understanding whats being said in a poem or story always read the notes on the bottom of the page. they do a good job of breaking a line down or defining a strange word or custom stated in the poem.

i hope this helps anyone who needs it.

Read the study guide:
The Lady of Shalott

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question