How are women portrayed in Lord George Gordon Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty"? How is feminism seen in this poem?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Lord George Gordon Byron's poem "She Walks in Beauty," a narrator is describing a woman walking. The woman of the poem is probably Mrs. Wilmot, his cousin and Robert Wilmot’s wife. Although we normally think of Byron, both due to his personal life and his "Don Juan" attitude, as a rake, this poem is quite chaste, and is an appreciation, to a great degree, of inner beauty and moral virtue. Her beauty is described as subtle rather than gaudy. What makes her face beautiful is that it is a place where:

Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
In other words, she is not being described as beautiful because she is wearing a skimpy outfit or twerking, but because she is kind and serene, possessed of an inner beauty and virtue that makes her outward expression calm and peaceful.
 
Feminist approaches to this poem could be positive, appreciating the way the woman is seen in terms of her character rather than just being reduced to the object of a sexual gaze. A negative feminist critique would emphasize that the virtues attributed to the woman are childlike, passive, and disempowering, described by such terms as "soft," "calm," and "innocent" rather than strong, successful and intelligent.
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