Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Christabel, the poem’s titular character, is depicted as an innocent, naive, and compassionate young woman who is caught in a situation that she is unable to handle. After having nightmares about her fiancé, she goes into the woods at night to pray for him. He is a knight who is away, so readers can deduce that she is concerned that he is on a dangerous mission. Christabel does not hesitate to walk into the woods at night unaccompanied because she must pray for his safe return. While there, she encounters a young woman who seems to be in distress. Again, we see Christabel’s caring side as she immediately tries to help the woman. Although she does hesitate briefly, Christabel ultimately does what any helpful, compassionate person would do: she “stretched forth her hand, / And comforted fair Geraldine.” After hearing Geraldine’s story of being abducted, Christabel, who is “devoid of guile and sin,” invites the woman to her home, promising that her father will protect her. Christabel’s naivete shows clearly here because she does not consider any danger in inviting a stranger to her home.
Christabel’s innocence is taken away by Geraldine, but she cannot remember what happens because she is held in a trance. The reader must piece together clues, however, to know that Christabel has had her first sexual experience with a woman:
And as the lady bade, did she.Her gentle limbs did she undress,And lay down in her loveliness.
She brings Geraldine to her father for help, but after hearing Bracy’s dream (a premonition of Christabel being in danger), she struggles against the spell that has been cast on her. Christabel displays strength here, and she begs Sir Leoline, in vain, to send Geraldine home. Although she is unsure what has happened, she knows from flashes of memory that Geraldine is not who she seems to be. Christabel envisions “that bosom old . . . that bosom cold” and tries to warn her father of impending doom.
Geraldine is depicted as a seductive, evil temptress. She pretends to be a victim who was abducted by knights and then left under the tree at night. Fearful that they will return for her, she begs Christabel for help. This is all part of a ruse, and readers soon discover that Geraldine is not so innocent after all. Her story of being kidnapped seems to have been part of a plot to tempt Christabel. She seduces Christabel and then places a spell on her so that she will not remember.
Geraldine can be compared to the snake that is killing the dove in Bard Bracy’s dream, in which he “saw a bright green snake / Coiled around its wings and neck.” Geraldine is cast as an evil force that will destroy good (in the form of Christabel) if she is not stopped. Although Bracy and Christabel attempt to warn Leoline, the “snake” takes control of him as well.
Geraldine is clearly a dark force who weakens when she is around symbols of goodness. For instance, she falls to the floor when she sees the carved angel in Christabel’s room. She also seems to be in pain when near iron or wood, two materials believed to be useful in making stakes to kill vampires. Christabel has to help her to get away from the tree and carry her away from the iron gates.
The Spirit of Christabel’s Mother
Christabel’s mother’s spirit seems to be in Christabel’s room to protect her daughter. Geraldine speaks to some unknown character, “Off, wandering mother! . . . I have power to...
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bid thee flee.” She is physically exhausted after having tangled with the spirit. Christabel’s mother acts as Christabel’s guardian angel, but Geraldine’s will is ultimately too strong, and she chases her away. This spirit warns the reader (even if it can’t warn Christabel) and acts as another piece of evidence to prove Geraldine’s evil nature.
As Christabel’s father, Sir Leoline is supposed to protect her, but he ends up a victim to the same force as his daughter. He is blinded by Geraldine’s beauty and refuses to believe Bracy and Christabel’s warnings. Ironically, when his daughter asks him to remove Geraldine, she begs “By my mother’s soul.” Leoline has spent every day pining after his wife after she died in childbirth; now, he cannot believe his daughter, even when she calls upon her mother to convince him. Under Geraldine’s spell, Sir Leoline is helpless against the truth. He feels “Dishonoured” and sides with Geraldine.
Bracy the Bard
Bracy plays an important role in bringing his dream to Leoline. He warns of Geraldine’s true nature and gives a possible means to turn the situation around. However, he is not strong or influential enough to convince Leoline of the danger before the poem’s (unfinished) end.