Themes

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434

The Pervasive Nature of Loneliness

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Christabel, the poem's protagonist, has lost her loved ones. Her mother has been long dead, and her bridegroom has gone on a long journey. Her dreams help us to understand the life of her inner self. Her perception of the outward world becomes illusory. We first find her retiring to the nearby woods at night to pray. Coleridge creates a mystical atmosphere of the Gothic in the poem, which intensifies the sense of the abandonment that Christabel experiences. Even the beautiful Geraldine, whom the lonely Christabel meets in the woods and sympathizes with, turns out to be an evil monster. Christabel's loneliness is seen all the more clearly at the poem's end, when she, bound by the evil spell, is unable to communicate her anxiety to her father, the baron.

The Archetype of Wicked Womanhood

The evil character of the poem's antagonist, Geraldine, has its roots in folklore. She can be compared to a vampire, a witch, or Melusine (a female spirit who is a snake or a fish from her waist down). The good Christabel gives shelter to the snake-like woman. Geraldine creeps into the quiet abode of piety, courtesy, and love. Evil enters this innocent and naive world, this stylized and even medieval idyll. When Geraldine enters the castle, all sorts of disorder and confusion begin. She casts a spell on Christabel herself and enchants Christabel's father, the baron. Christabel loses the ability to explain in what way Geraldine's presence has affected her, and her words are lost on her father, who is totally fascinated with this mysterious woman. The reader can guess that, in the end, Geraldine becomes the real owner and ruler of the castle.

Links Between Evil and Women's Sexuality

Coleridge explicitly links Geraldine's evil actions to her eroticism. Sexuality permeates the descriptions of her physical beauty from the very first scene of the meeting in the woods. Christabel carries Geraldine in her own hands over the moat into the castle because Geraldine suddenly feels weak, which suggests that Christabel plays the part that a knight would play in relation to the feminine Geraldine. As Geraldine undresses in the bedroom, Christabel observes the perfection of her body. Coleridge emphasizes both the extraordinary beauty of the guest and its deadly character:

Behold! her bosom and half her side—
A sight to dream of, not to tell!
O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!

Finally, Geraldine lies down beside Christabel and embraces her. Geraldine's beauty turns out to be an instrument of her evil, which destroys the idealized world of piety, faithfulness, and nobility in the castle.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

Christabel is a poem about the conflict between good and evil. Christabel is good; Geraldine is evil. Geraldine has appeared at the castle with the obvious intention of drawing Christabel into evil, perhaps, it is implied, through a sexual seduction.

Early in the poem, the forces on both sides of the conflict are clearly lined up. Christabel has her faith, as expressed in her prayers to God and to the Virgin Mary. Moreover, she has a spiritual guardian in her dead mother as well as an earthly guardian in her beloved father.

Although Geraldine does not actually call upon satanic powers, it is clear that she has their skills. Like the biblical serpent, she is a deceiver. She can invent plausible lies; she can feign goodness; and, as Coleridge’s projected continuation suggests, she can appear in any guise, even that of another living person.

The reason that Geraldine is so successful in deceiving Christabel and Sir Leoline is that she appeals to the very vulnerability of virtue. Because she has been taught to be compassionate toward others, Christabel pities Geraldine. The fact that Geraldine seems to be another girl of high rank, almost a second self, makes Christabel’s action even more predictable.

Sir Leoline, too, is made vulnerable by the seeming helplessness of a daughter so much like his own; however, his greatest weakness is his devotion to the code of chivalry. A knight is bound by hospitality; he cannot honorably cast out a guest and certainly not if she is a helpless damsel who has put herself under his protection.

Even in the fragment of Christabel which was published there are hints that while recognizing the power of evil, Coleridge did not intend for it to win. Despite the spell placed upon her, Christabel feels an increasing revulsion toward Geraldine; Bracy believes his dream, warning of evil; and certainly Sir Leoline will eventually once more be governed by his love for Christabel. In the conclusion, just as in Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), nature will be justified; the woods, as well as the castle, will be rescued from evil by the power of good.

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