Context: Tennyson, poet laureate and spokesman of his time, concerned himself from his early years with the problems confronting the Englishman of the nineteenth century. In The Princess, he presents, half jestingly and half seriously, the issue of the education of women, by having a group of college-age men and the sister of one relate the story of Princess Ida, who founds an institution, completely devoid of males, for the education of her own sex. Her heart, however, overrules her intellect, and she learns to love the Prince to whom she has been betrothed from childhood. In the Prologue, the poet and his friends talk with Lilia, who resents woman's childish position in society and declares that if she were a princess she would construct "Far off from men a college like a man's." One of the young men replies:
"Pretty were the sightIf our old halls could change their sex, and flauntWith prudes for proctors, dowagers for deans,And sweet girl-graduates in their golden hair.I think they should not wear our rusty gowns,But move as rich as Emperor-moths, or RalphWho shines so in the corner; yet I fear,If there were many Lilias in the brood,However deep you might embower the nest,Some boy would spy it."