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The Man Behind "The Lady"

Portia Favro and Marilee Devries

Looking closer into the poem itself, writer Elizabeth Nelson brings up a point in her piece “The Embowered Woman: Pictorial Interpretations of "The Lady of Shalott" about Elizabeth Siddal, the wife of Rossetti, and her view of the text and comments on society.@ As Dante was working on Poems in 1857, it may be probable that Siddal was also in contact with “The Lady of Shalott” around the Victorian Era as well and created a visual interpretation (which was also one of the first known). @

Her painting of the Lady may have been a reflection of her own role as a woman in the society. Nelson says, “Siddal seems to have identified with the more negative aspects of the embowered woman dying for love...the Lady is seated at the loom, looking over her shoulder through the window into the exterior world as the web bursts and the mirror cracks. The mirror, in which the reflection of Lancelot can be seen, appears on the opposite wall. Like Waterhouse's version, this work clearly defines the interior world of the woman and the exterior world of the man.”@ This acts almost as a personal account of how women were perhaps feeling repressed in Victorian society, and connected to literary characters to show similar experiences.

Through each stroke of a brush, thought of interpretation and word of written text, Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” had various meaning to both men and women. Through the use of art, it can be argued that Tennyson’s words can be seen as a comment on how Victorian society treated women as a whole, with stereotypes, social norms and repression. Visual hierarchy and gender roles come into play, reflecting on how people within the era treated each other, which can be reflected by the Lady.
Whether one views "The Lady of Shalott" through the lens of its relevancy to Victorian culture, or its place within the artistic world - Tennyson's poem provides a valuable insight about the roles and comments on women. His words weave a picture of a society that may have treated women similar to the Lady within the poem, and reflects this notion upon his readers.

And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
The Lady of Shalott

(lines 132-135)

*We used the spelling of "Shalott" from the course reader, but did keep the same spelling of "Shallot" if it was referenced within a specific text.