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A Feminist Perspective of The Lady of Shalott

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A Feminist Perspective of The Lady of Shalott    

   In an essay on feminist criticism, Linda Peterson of Yale University explains how literature can "reflect and shape the attitudes that have held women back" (330). From the viewpoint of a feminist critic, "The Lady of Shalott" provides its reader with an analysis of the Victorian woman's conflict between her place in the interior, domestic role of society and her desire to break into the exterior, public sphere which generally had been the domain of men. Read as a commentary on women's roles in Victorian society, "The Lady of Shalott" may be interpreted in different ways. Thus, the speaker's commentary is ambiguous: Does he seek to reinforce the institution of patriarchal society as he "punishes" the Lady with her death for her venture into the public world of men, or does he sympathize with her yearnings for a more colorful, active life? Close reading reveals more than one possible answer to this question, but the overriding theme seems sympathetic to the Lady. By applying "the feminist critique" (Peterson 333-334) to Tennyson's famous poem, one may begin to understand how "The Lady of Shalott" not only analyzes, but actually critiques the attitudes that held women back and, in the end, makes a hopeful, less patriarchal statement about the place of women in Victorian society.

As noted in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, the Industrial Revolution provided women with opportunities to work outside the home, but it also "presented an increasing challenge to traditional ideas of woman's sphere" ("Role of Women" 902). The idea of "public and private life as two 'separate spheres'... inextricably connected either with women or with men" (Gorham 4) had emerged as...

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...ian woman existing, albeit briefly, within the bounds of patriarchal society.


Abrams, M.H., ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1993.

"The Role of Women in Victorian Life and Literature." Abrams 902-904.

"The Woman Question." Abrams 1595-1597.

Gorham, Deborah. The Victorian Girl and the Feminine Ideal. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982.

Martineau, Harriet. "Autobiography." Abrams 1601-1604.

Mulock, Dinah Maria. "A Woman's Thoughts About Women." Abrams 1604- 1606.

Peterson, Linda H. "What Is Feminist Criticism?" Wuthering Heights. Ed. Linda H. Peterson. Boston: Bedford Books, 1992. 330-337.

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. "The Lady of Shalott." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.H. Abrams. 6th ed. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 1993. 1059-1063.


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