On the Entrapment and Incarceration of the Victorian Woman

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Thomas Blackburn describes the two Victorian poets, Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson as being great contemporaries (47). As such it is apt that their works should muse upon and explore similar topics and themes. Their connection is especially evident in Browning’s “My Last Duchess” and Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”. The themes of entrapment and incarceration feature heavily in both of these works. Specifically, it is the entrapment and incarceration of women which pervade their respective compositions. When taking into consideration the way in which women were viewed at this juncture in history- being nothing more than “beautiful objects” (Gilbert and Gubar 54), it is quite easy to see how the literary representations of the nineteenth century woman would be responses to such confines. While “My Last Duchess” can be looked upon as an investigation of the captor, represented by the Duke; “The Lady of Shalott” can be considered an exploration into the captive, represented by the Lady that gives the poem its title. Both poems are an analysis into the Victorian woman as an incarcerated and entrapped sub-culture of a predominately patriarchal society. It is no surprise then that the methods of which these fictional women take to escape comes at the cost of their lives. The doomed Duchess of Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue, “My Last Duchess” is the embodiment of the incarcerated woman taken to the eternal extreme. The setting for this poem is the Italy of the Middle Ages, a time when women had still less freedom than in the Victorian era. Women were regarded as possessions, a form of imprisonment within itself. As Johnson states the theme of “marriage as bondage” is consistently explored throughout Browning’s early wor... ... middle of paper ... ...y 16.1 (1978): 70-87. Jospeh, Gerhard. "Tennyson's Optics: The Eagle's Gaze." PMLA 92.3 (1977): 420-428. Langbaum, Robert. The Poetry of Experience: The Dramatic Monologue in Modern Literary Tradition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1957. McGhee, Richard. Marriage, Duty, & Desire in Victorian Poetry and Drama. Lawrence: The Regents Press of Kansas, 1980. Orr, Mrs. Sutherland. Handbook to Robert Browning's Works. 6th Edition. London: George Bell and Sons, 1899. Plasa, Carl. ""Cracked from Side to Side": Sexual Politics in "The Lady of Shalott"." Victorian Poetry 30.3 (1992): 247-263. Ricks, Christopher. Tennyson. London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1972. Showalter, Elaine and English Showalter. "Victorian Women and Menstruation." Victorian Studies 14.1 (1970): 83-89. Showalter, Elaine. "Victorian Women and Insanity." Victorian Studies 23.2 (1980): 157-181.

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