Women's Behavior in Coleridge's Christabel and Browning's My Last Duchess

1772 Words8 Pages
Women's Behavior in Coleridge's Christabel and Browning's My Last Duchess

Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Browning wrote in two different eras.

Coleridge's "Christabel" and Browning's "My Last Duchess" both deal with

women's sexuality. The women of the poems are both presented as having

sinned. Christabel's own belief that she has sinned is based on how a

woman of her time was supposed to behave. The Duchess's sin is that she

violates the code of conduct for a noble wife. Yet, can the modern reader

really feel these women did anything wrong? The only sin in these two

poems is that women are supposed to suppress their emotions. The real

problem is that they defied the idea that women are not supposed to be as

sexually open as men. A woman was only to behave as these two women did

towards their husband, and even with him do so behind closed doors. Women

were to serve as the "Angel in the House" both of these women defy that

image. That type of thinking is characteristic of Romantic and Victorian

standards of women. This is especially true of the upper classes to which

Christabel and the Duchess belong.

Coleridge raises the question: "What happens to a woman's self-image when

she defies social expectations?" Christabel struggles with this question

throughout the poem because she defies the standards for how a woman

should behave sexually. However, Coleridge is not trying to makes

Christabel a heroine for doing so. The poem has more to do with the effect

of breaking rules on women. Coleridge depicts Christabel as a young woman

discovering herself. She has no taste for convention, as one can see by

her wandering around in the woods at night. Apparently, this is not proper

behavior, as the poet describes her action in a scolding tone, "What makes

her in the woods so late, / A furlong from the castle gate?" (Coleridge

25-26). The reader is given the idea from the beginning that Christabel is

    More about Women's Behavior in Coleridge's Christabel and Browning's My Last Duchess

      Open Document