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The Use of the Female Persona in Lady of Shalott and Mariana.

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Introduction

Paper I Project Nisha James B.A.Eng(Hons), I B Roll no - 53 II The Use of the Female Persona in Lady of Shalott and Mariana The Lady of Shalott was first published in 1832, when Tennyson was 23 years old, in a volume called Poems. Up to that point, Tennyson had received great critical acclaim, and had won national awards, but the critics savagely attacked the 1832 book, mostly because of poems such as The Lady of Shalott that dealt with fantasy situations instead of realistic ones. The next year, 1833, Tennyson's best friend died, which affected the poet as greatly as would anything in his life. For a long time, during a period that later came to be known as "the ten years' silence," nothing of Tennyson's was published. In 1842, a new volume, also called Poems, was published, to great critical acclaim. The new book had a slightly revised version of The Lady of Shalott and this version is the one that is studied today. Tennyson attributed the inspiration for this poem to an Italian novelette Donna di Scalotta (1321) which provided the bare skeleton of the story and The Lady of Shalott is largely a product of Tennyson's own imagination. The poem focuses on a woman who is living alone on a small island in the middle of a river. This island, called Shalott, is within eyesight of the storied city of Camelot. ...read more.

Middle

All through the poem a parallel is drawn between the 'feminine' nature of the Lady of Shalott and the poet's isolation from the 'masculine' world outside. The fact that she has absolutely no connections or attachments to the world, either economic or marital, denies her substantiality. In fact this almost makes her invisible which is reaffirmed by the fact that what she sees in the mirror is not a reflection of herself but of a world beyond her bounds. Yet the parallel between the privacy of the poet and the privacy of the woman stops at a point. The fundamental difference between the nature of isolation of the poet and the woman is that for the former it is a matter of choice while for the latter, a lack thereof. For artists, privacy is a sign of autonomy, of independence whereas privacy for the middle class woman means separation from the public sphere, dependence upon male members of the family and a total loss of self identity. Therefore, the female persona is used by the male poet only as a technique to communicate and express feelings and insecurities that would otherwise be considered unmanly. Thus in The Lady of Shalott towards the end Tennyson too ceases to identify with the 'feminine' artist and replaces her with the masculine hero Lancelot. The theme of the embowered woman is further explored in Mariana. ...read more.

Conclusion

Mariana awaits her love with no other occupation but to stare out of her window and watch the horizon for him. Her whole existence seems to revolve around waiting and pining, and even in rest she dreams of him. Sleep is not even an escape for her. Mariana actively searches in her dreams without leaving the solitary safety of her bower, for to leave and search for her love by herself never seems to be an option. "In sleep she seem'd to walk forlorn, till cold winds woke the gray-eyed morn about the lonely moated grange", showing that in sleep she is able to search for her love, but that search is only a dream, not reality. Mariana cannot go out and actively seek what she searches for. Instead, she dreams and pines, wishing that death would come and end her suffering because her lover will not. The female persona in this poem too, like The Lady of Shalott, can hope to attain freedom only in death that implies the dissolution of her personality. Mariana and the Lady of Shalott are both exceedingly sad characters. They are both confined and despairing because their lives are dreary, but to change it would be to give up the place that is their own safe haven, and to venture out into a perilous world-which was not something the women of the Victorian era, the very readers of such poems, were encouraged to do. ...read more.

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