In the lines 55-72 of The Lady of Shalott, it seems like the lady is musing about the lives of the people who pass by towards Camelot, and how she secretly longs to have one of her own. Seeing these “damsels glad” (55), “a curly shepherd lad” (56), and the “long-haired page in crimson clad” (58), she sees how happy ordinary folk are with their ordinary lives. Like it was already said in the post, ‘Tennyson’s Lady’, it is assumed that the Lady’s life is meant to represent that of an artist removing him/herself from society in order to stay true to what she had dedicated her life to. In order to have a full commitment to creating something truly beautiful, the ultimate sacrifice must be made. But is creating something beautiful through the medium of art as valuable than potentially creating something beautiful through the medium of life experience? It seems that this is what the Lady of Shalott is struggling with here.
I think that the idea of the ‘mirror’ (line 60) in itself (a traditional tool of vanity) represents the superficial sense of a final art form. It is a privilege to take part in an art form that creates beautiful things, but what is the point if you don’t have life experience to even compare it to? Also, in acknowledging that a mirror, in that vain sense, allows a woman to indulge in the vanity of admiring herself, Tennyson might be playing on that idea in that the Lady can only indulge in the pleasures of a life beyond her discipline (an intentional double-meaning here) through the mirror and not in reality. Vanity is frowned upon, as a modest woman in that age should not acknowledge her beauty in fear of having her worth reduced to just that. It seems that beauty plays a big part in Tennyson’s day despite this (The Lady’s value is later reduced to ‘she’s pretty’ when she is found dead), but the discipline in proving worth non-reliant on looks (on art instead) demonstrated here is what is most important.
“She hath no loyal knight and true,” (62) because the idea of ‘love’ is the most powerful force for any 19th century woman to be seduced by. It is the epitome of irrationality that women in this age had assumed into their very souls before even having the chance to prove anyone otherwise. Even in Tennyson’s “The woman’s cause is man’s”, he says “For woman is not undevelopt man, but diverse: could we make her as the man,” (259-60). The genders are completely different species, according to Tennyson, which I suppose is a step in the right direction for feminism as he states that women are not necessarily worse, just different. Different, as the traditional literary idea that woman is irrational: end of story. Love is irrational: that’s a fact. Woman falls in/ desperately longs for love: she causes her own downfall and/or that of any number of others. The Lady seems to be doing well in a rational sense (male-approved… thus more desirable?) by ‘still delighting’ in her art and being more or less content with observing the world she is detached from through a mirror, but only because she is enchanted by the “plumes and lights and music” (67) or “two young lovers lately wed” (70) and the mysteries surrounding them.
I would think that the Lady must have developed quite the imagination, out of necessity, in order to construct her own stories about the things she sees in the world. But in order to assume this, we must assume that she has a basic knowledge of how things work outside her tower. But, who has taught her these things? How does she know what love is? Does she know she is beautiful? How does she have the capacity to say, “I am half sick of shadows,” (71) if she does not know any different, even if she is imagining?
Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “The Lady of Shalott” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.
Lord Tennyson, Alfred. “The woman’s cause is man’s” Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. Print.