Monday, January 25, 2010

"Christabel" by Coleridge

My first reaction was that the poem seemed unfinished. At first I thought Coleridge was portraying homosexuality to be evil, but I think what he was really portraying as evil are women and their powers of deception and persuasion. This poem had many themes, that at times seemed unrelated, and many elements of foreshadowing and metaphors.

Christabel seems “Christ like”, innocent at heart, religious, pure, sexless, a “perfect woman” in Coleridge’s eyes. Whereas Geraldine seems very masculine, a body of a woman and a mind of a man. She is self-aware sexually and acts more like a man would. Even after learning that Christabel is betrothed to another, she is not hesitant to take her virginity, much like you would expect a man to do. In fact it seems to have been part of Geraldine’s greater plan to “ruin” Christabel in order to ultimately ruin her father.

There are many elements of protection of guarding angels and how easily their protection can be taken away. When Christabel meets Geraldine she is prone to think of her as “good” because she is beautiful. She then takes Geraldine to her chamber and in and effort to help her, gives her the wine that her mother has made. Since Christabel’s mother died giving birth, the wine is only meant for Christabel to drink. When Geraldine drinks it, she immediately gains access to Christabel’s heart, soul, and mind. Christabel’s mother said that her daughter’s wedding night would be at midnight, which is when the events are taking place. Christabel’s mother is her guarding angel, but is powerless to protect her from Geraldine and Geraldine is aware of that “off, woman, off! This hour is mine…’tis given to me” Geraldine is the ulitimate evil because she does not care for Christabel, their union is not one of love, but merely a necessary step in Geraldine’s evil plan. Geraldine acts like a man when taking Christabel’s virginity, she even speaks like a man in “low voice”.

It is not the homosexual union that is evil in the poem, but Geraldine. Even after it is over, you still feel empathy for Christabel. Has Coleridge been trying to show homosexuality as evil, I think he would make the reader feel different about Christabel. But you still feel the same about her, and still feel negative towards Geraldine, not because she seems to be a lesbian, but because she is an eery character and it feels like there is more evil to see from her still.

I also got the feeling that Christabel’s father, Sir Leoline is also gay. Geraldine is the daughter of his friend from childhood, Lord Roland. Yet something happened to break the friendship, could it be the union between the two, or a confession of feelings?

When Leoline learns that Geraldine is Roland’s daughter, he is automatically empathetic towards her and welcomes her as his own child. This is where Geraldine is evil, because she seems to be counting on that fact. Leoline then immediately forgets his quarrel with Roland and his feelings of friendship toward him are immediately evoked again “For since that evil hour hath flown…never found I [Leoline] a friend again like Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine”

There seems to be direct correlation between the “evil hour” referring to Leoline’s and Roland’s friendship and the “hour” that Geraldine and Christabel share, which is why this makes me think that Leoline has romantic feelings towards Roland.

It is ironic that Leoline is betrayed by Roland, and it is Roland’s daughter that ruins Christabel. However, the ultimate theme to me is the evil of women. Geraldine represents the evil that women have in Coleridge’s eyes. They have powers of persuasion and sexuality and become evil when they chose to use them with negative intent (like Geraldine) He proves that an evil woman can demolish the soul of not only men but women as well. And as long as a woman is beautiful, no one will ever think her capable of evil deeds. Could Coleridge have been rejected or betrayed by a woman he loved?


Abby Elisabeth said...

I like your reading of it! What if the end to it was going to reveal that Geraldine was sent by Lord Roland to ruin Sir Leoline? That would be an ironic twist because of the fact that Leoline pushes away his daughter in favor of a relative of his "friend" who he has been estranged from for so long!

I think you're right about Coleridge's depiction of women. Our book said that after his father died he was sent to a boarding school. It sounds like he did not have an opportunity to develop a relationship with his mother. Also, his marriage to Sara Fricker was unhappy and part of the cause of his attraction to Sara Hutchinson and dependence on opium.

I don't agree with you regarding Sir Leoline being gay, however, I think the falling out between him and Lord Roland was unrelated to their sexuality. Although perhaps it was over the issue of Christabel's mother? I got the sense that they had argued over a common lover, not each other as lovers. Interesting though!

Again, great reading. You were able to delve deeper into the story than I could. Thanks!

ana said...

That would have been a great twist! Too bad it was unfinished, I feel like this story could be very intriguing.

The background on Coleridge makes sense now. I knew he was addicted to opium but that's about it, because I haven't been able to get my book yet. And being in an unhappy marriage would make anyone resent the opposite sex, if you couldn't leave your spouse.