“Christabel” and the Vulnerability of Girls

  • Anya Taylor


In a social system where young girls are forced to deny their individuality to keep their reputations, where they often must marry old, ugly, or nasty men for economic reasons in the bargaining of fathers and suitors over land, dowries, and ranks, where if they do not marry they must scrimp and manage as obscure maiden aunts (as Sara Coleridge, the daughter, remembers her Fricker maiden aunts doing), or marginally haunt the houses of their brothers or go into stranger’s homes as governesses, girls often go amiss. At puberty, the pressure of choosing or not being allowed to choose, of making a match, succumbing to adventurers, or being turned over to an unsympathetic, unloving, or even brutal man, not to speak of the unruly pressures of their own pubescent desires, can undermine the sturdiest of egos. Coleridge’s sympathy with women’s lives and his identification with the fragility of their boundaries as persons, leads him to explore this region of self-forming or self-losing. Pursuing the issues in poems to women who were seduced and destroyed, he begins in 1798 a long struggle to chart these disintegrations in his “Christabel,” a poem that circles around and around the perils of young womanhood. It is significant that the poem hears the heroine being silenced, crying out briefly for justice, then being abandoned, a pattern that began in “The Ballad of the Dark Ladie” where the girl’s last words cry out against incarceration in the dark.


Sexual Initiation Negative Reading Naked Body Narrative Voice Companion Piece 
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© Anya Taylor 2005

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  • Anya Taylor

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