La Belle dame sans merci is a poem that powerfully reflects the patriarchal prejudices of the author. John Keats is a man famously known for his misogynistic sentiments. Not only does he manifest misogynistic tendencies, he is also someone who suffers from feelings of inadequacy. Keats’ delicate constitution combined with his demure physical stature contributed to his feelings of inadequacy. His inferiority complex intensifies his distrust towards the opposite sex and infused in his person with an intense longing to control the female sex. Wants he lacks in self-confidence, he wants to make up through domination over the fairer sex. Keats often feels threatened by women, especially those with intellectual weight and substance. He resents the bluestocking women of his days and their intellectual aspirations. He feels threatened by talented women as if he fears intellectual competition from them. He is a defender of the patriarchal social structure and believes that women should be kept within the confines of domesticity. He looks down upon the entire female sex and laughs at the intellectual pretensions of the ambitious, forward-thinking women of his days. He experiences feelings of unease when he succumbs to the charms of desirable women, often hating himself for having fallen under women’s power.
Despite of his profound distrust towards women, Keats is a deeply romantic person at heart who is quite impressionable to feminine beauty and their bewitching graces. As a result, he often harbors resentment towards his inability to resist against the feminine charms. Therefore La dame sans merci is a poem that perfectly encapsulates the author’s inner conflict with regards to women. Like the knight in the poem, Keats’ feelings towards women are a mixture of fascination and distrust. In the poem, the knight is an emotionally impressionable womanizer who like to accost the first beautiful woman that comes into his sight. He is an experienced suitor who is well-versed in the arts of seduction. He makes garlands for the lady, kisses her and puts her onto his horse. He is a willing participant in this relationship and assumes full responsibility should any misfortune arises from this liaison. Like the author, the knight in the poem is someone who entertains misogynistic feelings. Instead of facing up to his own share of responsibility, he lays all the blames squarely at the woman when the liaison comes to an end. He views himself as an innocent victim of feminine wiles. In fact, he was a womanizer who could not come to terms with the idea of being thwarted in love. He is a domineering suitor who wants to keep his lady firmly under his thumbs. Just like author who likes to keep women in their places, the knight is also a patriarch who can not stomach the fact that a member of the “weaker sex” has chosen to elude his control by abandoning him. After being abandoned by the lady, the knight transforms himself from her admirer into her bitter detractor. He tells a moralistic tale to the audience, painting their story as the tale of a virtuous knight being seduced by a pitiless woman, and thus warning the world of the dangers of women’s inconstancy. The poet uses the knight as a mouthpiece to unleash his profound anxieties towards the feminine sex.
The knight in this poem can be seen as the poet’s double and mouthpiece. At the time in which this poem was written, Keats himself was suffering from the torments of a troublesome romance. His love for Fanny Brawne is just as hopeless as the knight’s star-crossed love for the fairy-like lady. The sickly pallor of the knight further reflects the poet’s pale complexion, which arises from his long term consumption. Keats’ feelings for Fanny also mirror the conflicted feelings that the knight holds towards the fairy lady. Like the knight, Keats experiences both love and resentment towards the object of his affection. He admires Fanny’s beauty and charms, but secretly resents Fanny for having destroyed his inner peace. He wants to possess the lovely Fanny but is afraid of losing his spiritual autonomy to a woman. His failure to marry Fanny indicates his reluctance to devote and commit himself to a woman, whom he regards as being inferior to men.