The Bloody Chamber

The Dictation of Genre : Respective Failures and Successes of Communication in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber”

Both Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and Angela Carter’s “The Bloody Chamber” involve women artists as their main characters—The Lady of Shalott weaves artful, colorful webs and the narrator in “The Bloody Chamber” is a talented pianist—making them prime candidates for comparison. In Tennyson’s poem, communication breaks down between reality and art, as manifested in the mediation of the Lady’s mirror. In Carter’s story, there seems to be a more exclusive relationship between reality and art, as manifested in the blind piano-tuner who eventually becomes the narrator’s savior. The shift in art’s relationship with reality, in communication breakdown to the success of communication, in these two pieces reflects the differing attitudes of Victorian and Postmodernist writers to language and communication.

In Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott,” the Lady knows that she is cursed and must not “look down to Camelot” (41), but “she knows not what the curse may be” (42). That is, the Lady is not sure of what, exactly, the curse entails and therefore witnesses the city’s events through a mediated source—a mirror—and is never fully able to witness reality. The Lady abides by the curses vague bylaws, avoids looking directly at the...

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