Posted 3103 days ago in Books by Catriona
From Emily’s diary:
We have The Idylls of the King in English class this term. I like some things in them, but I despise Tennyson’s Arthur. If I had been Guinevere I’d have boxed his ears—but I wouldn’t have been unfaithful to him for Lancelot, who was just as odious in a different way. As for Geraint, if I had been Enid I’d have bitten him. These ‘patient Griseldas’ deserve all they get.
L. M. Montgomery’s Emily Climbs (1925), Angus and Robertson, 1981. 228.
Well, I’m with you, Emily—except that I dislike the term “deserve all they get” almost as much as I despise the phrase “she had it coming.”
But I’m with you on the biting front, since Geraint, in Tennyson’s version, does the following things:
- sets Enid a test involving her willingness to wear her poorest dress for her trip to Camelot: they marry when she ‘passes’ the test.
- immediately assumes that she is being unfaithful when she worries that his attention to her is causing him to ignore his responsibilities.
- keeps her with him constantly on his travels but refuses to speak to her or to listen when she speaks—including becoming infuriated with her when she warns him of ambushes.
- kills so many bandits that he has Enid herding a growing number of horses while he still won’t speak a word to her.
- only believes in her fidelity when he hears the sounds of her being beaten by another man, the Earl Doorm, for refusing to marry him.
Oh, yes: someone’s a candidate for biting.
I understand Tennyson is largely basing this version on the events of “Geraint and Enid” from The Mabinogion, but presumably the protagonist in that also needed biting.
Tennyson, of course, is also a product of his time, and is drawing on such Victorian stereotypes of patient, uncomplaining wives as the Conventry Patmore-inspired “angel in the house.”
Compare, for example, Enid’s tramping around in the wake of her sulking husband with the advice given to a correspondent who signs herself “Hopeless Polly.” Writing what sounds like a desperate letter to The London Journal (which didn’t republish the original letter) in 1863, she is met with the response that “[i]t is a sad case, but the old story of a drunken husband and a patient, meek, and enduring wife. Make another effort, and if that fails, another, and another after that” (cited in Andrew King’s The London Journal, 1845-83: Periodicals, Production and Gender, Ashgate, 2004. 203).
Or you could bite him.
So, no, I don’t have much patience with chivalric romances, always excluding the perpetually joyous passage in Chretien de Troyes’s “The Knight of the Cart” in which Lancelot, trying to keep in sight the window from which Guinevere is watching him, to draw inspiration from her face, tries to fight with his back to his opponent:
When Lancelot heard his name, he turned around promptly. And when he did so, up in the tower galleries he saw seated the one he most desired to see in the entire world. From the moment he caught sight of her, he did not turn or take his eyes or his face from her, but defended himself from the back. Meleagant pursued him as closely as he was able, pleased at the thought that his enemy could never now withstand him.
The maiden then again shouted from the window. “Oh Lancelot, how can you act so foolishly? You once were the epitome of all valor and excellence. I do not think or believe God ever made a knight equal to you in courage and renown. Now we see you at such a loss. Turn round to the other side where you may always see this tower. Sight of it will help you.”
Lancelot was so ashamed and disgusted that he despised himself. He knew well, as did all the men and women there, that he had been receiving the worst of the combat for some time.
From Chretien de Troyes’s “The Knight of the Cart.” In The Complete Romances of Chretien de Troyes. Trans. David Staines. Indiana UP, 1993. 215.
You prat, Lancelot.
Nor do I care for the type of mainstream Victorian texts that position women as helpless, fragile flowers.
Thankfully, many Victorian texts are radical on the subject of gender roles, including many of the canonical works.
Tennyson, though, is not much of a feminist.
L. M. Montgomery, on the other hand, had a broader approach to women’s intelligence and desire to be financially independent than is evident simply in Anne’s later life.
Much as I love Anne of Green Gables and think it may be Montgomery’s most accomplished novel, I remain unconvinced that it is her most interesting.