Thursday, April 28, 2011

'Cousin Kate' and 'The Seduction' Analysis

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English Coursework � Poem Analysis

“Cousin Kate” by Christina Rossetti

“The Seduction” by Eileen McAuley

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Compare what happens to the two girls and the attitudes they and other people have towards it. In what ways do the poems seem typical of the period they were written?

The two poems focus on similar events in women’s lives, even though the two poems were written approximately 15 years apart. They both seem to identify with the ‘narrator’ of the poem even though Christina Rossetti definitely led a comfortable middle/upper class life in a city in Victorian England. Both poems were written by women, unusual in itself, but maybe that is why the poems identify with their subject so well.

The Seduction by Eileen McAuley is a poem of ‘clumsy teenage angst’. The reader is informed of the events on one particular night, and then the narrator’s feelings afterwards � the consequences. The narrator is a young girl in her teens, who goes to a party, dreaming of love and full of desire � to meet the ‘boy-next-door’. She does meet someone, who is also still at school, and they talk and dance into the early hours of the morning. We are then taken to the docks of the River Mersey, where she is ‘seduced’ by the boy she met. The scene then switched to three months later. She finds out she is pregnant � ‘three months gone’ and she is devastated, heartbroken and feeling very regretful. The poem then goes on to explain her feelings and thoughts in more detail. She asks herself rhetorical questions, which lead to the poem’s last stanza which talks about the neighbours’ opinions and her most negative feelings about her pregnancy.

Cousin Kate by Christina Rossetti tells the story of a young and innocent ‘maiden’ who is ‘lured’ by an older lord using his possessions and his title, to go and live with him in his ‘palace home’. She talks about leading a ‘shameless, shameful life’ before he casts her aside for her cousin, a younger more beautiful creature than herself. He married Cousin Kate and the neighbours thought of her as ‘good and pure’ and not an ‘unclean thing’ as they had thought about the narrator. This is because the narrator lived with the lord and enjoyed a physical relationship with him out of marriage. The poem then goes on to talk of love and the differences between Kate’s love and the narrator’s love for the Lord. The difference being, the narrator’s ‘love was true’ while Kate’s was ‘writ in sand’. By this meaning that Kate’s love wasn’t true, it could be easily washed away. The last stanza involves the reader into the narrator’s feelings about her ‘shame, [her] pride’. She is still clinging onto hope, as she secretly feels her son will bring her back to the lord, because after all she has been through she still truly loves him.

There are many similarities and differences between the two poems. Both similarities and differences in what happens to them, how they are treated, how themselves and others react, the period in which the poems are set, the outcomes and feelings on their situations, make the poems easily comparable.

Both of the narrators are shamed by their ‘neighbours’ as they both end up by pregnant and their children fathered by men who they are not married to � they were both seduced. Although in different centuries, their predicaments gain no sympathy on disapproval. Neither of the ‘men’ actually love the narrator’s. They are used and abused. Both narrators end up sad, abandoned, and very much alone. They both feel deceived and deluded � by the Lord in Christina Rossetti’s poem and by the magazines in Eileen McAuley’s poem. These magazines were doted upon by this girl; she believed all the ‘stupid stupid promises, only tacitly made’. These promises were of love, meeting the boy-next-door and having a fairy tale happily ever after ending. One of the reasons she feels so betrayed is because she realises that life is not like that. Both girls lost their virginity to the men who used them and made them feels worthless and did not genuinely love them, and as a result of this both poems contain a certain amount of nostalgia � looking back and the pain of looking back on what happened. The “Why me Lord?” feeling. Both poems are also structured similarly with rhetorical questions and flashbacks, but Cousin Kate has a more old fashioned style of language and rhyming patterns � due to the era it was written.

Some differences between the two poems include the narrator in Cousin Kate was living and sharing a relationship with the man that seduces her, whereas the girl in The Seduction was seduced by alcohol and the boy that seduces her never intends to have a relationship with her � he wanted a one-night-stand. We know this as he mutters ‘little slag’ to her, not something you would say to someone fro whom u truly cared about. As identified earlier, the two poems are set in different periods (1850’s and 180’s) and so the “tools of seduction” are very different � mainly as a title and a large home would not impress a girl in modern day England, and a Lord of ‘great estate’ would not use alcohol to seduce his maiden. Another difference would be that the girl in The Seduction set out to be attractive in her ‘high white shoes’ which were at the height of fashion. The other girl was ‘not mindful [she] was fair’. She didn’t even think she could be attractive, and especially not to such a powerful man. Later she is jealous of her cousin Kate, who is married and supposedly has her man. Opposing this is the teenager in The Seduction who is much more jealous of the girls who are single, free and having fun in ‘the summer of [their] sixteenth year’, not saddled with a child.

In Cousin Kate the narrator truly loves him, even after being abandoned and discarded for her cousin. She was attracted to him from the beginning, taking into consideration that she would be overwhelmed by the idea of someone in that position taking any interest in her. She went to live with him, full of good intentions � but alas, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. She didn’t know this then, before she was cast aside. Although she did feel that sometimes he used her as a trophy, something to wear, something to show off, as demonstrated in the second stanza. Her feelings about the lord do not change as she begins to realise he does not sincerely love her. As she loved him deeply enough to live with him out of wedlock and be shamed by the neighbours, she cannot change her feelings as soon as he discards her, no matter how much she is hurt.

On the night of the party, the girl who narrates in The Seduction meets a boy, still at school and ‘he’d danced with her all night’. She went to the party with the sole intention to meet someone; she set out to look attractive and to find the ‘boy-next-door’. ‘And so she fell in love’. She loved

‘…his eyes as blue as iodine,

With fingers that stroked her neck and thighs,

And the kisses that tasted of nicotine.’

Even though he talked to her about typically masculine topics, like football and wrestling, she loved the attention he was giving her. She was ‘quite enchanted and her eyes were wide and bright’. We assume by the things she says about this boy that she likes him a lot, and is in love with him. But as we read on we learn that in reality it is the idea of love that she is in love with, not him, as love is based on trust, personality and depth.

In the poem Cousin Kate, the narrator has her baby, an illegitimate son, who is fathered by the lord. In the other poem we are not told whether she has her baby or chooses to have an abortion or have her child adopted. In Christina Rossetti’s poem, the narrator does not regret anything, as she was truly in love and so does not feel any shame in her son. She calls him ‘my shame, my pride’ meaning she is shamed because of him by her neighbours, but she is still proud of him as he is her ‘fair haired son’ and she has unconditional love for him. He is also her one source of hope. She feels as if she didn’t have him there would be no point in continuing her life � there would be no reason to try. Also the poem implies that Cousin Kate had been married for a while and had not conceived any children � any heir’s to the lord’s estate. It also states that the narrator has a ‘gift you’ve not like to get’, which by gift she means children � also demonstrating immense pride in him. This part of the last stanza shows her hope in her son to bring her back to her true love � the Lord, as ‘your father would give lands for one, to wear his coronet’. She is talking to her son at this point and this last line meaning that she knows the lord is desperate for a son � an heir.

In comparison, the girl in The Seduction feels very differently about her pregnancy. She ‘sobbed in the cool locked darkness of her room’. The locked room resembles her shutting herself away from everyone � trying to escape from the snide comments from neighbours and trying to escape from herself. She utterly regrets what has happened and she feels by locking herself in her room and not letting her feelings be known it might go away. She also ‘ripped up all her My Guy and Jackie photo-comics, Until they were just bright paper, like confetti, strewn On the carpet.’ This indicates that she feels as though these comics have betrayed her and by ripping them up, she feels better. The comics made the ‘stupid, stupid promises’ which made her feel deceived, and the ripping of them into confetti makes the metaphor even stronger. The fact that confetti is thrown at a wedding and she feels as though a wedding will never come as men have treated her so badly, contrasting to the image put forward by the comics. In addition to this, she also ‘broke the heels Of her high white shoes, (as she flung them at the wall)’. These were the shoes that she wore on the night of the party to look attractive and meet the ‘boy-next-door’. As she feels so cheated, she ‘flung them at the wall’ trying to break the shoes and ease the pain of the denunciation she was duly about to receive. The narrator then goes on to express that she is ‘truly frightened’. She is frightened by the thought of having a child, being a mother, the scorn from the neighbours who thought she ‘always looked the type’. Another aspect of her trepidation is the feeling of dread and of sadness. She is sad as she knows that this child, if she has it, will rule over her life and she will have to dedicate the rest of her teenage years to a baby who depends solely upon her � therefore she will be missing out. She asks rhetorical questions about what her life will be like after having a baby ‘For where now was the summer of her sixteenth year?’ and ‘Where a stranger could lead you to bright new worlds And how would you know if you never took a chance?’. She feels so resentful at the thought of giving up all of this for a child whom she did not want and whose father she did not know and would never meet again.

The Lord thought the narrator in Cousin Kate was beautiful in the beginning. He praised her ‘flaxen hair’ like no one else had done. He took her to live with him as his mistress. The feelings he felt for her though, were not as she felt for him. They were not true love. He ‘wore [her] like a silken knot, changed [her] like a glove.’ Meaning he saw her as a trophy girlfriend, something to show off and use. Then after he discarded her for a more beautiful and younger model. I believe that he still loved her even after he discarded her, but needed someone more beautiful to show off as she got older. He loved the attention and jealous glances that he got from other men when they saw him with someone so young and beautiful that it did not matter to him what the narrator felt.

‘Because you were so good and pure

He bound you with his ring

The neighbours call you good and pure,

Call me an outcast thing.’

This part of stanza four, establishes the neighbours feelings about the narrator in Cousin Kate, along with ‘So now I moan an unclean thing’. I doubt that this impression of herself was formed without any provocation from neighbours’ comments, due to the current society’s norms and values at the time. Because of the norms, values and general set standards of the Victorian era, she was declared an ‘unclean thing’ by the neighbours as she lived with and held a physical sexual relationship with a man who was not her husband. I think this is why she feels so bitter and resentful towards her cousin, for having won the approval of society and having taken the one man she truly loved.

The boy that the narrator of The Seduction meets; feels totally different about the girls and the situation he is in. He takes advantage of the girl’s pleasant nature and ingenuousness, gives her alcohol (which is illegal), and seduces her into having a one-night-stand with him. ‘He led her to the quiet bricks of Birkenhead Docks’ by the River Mersey, which is seedy, dirty and very unhygienic if nothing else. He does not have any feelings for her at all, which we find out when ‘he muttered little slag’. We assume he cannot feel anything for her if he disregards her using profound language and disrespectful terms. We also know that he set out that evening to find somebody na├»ve to use, as his earlier kiss she fell in love with which tasted like nicotine, later ‘was scented by Listerine’. This implying that he brought mouthwash with him to the party, as to have nice breath for his victim.

The neighbours thought the narrator of The Seduction to have ‘always looked the type’. This is obvious gossip and slander, but the thoughts and opinions of others hurt, and this line was intended to hurt her. The neighbours thought they knew what had happened to her, and she was just a little slag, as the boy had described her. They did not know the events that took place, that she was seduced, humiliated while drunk, or deeply regretful of the entire episode. As with the scorn from the neighbours in Cousin Kate, it is because of society’s norms and values that many people look down on others in a situation similar to this one. Society in Victorian times looked down upon those who had sex outside of wedlock, society in modern 180’s still looks down upon those who have sex illegally underage, or teenage pregnancies.

Cousin Kate was written by Christina Rossetti in the mid 1850’s. This is immediately obvious as one scans the poem, as the reader deduces the archaic language, expression and phrasing differences specific to the Victorian era. The events that take place are also unique to the olden times, for example the scorn from neighbours over a maiden living with a man who she is not married to; the tools of seduction being a grand estate and title. These things would not happen in modern day England. No one would bother about an unmarried couple living together, it is fairly common. Also, no girl would be seduced into a one night stand in the 180’s by a flashy title and ‘palace home’. Details of setting also make the poem highly suited to the 1850’s. The poem talks of ‘cottage maidens’, ‘work among the rye’, ‘mean estate’ and a ‘palace home’. The cottage maidens literally mean maidens who live in lowly cottages on farms for lords and links to royalty. These maidens also work in the rye fields, which is why they are ‘hardened by sun and air’. The mean estate is a low class � typical prejudiced class discrimination of Victorians. The lord’s home is described of as a palace. This may not be literally true, but to the cottage maidens, his home is as close to a palace as one of that class even dares to dream of. The character’s actions and attitudes (as described previously) are also typical of Victorians. Finally, the language and expression � phrasing is very specific to the poems date. It can be easily recognisable as Victorian at a glance because of this. Phrases such as ‘woe’s me for joy thereof’ could not be used in modern English the closest translation would be I have much sadness about it. Other demonstrations of archaic expression would be ‘Not mindful I was fair’ (meaning I wasn’t aware I was beautiful) and ‘he bound you with his ring’ (he married you). These phrases match the old-fashioned rhyming pattern and would have been used in everyday language in Victorian times. Some of the antiquated language leads us to the conclusion of a Victorian poet. Manifestations of this would be ‘flaxen’, ‘coronet’, ‘maiden’ and ‘thereof’. These words and phrases build up the atmosphere of the poem as well as modern equivalents would as the events are set in Victorian times and the poem reads better written in this language. The attitude of the poem towards its subject � like the attitudes of the neighbours and the narrator’s feelings towards it are also archetypical of the Victorian era.

The Seduction by Eileen McAuley was written for a competition in the 180’s. It too includes references of typical 180’s England. The meaning of the poem is put forward to the reader from the point of view of the narrator, just as the Cousin Kate poem did, but it is done in a much more modern way. For example, there are flashbacks included � not just a straight chronological order, there is much more insight into and detail about the main events and the poem also expresses the emotions of the narrator in more detail. Furthermore, the poem is made up modern language and phrasing. The expression is modern and specific to the English language as we know it now. For instance, no one would have muttered ‘little slut’, been led past ‘sliver streams of traffic’ or talked of ‘Sammy Lee and Ian Rush’ in Victorian times. This kind of language and referencing makes the poem characteristic of the 180’s. Phrasing and expression such as ‘He spat into the river, fumbled is a bag’ is also a recent way of phrasing sentences � replacing the ‘and’ with a comma in poems is a sophisticated new idea. Details of setting and both description of events and the actual events that take place, are written in the poem specific to modern times. Images of the setting like ‘blind windows of tower blocks’ and ‘quiet bricks of Birkenhead Docks’ help add to the atmosphere as well as contributing to the overall feels of the poem. The imagery is much more modern than references to setting such as ‘I was a cottage maiden’ (taken from Cousin Kate by Christina Rossetti) which only slightly indicates at setting through description of character background. All these factors help to make the poem recognisable to have been written in the 180’s and modern England.

In conclusion, these two poems are very similar despite an age gap of nearly a century and a half. Both poems focus on issues to do with pregnancy and the scorn from the ignorant outside society. Both poems focus on issues to do with women being used, abused and disrespected by men who take advantage of them and do not genuinely love them. Finally, both poems focus upon the issue of how alone and abandoned women feel when they have to face the harsh reality of hurtful men and life that they innocently entered. These main points of each poem do not differ and so the differences of language, expression, attitudes of society changing over time, character’s attitudes and actions, details of setting and the actual events do not contribute greatly to the main connotation of each poem. Each writer achieves atmosphere and feelings of sympathy for the narrator and the poems are very successful.

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