Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Alain Char-tier's La belle Dame sans Merci & stoicism, Part 1


"There's a picture that my mother's got, by Burne-Jones... A cruel-looking woman with a distant smile...some vampire... La belle Dame sans Merci. That's what you're like (Ford, 387)". (Perowne, speaking to Sylvia)

Perowne compares Sylvia to La belle Dame sans Merci, "The beautiful Lady without Mercy/Pity". It was originally a poem written by Alain Char-tier, wherein the lady rejects the young lover and he dies days after their debate. The lady is held accountable for his desire, and so she is expected to take pity on him. Instead, she rejects him. The rejection he recieves proves to him that the lady is merciless and has a heart of marble. He accuses her of being indifferent.

A reverse of the dynamic in Char-tier's poem can be seen between Sylvia and Christopher. Although Sylvia is described as cold and her actions seemingly merciless, her relentless torture of Christopher can only be seen as impassioned, driven by her craving for him. He elicits her sadism and emotion, which is what drives her mad. "It was at Tietjens' terrifying expressionlessness, at that completely being up to a situation, that the first wave of emotion had come over her...(406)." The lady in Char-tier's poem is interpreted as possessing a sexual coldness, while Sylvia possesses an inherent sexual nature and does not try to abstain from it. In No More Parades, Sylvia enquires about her husband's sexual fidelity. Cowley attests to Christopher's solidarity in the military, "The captain run after skirts... Why, I can number on my hands the times he's been out of my sight since he's had the battalion! (399)". He is described as a mother hen who is completely devoted to duty. When Sylvia muses about him having a girl in town, Perowne answers, "Well, he hasn't got one"(397). For Sylvia, Christopher's devotion to duty and suppression of outward emotion leaves him devoid of life, passionless. Sylvia is cruel in her torture of Christopher, but she percieves him as equally cruel for his lack of outward feeling. The more of an English country gentleman that he exhibits, the more she is driven to hurt him. With Sylvia, "...the fits of emotion were periodical and unexpected, though her colder passion remained always the same...(405)". Unlike the lady in Char-tier's poem, she is not pursued desperately by a young man. Their positions are reversed, she can not react to his passion because he exhibits none. Instead, she turns to sadism, and her cruelty is a reaction to his indifference.

Works consulted:

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