Thursday, February 18, 2010

Southey's Mary

I really enjoyed reading this poem because aside from all the references to the gothic, it in a sense empowers women. Mary, unlike the other guests in the diner, is the only person willing to go out as the wind grew more fierce: "O'er the path so well known still proceeded the Maid/Where the Abbey rose dim on the sight,/Thro' the gate-way she entered, she felt not afraid/Yet the ruins were lonely and wild, and their shade/Seem'd to deepen the gloom of the night." Southey purposely gives the woman agency to be the courageous heroine and defy the gender roles that we see established in Walpole's Castle of Otranto. Unlike the subservient and domesticated Hippolita, Mary assumes the masculine role to explore the public sphere outside her role as a maid and explore the supernatural.


  1. It's funny because I read this after posting my entry and it's almost the opposite of mine. I can see how Mary does seem to have some agency, and she is portrayed as particularly brave: "With fearless good humor did Mary comply..." (l. 51). I think it is important to point out that Mary does "comply" according the dare set before her by the men in the inn. As Alec pointed out in his comment to my post, "what happens to the women can be seen as the result of the actions of the men." These men propose a dare, and Mary responds. Although she does explore the "masculine realm to explore the public sphere" she does so at prompting, but nevertheless-complete agency or not-she is punished for attempting to defy gender roles, and I don't see it as a poem that particularly empowers women.

  2. This is quite an interesting read on the poem--Mary's punishment is quite a bit like the Ancyent Marinere's fate (eternal life-in-death, the state of a maniac), but her transgression is much harder to pin down: is it that she has transgressed gender roles (or the role of the gothic heroine) by being brave enough to go to the abbey? Or is she punished for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time--ie. her punishment is a function of chance. This second interpretation turns the question from agency to the gothic as a genre--people don't have agency in the gothic, but rather they are worked on by external circumstances (nature, the supernatural, irrational fear, and so on). If Mary is prompted to go out--she doesn't do it of her own free will--she merely realizes (as in makes realistic) the pressures that determine the fate of Imogene and Lenora. This might make us ponder the transgressive act in the slave trade poems more fully: Southey's sailor clearly performs the act of beating the slave to death against his will, but what of Coleridge's Marinere?