Deviating from the Angelic Norm: Societal Transgression in Tennyson's "Lancelot and Elaine"

While dearly beloved to the Victorians, Idylls of the King has lost much of its popularity over the course of the 20th century. Today, Idylls of the King is oftentimes labeled as pedantically adhering to the rigid social mores of the Victorian middle class, while simultaneously reestablishing patriarchal ideals and vilifying women’s sexuality. However, through this thesis, I argue that although frequently accused of inflexibility, Idylls of the King still possesses space for challenging traditional patriarchal ideology. Moments of negotiation and subversion are most apparent through a close reading of Tennyson’s “Lancelot and Elaine.” While the character of Elaine exhibits characteristics of the Victorian Angel of the House, Tennyson deviates from this archetype by describing Elaine as a female artist. Likewise, the character of Elaine is also transgressive through her unwavering gaze as well as her disregard for the division between the public and private spheres.