Allegory of Good and Evil in Christabel

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      In Christabel Coleridge is concerned with a generalised theme - the problem of the inter-action between the forces of good and evil in human life. Christabel apparently embodies the invulnerable innocence of unflaw goodness-invulnerable because the innocence possess a spiritual second sight by means of which they can see into the very heart of things and of men. The good lady has perfect confidence in the protecting arms of angels:

But this she knows, in joys and woes,
That saints will aid if men will call
For the blue sky bends over all:

      That beautiful and affecting picture of Christabel as she resigns herself to prayer may be regarded as the personification of perfect goodness. The affiliations of that picture with the many representations of Christian saints are probably intentional. The ordeals and agonies through which Christabel is obviously intended to pass are also the counterpart of the saints experiences.

      The impression that unseen presences mount guard over the innocence and the meek virtue of Christabel is conveyed by means of natural incidents suggestive of a supernatural purport, The remark that "the thing attempt in Christabel is the most difficult in the whole field of romance: witchery by daylight" indicates the peculiar quality of the supernatural element in the poem. In the Ancient Mariner daemons and Angels and spirits bodily appear on the scene and take a hand in the shaping of the action: The skeleton-ship and its weird shipmates, the navigation of the ship by the dead bodies of the crew, the miraculous movements and final scuttling of the ship are all palpable forms of the supernatural control of human destiny. In Christabel nothing so obviously supernatural appears or happens. The poet has cunningly devised a number of incidents, slight, ordinary, natural in themselves, but somehow indicative of a phantom shape. The only thing almost openly weird-prelernatural', as Coleridge refers to it is the suggested serpent form of Geraldine. The wickedness or evil nature of Geraldine is expressed through psychological suggestions.

      Geraldine cannot cross the threshold of the castle. She sink down and it is only with the help of Christabel that she can cross it. The fact is that the threshold of the castle is sprinkled over with holy water and Geraldine, being an evil spirit, dare not cross it. When the two enter the castle, Christabel asks Geraldine to pray to Virgin Mary, but the latter being an evil spirit cannot pronounce the sacred name, she avoids doing so under the pretense that she is too tired to pray. The old mastiff bitch of Sir Leoline gives deep angry moans as soon as Geraldine, the evil spirit, enters the hall. It is the first time that the bitch has behaved in this extraordinary manner. Again the brands in the hall are almost dead (quenched) and instead of flame, there are only ashes. But as soon as the evil spirit Geraldine comes the dying brands flash out tongues of flame towards her. This indicates that a supernatural evil creature has entered Christabel's palace.

      When Christabel trims the faintly burning lamps of the hall, Geraldine begins to faint. She being an evil creature cannot bear light. That Geraldine is an evil spirit has been further suggested by the fact that when Christabel tells her that her mother at the time of her death have proclaimed that she will come to hear the wedding bell of Christabel's marriage, Geraldine says in an altered voice:

Off, wandering mother! peak and pine
I have power to hid thee flee.

      Then the poet dramatically exposes the bosom of Geraldine. The tense scene at the end of the first part of the poem brings to a sharp focus the sinister quality of Christabel's guest. Notice the combined deliberate and shuddering reluctance of Geraldine on the point of undressing herself;

Beneath the lamp the lady howed,
And slowly rolled her eyes around,
Then drawing in her breath aloud,
Like one that shuddered, she unbound
The cincture from beneath her breast...

      There is a hush of expectation in the reader as he proceeds to the description of the garments dropping down and then the most subtle suggestion of something shockingly deformed:

A sight to dream of, to tell!
O shield her! shield sweet Christabel!

      The suggestion is sharpened by the defiant, incantatory words of

In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,
Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel!

      The nature of the mark of her shame, of the seal of her sorrow is left undefined and all the more awe-inspiring. In the words of Professor Vaughan, "It is of the essence of the poem not to feed the mind with facts, still less with gruesome facts, but to spur the imagination by a sense of mystery."

      In Part II, the evil Geraldine begins to operate within Christabel herself. When Geraldine is embraced by Christabel's father, Christabel makes a hissing sound. Then Bracy tells his dream about "a bright green snake coiled around" the neck of a dove -

And with the dove it heaves and Stirs,
Swelling its neck as she swells hers!

      Here it seems as if Christabel and Geraldine-innocence and evil - are held in a precarious kind of balance. It seems Geraldine covets the identity of Christabel and Christabel has unconsciously assumed something of the evil identity of the other. Chris table feels herself becoming the image of evil:

With forced unconscious sympathy....

      Evil thus works on an innocent mind-slowly but steadily. In the beginning, Geraldine needs Christabel's cooperation to work on her but Christabel gradually imbibes a little evil till at the end of the poem, as it exists, she has lost her own free will.

      But the poem is incomplete; we cannot just guess how it would have been completed. We can make an evaluation of the theme of good and evil only insofar as it is worked out in the fragment.

University Questions

Christabel represents the eternal conflict between the forces of good and evil. Would that be the correct estimate of the theme? Discuss.
How far is Christabel an allegorical poems in which the struggle of evil and innocence is examined for the purposes of moral realization of the manner in which evil works upon and transforms innocence?
Christabel: is an allegory showing the working of evil on an innocent mind. Critically examine this statement.

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