In the poem ‘Cousin Kate’ written by Rossetti, she describes a young cottage maiden led astray by a wealthy Lord who leaves her with a baby to bring up on her own in disgrace. The poem was written in 1862 and society’s attitude towards unmarried mothers was harsh to say the least. The poem is set in the countryside with country lanes, dust, gates and rye mentioned frequently. The poem is about the love and relationships between a young cottage maiden, her cousin and a rich lord who take a fancy to them both.
The cottage maiden is disregarded and left with a child out of wedlock, while the cousin is taken out of poverty and lavished upon as the wife of the Lord. The poem is written in first person from the point of view of the cottage maiden so we only see her biased perspective of the events. From the beginning of the poem you can see the cottage maiden was in love with the Lord she calls him ‘a great Lord’ and asks herself ‘Why did a great Lord find me out to fill my heart with care? ‘ She’s admitting he filled her heart with care, but by asking why, she’s saying he hurt her.
She also declares ‘O cousin Kate my love was true. ‘ Here she’s expressing her sadness and the feeling of betrayal she has for her cousin she also says ‘If you stood where I stand, I would have spat into his face, and not taken his hand’ She’s telling her cousin she’d never have done it to her, she’d have told him to go away regardless of his money and status. In my opinion she’s trying to tell her cousin she would have loved her enough not do gone with him and her love for her was more than that of riches and wealth.
The cottage maiden portrays the Lord as a horrible man who picks her up and drops her when he feels like, she uses the similes ‘He wore me like a silken knot’ and ‘He changed me like a glove’ this represents her feeling of a disregarded item of clothing. In my opinion I think the cottage maiden feels as though she has been tricked by the Lord by his wealth and title and that he has abused the privileges he has to get her into bed. The cottage maiden also expresses sadness at what she might have been had he not disgraced her ‘might have been a dove. She uses the image of a dove in order to accentuate her innocence.
The last two verses of the poem change in mood, the beginning of the poem she is bitter about the way her cousin Kate and the Lord treated her, the last two verses however focus on the one thing that she has that he can never have with her cousin Kate a child, and how proud she is of it. ‘Your father would give all his lands for one’ In those times a son and heir was probably the most important thing to a man, especially a noble man. She also says of her son ‘My fair-haired son, my shame, my pride. This contrast represents the social shame she has faced for being an unmarried mother and the motherly love and pride she feels for her son. At the beginning of the poem we just see this young girl hurt by the way the Lord has manipulated her and used her, but towards the end of the poem we see that her child has given her strength and made her feel as though she has one up on the Lord she has a son and he does not.
He may have gone for the better looking option with her cousin Kate ‘You grew more fair than I, He saw you at your fathers gate, chose you, and cast me by. But the one he cast away had the son he always wanted. In ‘Cousin Kate’ the young girl is presented as naive and taken advantage of, this is a similar theme in the second poem ‘The Seduction. ‘ In ‘The Seduction’ by Eileen McAuley a young, naive girl is at a party where a teenage male plies her with alcohol and takes her to the docks where he takes advantage of her. The setting is the inner city docks were it is dirty and sleazy this is contrasting to the setting of ‘Cousin Kate’ which is a fresh, pure, country setting.
The setting in my opinion mirror the feelings of the girls after they become pregnant the girl in ‘Cousin Kate’ sees her child as a gift something to be proud of ‘My fair-haired son, my shame, my pride. ‘ The girl in ‘The Seduction’ however sees her pregnancy as something to be ashamed of; she describes her pregnancy as ‘a feminine void. ‘ The cottage maiden is resigned to her situation were as the young girl in ‘The Seduction’ is bitter about what has happened to her.
The two girls are seeing their pregnancies from different perspectives one has had her child and sees the smiles and the joy they bring, however the other has not given birth yet, and only has the morning sickness and the swollen feet that come with being pregnant. Despite the one hundred years between the writing of these poems they both show that the girls become the subject of gossip and are judged by their communities. The cottage maiden states that people call her ‘an outcast thing. She even calls herself ‘an unclean thing, who might have been a dove. ‘ Even she is aware that people see her as dirty and impure, and that she in not having the child would have been respectable. The girl in the seduction is also aware of societies opinion of her ‘better, now, to turn away, move away, fade away, than to have the neighbours whisper that “you always looked the type” So despite the difference of a hundred years in the writing of these poems, both poems show that the attitude to sex to be negative, and the girls looked upon as dirty.
Both poems see the girls as victims and portray the men as the aggressors its the men who take advantage of the young girls, whether it’s with alcohol or with unfulfilled promises of love and commitment, the men come out of it the bad guys. The teenage boy in ‘The Seduction’ even calls the young girl he’s trying to seduce a ‘little slag’ In my opinion this shows that despite the completely different characters in the poems, one being a high powered Lord, the other being a leather clad teenage boy, that the men are portrayed as scum.
I think that may have something to do with the fact that the poems are written from the point of view of the girls. If the poems were written by men they would be tails of conquests, as these are the stereotypical roles that men and women play. Women are victims or whores and men are seen as studs. One of the differences between the girl’s situations is that the cottage maiden isn’t influence by pier pressure or society; she genuinely falls in love with the Lord.
The girl in ‘The Seduction’ however is extremely influenced by magazines and pier pressure, when he kissed her she was reminded of stories from ‘teenage magazines. ‘ Showing that the things we see today as luxuries that we can’t live without like magazines and televisions probably do us more harm than good. They put into are heads that we should be doing the thing actors and the people on their shows are doing, and we shouldn’t. Looking at these two similar but contrasting poems, I can see the way relationships in both are portrayed differently, both reflecting the times in which they were written.
Both poems offer young, venerable girls as victims of the advances of the opposite sex. Showing how men to take advantage of them. These poems do show despite their similarities that life in general has changed over the past one hundred years and the way the girls were taken advantage of were completely different. One thing that hasn’t changed though is the way society sees the girl at the end of it, despite the fact she was taken advantage off, plied with alcohol, lied to, made false promises to, she is still the whore.