The Lady of Shalott

I’m so busy right now that I barely have time to post. And so distracted by all the preparation that it’s difficult to come up with things to post about. (For the dissertation defense, but you knew that.)

Today, I thought I would just mention, once again, that The Thorn and the Blossom is coming out in about four months. (Isn’t it pretty?)

I was reminded of that because when I study, I listen to music, but I can’t listen to anything distracting. So I end up listening to a lot of music without lyrics, or to Loreena McKennitt, whose voice doesn’t seem to distract me, I’m not sure why. Here she is, singing “The Lady of Shalott,” which is one of my favorites by her:

I was listening to “The Lady of Shalott” and remembered that in The Thorn and the Blossom, my male character buys a notebook with the John William Waterhouse picture on it for the female character. Of course it has all sorts of significance in the story.

This was the picture I meant, when I wrote that scene:

That’s the depiction we’re probably most familiar with. But Waterhouse actually painted two other Ladies of Shalott:

I like this one because it’s contemplative, it’s her before the vision of Lancelot, before the curse falls upon her.

This is the moment when she actually sees Lancelot, and it’s my least favorite, perhaps simply because the colors aren’t as vivid, but also perhaps because it’s too easy to choose that moment. It’s the dramatic moment, when the most important thing happens. The other moments, before and after, are not moments of choice. They are moments before choice and after the choice has already been made.

Why did Waterhouse do better with those moments? I’m not sure. But I often find that the least interesting moments in literature are also when things happen. We are told to dramatize, dramatize, but the moments that are most interesting are the moments before and after, the contemplation and the consequence. I wonder if that’s why they are almost all Henry James ever wrote? Although I would not recommend James as a model for any writer. I think you can go very wrong trying to write like James.

It’s late, and I’m tired, and I have to go back to work. But I hope you like these Ladies of Shalott as much as I do. I suppose each one, on the notebook in which my female character writes her poetry, would have a different significance. But all of them would be appropriate.

I can’t wait until the book comes out . . .

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3 Responses to The Lady of Shalott

  1. beautiful, marvelous, wonderful.

  2. I like the second Shalott quite a bit; the first one is the only one I’d previously known, and I like the expression of contemplation that Waterhouse gives her, rather than the vague sense of unease that first one elicits.

    I can’t wait for your book to come out either, Dora. Really looking forward to it.

  3. You do know my novel THE LILY MAID is about The Lady of Shalott and inspired by the Waterhouse paintings? It’s an updating of the story set in Victoria England’s Aesthetic movement. I also reference the Holman Hunt illustration in the Moxon Tennyson. I can’t wait to see how you’ve used the Lady’s story in your novel!

    There was a wonderful exhibit in Montreal just under two years ago where the three Waterhouse paintingss were exhibited together in the same room for the first time. An amazing experience. I’ve also gone to Primrose Hill Studios to see where Waterhouse painted them. As you can tell, this has become a bit of an obsession for me! Glad to see I’m not alone. 🙂

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