The Modern Lady of Shalott

The story of the Lady of Shalott continues to be adapted by many artists and authors. Along with literature and art, the Lady has also made her way into movies, games, music, and more. Although many artists adopt a more traditional display of Tennyson’s maiden, just as many, if not more, have amended the maiden to represent contemporary issues surrounding gender, sexuality, race, and more. This section of the exhibit, “The Modern Lady of Shalott,” highlights objects from the University of Rochester Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, the Rossell Hope Robbins Library and Koller-Collins Center for English Studies, and the private collection of Alan Lupack and Barbara Tepa Lupack. However, a general internet search will also demonstrate the large variety of portrayals of the Lady of Shalott by professional authors and artists. Additionally, fandom culture is increasingly interested in adapting the Lady of Shalott, as demonstrated by the works of fanfiction writers, bloggers, and amateur artists.

Browsing through this section of the exhibit, viewers will notice many of the pieces selected represent a more feminist approach to the Lady of Shalott by both female and male artists. Anna-Marie Ferguson’s “Elaine in the Barge,” from her fully illustrated edition of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, brings the maiden’s death to the forefront of the viewers’ attention. The maiden might be beautiful in death, but the viewer is trapped with the striking Elaine, and her beauty slowly turns more haunting the longer one looks. Through her illustrations, Ferguson brings a feminine presence to Malory’s hyper-masculine text. Geneviève Côté illustrates Tennyson’s poem but shows the lady in a modern city setting, crafting a new telling of the narrative through her images. Illustrator Charles Keeping brings a haunting and surreal style to The Lady of Shalott. When the maiden’s dead body is brought to Camelot, the crowd gazing down at her appears foreboding and dangerous. Author Felicity Pulman presents the Lady of Shalott within the world of virtual reality and gaming. Meg Cabot in Avalon High sets her Elaine and Arthurian characters in high school and expands her original novel into a graphic novel. In Song of the Sparrow, Lisa Sandell writes Elaine’s side of the story in verse. While these authors and artists foreground the Lady of Shalott, many others only allude to her or Elaine.

Lastly, who could forget Lucy Montgomery’s character Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables, a young girl full of spirit, dramatically dressing up as the Lady of Shalott and soon after needing rescue as her barge sinks into the water?

May this section of Reclaiming the Death of a Beautiful Woman: Female Voices Adapting the Lady of Shalott inspire you to read and seek out many of these materials as well as discover the Lady of Shalott beyond this exhibit.