Coleridge’s “Christabel” and Pyschological and Sexual Frustrations

     Samuel Taylor Coleridge attempts a mighty handful of ambiguous themes with his work “Christabel.” In this work, ambitiously planned for seven parts yet only spanning two, Coleridge discusses unique and strange relationships between two particular women, Christabel and Geraldine, and a man Sir Leoline. These characters and the text’s content release an enormous emotional appeal and psychological disagreement that the author must have possessed as the work was written. The work “Christabel” more so than other works of Coleridge peer into the darker crux of the soul of the author and the underlying themes of his relationships in life and his perspective of them.  Among these themes that left critics and Coleridge alike scratching their heads is the author’s use of sexual implications regarding women. The poem, left unfinished, may have significant ties to Coleridge’s ultimate end philosophy regarding the women in his life and sex in general. When one examines Coleridge’s notebooks and unpublished works, his reluctancy finishing the work could be attributed to the distraught mindset the author held of the female sex and the act.
Because it is so difficult to determine from the text what his general purpose was, critics have supposed that the poem’s nightmarish vision was too close to the terrors of his waking life to allow Coleridge the esthetic distance necessary to create a coherent structure. (Spatz 107) Coleridge did not have a pleasant marriage nor was his familial life one he was of particularly fond. His instability in these matters reflect on his views regarding his own mother and reflect a confusion or frustration with the opposing gender.
Coleridge expressed his repugnance for the beast that man becomes when erotically aroused in his insight regarding his relationship with Sara Fricker, he writes   “But to marry a woman whom I do not love- to degrade her, whom I call my Wife, by making her an Instrument of low Desire-and on the removal of desultory Appetite, to be perhaps not displease with her Absence!”(Spatz 109) This sheds a light on the tone regarding the physical drive of the seduced and seducer.
We must conclude, therefore, that there were deeper concerns than lack of interest or motivation that halted Coleridge’s poetic progress. As the literal level of “Christabel” is penetrated, it becomes clear that it is the dominant psychological undercurrents as revealed by the relationship between Christabel, Geraldine, and Sir Leoline which halt Coleridge. It is only when the the universal themes such as the desire for union with the Mother and conflicting wishes of death and self aggrandizement, are taken into account that the tremendous emotional impact of the work is understood and the guilt of Christabel and the narrator makes sense to the reader.(Blake 8)


Works Cited

Blake, Laurie J. “These Shadows of Imagination. A Psychoanalytical Approach to S.T Coleridge’s “Christabel”” Digital Commons at Mcmaster. Mcmaster University,

Spatz, Jonas. “The Mystery of Eros: Sexual Initiation in Coleridge’s “Christabel”” JSTOR. Modern Language Association, n.d.

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