Triumph of the Serpent
In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Christabel,” the conniving and sensual Geraldine is introduced as a foil to the innocent Christabel. Throughout the poem, Christabel’s kind consideration for Geraldine and her ignorance of Geraldine’s sinister objective lead to significant consequences. It is through the juxtaposition of these two characters that Coleridge alludes that evil holds more power than benevolence.
Throughout the text Coleridge presents many instances in which Geraldine deceives Christabel, the first occurring when she discovers her lying by the tree in the woods. Geraldine claims that five men kidnapped her and left her there, and she fears they will be back for her. It can be assumed through her future actions that she lies to Christabel about the men so that she will agree to take her back to the castle. Christabel’s benevolent character wills her to help the woman and takes her to the castle even while fearing she will wake her sickly father by doing so. Furthermore, Christabel thinks nothing abnormal in the fact that Geraldine suddenly faints while passing the iron gate just outside of the castle, and continues as if nothing happened once she is carried past. In mythology, iron is thought to evade malevolent creatures, which suggests that Geraldine harbors some sort of evil. Had Christabel found her behavior strange, she may have decided against inviting Geraldine into her home. However, due to Christabel’s failure to recognize the abnormalities of Geraldine’s behavior, including her serpent –like hissing, one could argue that her innocence and good nature lead to ignorance in detecting Geraldine’s malicious intent to pass on the serpent curse.
One can strongly detect Coleridge’s presentation of Geraldine as a foil character to Christabel in the bedroom scene of the poem as well. It is suggested that Christabel is still a virgin because she awaits her “betrothed knight” and finds Geraldine in the woods when she goes to pray for him. Once in the bedroom however, Christabel is obedient to Geraldine’s request that she undress and she sleeps nude in Geraldine’s arms through the night. Coleridge writes, “Quoth Christabel, so let it be! And as the lady bade, did she. Her gentle limbs did she undress and lay down in her loveliness.” It can then be assumed that Christabel has developed some sort of sexual attraction to Geraldine, which Geraldine cunningly utilizes to continue her plan to bequeath the serpent curse upon the unsuspecting Christabel.
Throughout the duration of the poem Christabel does exactly what Geraldine wishes her to, and because of her good nature fails to question Geraldine’s bizarre behavior. It is only at the end of the poem that Christabel realizes Geraldine’s insidious intent, but has already been cursed. It is through Geraldine’s achievement in seducing and deceiving Christabel that Coleridge suggests that evil is more powerful than innocence. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, Christabel fails to evade the serpent.
Coleridge, Samuel. “Christabel.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 652-667. Print.