Elaine of Astolat/The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott Floating Toward Camelot

Elaine of Astolat/The Lady of Shalott

CharactersName Variants: Elayne, Elaine of AscolatBackground Essay Author: Kristi Janelle Castleberry
Elaine of Astolat, a character closely related to the Lady of Shalott, is an innocent maiden who falls deeply in love with Sir Lancelot. When he does not return her love, she dies of grief and floats in a barge down the river to Camelot. Elaine’s story is found in important works of literature by authors such as Malory and Tennyson, and she is also frequently represented in artwork. A favorite of illustrators, dead Elaine in her barge is a recurring theme among many artists, especially the pre-Raphaelites. In fact, Elaine seems to be an even more popular figure among the Victorians than she was in the Middle Ages. Her youth, pure love, and death aroused widespread admiration and pity in the Victorian audience. Though she is often critiqued by feminist critics as a passive figure, most versions of her narrative also give her some authorial control over her story, even as she remains a victim of hopeless love. Some contemporary versions of her story for younger readers attempt to rescue her from the role of victim and make her a more active figure.  
ELAINE IN MEDIEVAL LITERATURE:
 
The story of the doomed maiden from Astolat appears in the “La Damigella di Scalot,” tale 82 of Il Novellino, a thirteenth-century collection of Italian tales. The Lady falls in love with Lancelot and dies when he does “not wish [voleva] to return her love” (109). The wording here indicates that Lancelot had some choice in selecting...

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