‘Cousin Kate’ is a pre-twentieth century poem, which was written by Christina Rossetti. It is about a young woman who works as a cottage maiden, she falls in love with a lord and sleeps with him. She finds out that she is pregnant with the lord’s baby but is dumped for her cousin.
The second poem, ‘The Seduction’, is a more modern poem. It is about a teenage girl who meets a boy at a party, they get on well and leave the party together.
The boy gives the girl lots of alcohol and start to caress her, once they had slept together the boy left. After a short period, the young girl finds out that she is pregnant and is distraught.
Both Cousin Kate and ‘The Seduction’ deal with unplanned pregnancy. In ‘Cousin Kate’, Rossetti tells us that she “has a gift”.
The term “gift” implies that she likes the fact she has a baby. It makes it sound precious to her, as she says “cling closer, closer yet”.
She repeats the word “closer” to emphasise how much she loves it, so despite being unplanned, the baby is wanted.
However, in ‘The Seduction’ the poet writes, “…when she discovered she was three months gone…” The mood created is one of denial. She won’t use the term ‘pregnant’, as she is unable to accept it. It suggests that three months of her life have been wasted.
In each poem, we feel for the women and their unplanned situation.
Both ‘Cousin Kate’ and ‘The Seduction’ are about women who have been used by a man.
In ‘The Seduction’, the woman involved is made drunk by a man at a party, who later leads her away. It is a one night stand though rather than a lasting relationship.
In ‘Cousin Kate’, the woman is together with the man for a longer lengthier period, but he also dumps her, this time for another woman.
In ‘The Seduction’, McAuley writes, “As he bought he more drinks…” The man is only after one things and he knows he stands better chance if she is under the influence of alcohol. Maybe if she were sober she could think about what she is doing and the unreverseable consequences; he knows this.
McAuley goes on to write, “And she stifled a giggle.” This was just before the man committed the unforgivable act, and it shows her nerves towards the whole situation. She clearly doesn’t want to have sex with the man, but he couldn’t care less. He is blatantly using her for his own personal pleasure.
In ‘Cousin Kate’, the woman involved doesn’t realise that the Lord is using her until he leaves her for her cousin. “Your love was writ in the sand,” Rossetti writes. This implies that although the Lord claimed to love her, it was only a temporary emotion which was later just blown away like writing in sand. Without doubt, this makes us feel sorry for the woman and hatred towards the twofaced Lord.
Both women who feature in ‘Cousin Kate’ and ‘The Seduction’ are, at some stage, concerned about the public opinion of them. Although they are worried at different times, it is still a noticeable similarity.
In ‘The Seduction’, the young woman involved doesn’t even want to leave her room because she knows what the neighbours will be saying when they realise that she is pregnant.
McAuley writes, “Better to starve yourself like a sick precocious child, Than to walk through town with a belly huge and ripe.”
This implies to the reader that she has stopped eating sensible amounts of food, just because of what people in the town center would think. The word “ripe” suggests that she is pregnancy, just as if a fruit were ready to be eaten; she is almost ready to give birth. She knows that if certain members of the public saw her this way, they would immediately judge her without even knowing her as a person.
Secondly, in the concluding line of the poem, it reads, “…than to have the neighbours whisper that you always looked the type.” Once again, she is showing concern about public opinion. People commonly use the phrase ‘look the type’ these days when something bad happens. For example, you sleep with someone when you’re 14 and people will say that ‘you always looked the type.’
She probably didn’t ‘look the type’, but that is what they would say now regardless. I think that this shows us a lot about the nature of people in today’s society. They are too quick to criticise – I believe that is why McAuley wrote this poem.
The symbols of innocence earlier on in the poem (i.e. the dove and the white shoes) suggest that this wasn’t to be expected of her at all.
In ‘Cousin Kate’, the woman is worried about public assessment of her before she became pregnant rather than after. The first indication of that we have of her concern is the line, “To lead a shameless shameful life.” Although confusing because of the use of oxymoron, it shows that she is embarrassed about living with the man before marriage. This wouldn’t be very unusual in today’s society, so this somewhat dates the poem and allows the reader to assess the date in which the poem was set. At this time however, she is not particularly bothered about what people are saying behind her back. She is enjoying life with the Lord and that is the priority at this stage. We do not yet have any real feelings towards her character as she is just living out a normal life with the Lord.
Furthermore, once the Lord has finished with her, it is written, “The neighbours call you good and pure, Call me an outcast thing.” In the eyes of the neighbours, she is the on in the wrong while the cousin has done nothing at all improper. The term “outcast thing” suggests that she is not even worthy of a name in the opinion of the surrounding public. This makes us feel incredible sympathy for her and her situation, as we know her background and the events that are going on.
Although the women in both ‘The Seduction’ and ‘Cousin Kate’ are very wary of what the neighbours are thinking, I am of the opinion that the younger lady in ‘The Seduction’ is the one who cares more. I say this because, at the end at least she has the ‘gift’ that is her child, whereas the younger woman doesn’t even want it. The ‘Cousin Kate’ character can at least go out in public and face those who mutter underneath their breathe, but the woman in ‘The Seduction’ just locks herself away in her room.
Both women are ashamed of their actions by the end of the poem. In ‘Cousin Kate’ the women is ashamed of letting herself be used by the Lord and the same can be said for the woman in ‘The Seduction’, in relation to her brief relationship with the boy.
In only the second stanza of Rossetti’s poem, we realise that the woman is ashamed of being lured by the Lord’s life. “Woes me for joy thereof.” This line alone tells the reader of the woman’s misery. She is upset and ashamed that she didn’t notice earlier that he wasn’t a very pleasant man.
Secondly, just two lines later, writes Rossetti, “His plaything and his love.” This implies that he was just using her as his little toy, just for pleasure. He had no real feelings for her whatsoever. This is not a statement of a woman who is proud what she has done. This is a clear indication that she is ashamed, but the biggest hint is yet to come.
“So now I moan, an unclean thing. Who might have been a dove.” She is looking back and thinking how things could have been so different. She wails and sobs at the thought of the direction that her life may have gone, if she hadn’t got involved with the Lord. Now, no matter what she does, she us ‘unclean’ as she has had sex before marriage.
“who might have been a dove”. This is the woman thinking about what might have been. The poet uses a dive because they are considered to be something special that stands out from the crowd. It is also, more commonly, a symbol of peace and tranquillity. It represents a freedom and peaceful life that she doesn’t have anymore.
Finally, Rossetti writes, “If he had fooled not me but you.” The crucial word in this stanza is ‘fooled’. The woman is not pleased with what she has done, she has been tricked into everything by the Lord. It is far from being romantic and it is, again, not the words of a woman who is proud of her actions. This also tells us a lot about the character of the Lord. It implies that he is an evil human being, intent only on doing what is best for himself. He is not worried about the feelings of the woman, as long as he has his enjoyment.
Whereas in Cousin Kate we are subtly told of her ashamed feelings, McAuley’s poem is a lot more obvious, even though we do not have any details about the ‘act’ itself. This is because we simply do not need to know. It is left to the reader’s imagination to guess what happens before she realises that she is pregnant.
Once intercourse has taken place and three months have passed we are told how she locks herself away in the darkness of her room. This suggests that she doesn’t even wish to be look at herself, she is so ashamed of her pregnancy. In her room, at least there will be no others around her to point the finger and accuse. It is dark because she has the lights out, again so she cannot see her reflection in any nearby mirrors.
“And she ripped up all her My Guy and her Jackie photo-comics. Until they were just bright paper like confetti.” Here she has disposed off all those teenager magazines that have lied to her in the past. She blames them solely for the situation that she is in, because they told her that it would be great and a really good thing to do. So would never, she thinks, have been lead away by the boy if she hadn’t read the content of the ‘Girlie’ magazines. Those stories of the perfect relationship with a clean-cut guy she now knows to be false. The way that the rubbish is described as being like confetti is very symbolic. That is how it should have been – a proper relationship with a nice man and then a wedding. She knows this and she is showing how upset she is as well as ashamed. This makes us feel sympathy for her even though we know that it is her fault.
McAuley continues, “She broke her white shoes as she flung them at the wall.” Again this is symbolic. The fact that the shoes are white is very significant as white traditionally symbolises purity. Now that she [Mr1]has broken her innocence, her shoes must also be broken. She does so by violently flinging them at the wall, just as she flung herself at the low-life that is that father of her baby. She was wearing shoes with a heel to try and make herself look older for the party.
Moreover, the young lady continues further on in the poem, “so she cried that she had missed all the innocence around her.” No longer can she be considered innocent. Those days have passed and she cries as she realises this. All the other smiling teenagers around her is how she wants to be, but she’s not – she is with child. Nothing could ever be the same again and she is ashamed.
Finally, both women at last partly blame other people for the events. The woman ‘The Seduction’ blames the magazines for leading her to believe that everything would be lovely and romantic. Also, in ‘Cousin Kate’, the woman blames her cousin, and rightly so, for her break up with the wealthy Lord.
The first indication that we have of ‘The Seduction’s’ link with the media is the line “reminded of numerous stories from teenage magazines. This stanza comes just after the man leads the girl away to the canal. Due to what she has read in the past, she thinks that everything is going to be perfect.
I believe that ‘The Seduction’ was written to criticise the media and magazines in particular. McAuley clearly feels that it is wrong that young girls are led to think that everything will be fine, without explaining the consequences. Perhaps the clearest suggestion that she blames her magazines is the line , “And she ripped up all her My Guy and her Jackie photo-comics.” She has completely destroyed the magazines because she feels that what has happened is because of them. Now that she is no longer innocent, she realises that the perfect stories in the magazines are false. She no longer has a need for these magazines, so she can dream of the meeting the perfect ‘guy’, because she has experienced the real thing.
“But more than that, cheated by the promise of it all,” writes McAuley. The young lady feels as if all she has ever read in these magazines of hers has been lies and she is truly devastated by the whole situation.
Although there are these fairly obvious similarities between the two poems, they are still unique as they have many striking differences also.
One difference was the apparent age difference in the two male figures of the poems. Although we are not told the age of either man, there are certain things said and particular acts performed that allows the reader to predict one.
Looking initially at ‘The Seduction’, it describes, “…Leather jacket creaking madly.” This suggests that the ‘boy’ at the party has borrowed the jacket, as it doesn’t fit properly. This could be because he is trying to make himself look older and more mature. Basically, he is out to impress. We generally associate leather jackets with tough men, so already we have a negative attitude towards his character.
When he is speaking to the girl he tells her, “When I should be in school.” Clearly, although he may not attend as often as he should, he is a mere school student and therefore, still a youngster.
You may expect the girl whom he is with to be roughly the same age and she probably is, but maybe a couple of years younger. Her innocence implies to me that she is more naï¿½ve than the male, if not younger in age also. “Little slag”, he muttered. The phrase ‘little’ may show that she has fewer behind her. Also, his use of slang shows that he is from the less fortunate section of society and probably doesn’t attend many lessons in school.
Throughout the first half of the poem, she is incredibly innocent. Even when he is constantly talking about football and other manly sports, she just sits down listening, “her eyes wide and bright,” as McAuley explains. This shows her excitement, inexperience and immaturity.
McAuley goes on, “she talked about school, in a disjointed way. About O’Levels she’d be sitting in June.” Her language is disjointed because she is drunk. Again, she is yet to sit her first major exams and so this means that she is certainly 16 or 17.
They are both young people, which is a contrast to the main characters in ‘Cousin Kate’.
In the very first line, Rossetti writes, “I was a cottage maiden.” The two words “cottage” and “maiden” are words that I feel adds years onto the woman right from the beginning. Her general speech adds to this. She tells the reader how she fell in love with the Lord and it was a proper relationship for an unstated period of time. The title ‘Lord’ makes him instantly sound older as you do not see or hear of many young Lords. The fact that it was a longer lasting relationship rather than a one-night stand suggests that they are adults.
“O Cousin Kate, my love was true,” says the woman, emphasising the statement that she felt genuine affection for the Lord.
And finally, she is pleased with her gift of a child. Nothing in the world could make her part with her baby son, and this again implies that she is of an older generation than the woman seduced in ‘The Seduction’. If she were a teenager, she would surely rue losing her freedom and innocence.
You automatically expect the father to be roughly the same age as the mother, and I believe this is the case. All his wealth and riches highlights this, as I see no realistic way that a youngster could earn such substantial amount of money. “You site in gold and sing,” Rossetti writes.
“Your father would give lands for one, to wear his coronet.” This stanza basically just explains how much the Lord longs for a Son as an heir to the throne. If he were youthful, he would not be worrying about such things yet, but perhaps he is nearing the age that he won’t be able to have another Son and he is getting maybe a little desperate.
In conclusion, the man and the woman in ‘The Seduction’ are considerably younger than the man and woman in ‘Cousin Kate’.
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