Augusta Webster was a poet who was passionate about improving the status of women in society. She mastered and mimicked the dramatic monologue genre, using it to give voice to a diverse range of female and male characters. Circe is a minor goddess in Greek mythology who appeared in Homer’s Odyssey and had an ability to turn her enemies in animals or monsters. She is a center figure of Augusta Webster’s poem Circe. Webster in her poem described female’s desire and sexuality through the story of Circe. This paper examines the poem and argues that Circe believes in love and desires to achieve an ultimate romantic fulfillment. Furthermore, it claims that she did not reach her goal as it is unrealistic.
The dramatic monologue provides an insight of a speaker’s history and psychology. Due to the socially constructed notions of femininity were unrealistic and unreachable, many women were forced to be married and ended up into unhappy marriages, a marginal life, or even suicide or infanticide as a result.
Moreover, the gender roles prevented women from developing their own personalities, and this was portrayed in Circe by Augusta Webster. While reading Circe, it seems that the speaker, Circe, is lonely and bored as nothing in her life makes her feel excited. For example, she stated:
“I am too weary of this long bright calm;
Always the same blue sky, always the sea
The same blue perfect likeness of the sky,
One rose to match the other that has waned
To-morrow’s dawn the twin of yesterday’s;
And every night the ceaseless crickets chirp
The same long joy and the late strain of birds
Repeats their strain of all the even month;” (Webster)
Here, the line “always the same blue sky, always the sea” refers to her calmness and continuous life without no worries. She does not see the beauty of the calm life as everything is ordinary and that there is nothing that brightens her life and makes feel alive. Such atmosphere represents the genre of the poem as it is a dramatic monologue which explains the psychological condition and state of the speaker (Pearsall 83). These lines at the beginning of the poem provide an insight into the goal of the speaker. It is seen that she demands a change that would have an impact on her life, and it is love.
She desires the unattainable which is the ultimate romantic pleasure. This is because such scenario is less likely as opposed to the one in which Circe acts independently and changes her life by herself. However, the image of love in which a girl waits for her soul mate is the image of love that women were taught, which is precisely what Webster criticizes in this monologue. This false image can only lead to disappointment because reality cannot even come close to this portrayal of love. For example,
“Where is my love? Does someone cry for me,
Not knowing whom he calls? Does his soul cry
For mine to grow beside it, grow in it?
Does he beseech the gods to give him me
The one unknown rare woman by whose side
No other woman, thrice as beautiful,
Should once seem fair to him; to whose voice heard
In any common tones no sweetest sound” (Webster)
These lines show desperateness of Circe in her search for a soul mate. Here, she constantly asks questions about an illusory man who could never appear in her life. The line “Does his soul cry” refers to the fact that Circe does not herself that whether the man she desired much is suitable for her and deserves all that drama that she had experienced. Moreover, Webster might want to show that men did not desire to find love of their life as much as women do. This is because of the line “Does he beseech the gods to give him me” (Webster). In the lines, it is seen that Circe expects to be loved, but she is confident in her own beauty and sensuality without the validation of a male partner. Therefore, it seems that Webster challenges traditional heterosexual system for making females think that their life is miserable unless they have love.
Circe’s life is actually pleasant, with terms like “sweet” and “sunshine” being used to describe it, but she patiently awaits the change she is expected to have in the future (Webster 45). What Webster appears to be attempting to express here is that Circe’s and spinsters’ lives could be so much better if they did not waste their days waiting for a soul mate who will never come. If spinsters want their lives to be changed, they should be able to do so themselves, and not waiting for male characters. Circe stated that:
“Oh love, oh love, oh love, art not yet come
Out of the waiting shadows into life?
Art not yet come after so many years
That I have longed for thee? Come! I am here.” (Webster)
Here, it is explicitly seen that the notion of love was romanticized by Circe and made it the life goal. Love is compared to art and it is understandable as both love and art make people experience different feelings, starting from a grief to an ultimate happiness. Love indeed is a wonderful feeling and finding with whom to share is great, yet it is not the case when a young girl only desires to find someone and does not see the beauty of the life. The line “after so many years” provides a gloomy effect as the speaker’s life was stopped while she was searching for love (Webster). Circe appears to be a strong and independent woman who is confident in her sexuality but still yearns for a partner to complete her, despite her belief that no man deserves her. Webster tried to challenge the common wisdom that marriage and romantic love should be a woman’s exclusive aim in life.
To conclude, the dramatic monologue of Circe in the poem of Augusta Webster illustrates the desire of the speaker to find the love of her life which is unreachable. It narrates that Circe’s life is full of loneliness and sorrow as she was waiting for a soul mate. Augusta Webster allows this woman, who is grappling with traditional gender norms and the expectations that come with them, the opportunity to express her own tales in her monologue. Circe has been frustrated and hurt by the usual expectation of marriage and the hope of romantic love that is meant to come with it. Although the expect of love was a central theme of the poem, young women should be given the opportunity to pursue other goals in life beyond marriage and romantic love.
Pearsall, Cornelia D. J. “The Dramatic Monologue.” The Cambridge Companion to Victorian Poetry. Edited by Joseph Bristow, Cambridge Companions to Literature, 2000, pp. 67-88.
Webster, Augusta, Christine Sutphin, and Augusta Webster. Augusta Webster: Portraits and Other Poems. Peterborough, Ont. Broadview Press, 2000.