Femme Fatale or Fettered Faery? The ambivalence of Arthur Hughes’ Interpretation of Keats’ “La Belle Dames Sans Merci” by Shiraz Vapiwala
Abstract: This article will explore and analyse how Arthur Hughes’ interpretation of John Keats’ poem, ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ (1819) offers ambivalence in its depiction of a ‘faery’s child’ atop a knight’s horse in the woods. The discussion will largely explore how this ambivalence, especially when considered alongside later approaches to the same subject, interacts with contemporary notions of female sexuality and power in society. Furthermore, this article will aim to investigate how Hughes’ Pre-Raphaelite work preceded others in light of the various contemporary textual and social influences which cause the viewer to consider the numerous potential readings of Keats’ texts and ask if the ‘faery’ in Hughes painting is a deadly precursor to the emergent femme fatale, a fettered victim of abduction, or, encapsulating the full ambivalence of both text and painting, neither.