Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Her Unexpected Loathly Lady

In For Love and Money I look at a number of "mythoi" ("traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure[s]") which recur in romance novels. One of them is the tale of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady/Dame Ragnell though, as I note, "The use of the Gawain and Ragnell mythos generally remains implicit in romances" (98).

I was agreeably surprised, therefore, when I recently found almost the whole story embedded in Deborah Hale's His Compromised Countess (2012):
as Bennett listened to his wife tell Wyn the story of Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady, he was surprised and dismayed to discover how much the ancient legend related to their situation.

In her most dramatic tone, Caroline spun the tale for their enthralled little son. 'Once she had forced him to wed her, the hideous creature told Sir Gawain she was a fair damsel who had been placed under a terrible enchantment. By marrying her, he had broken half the curse. She could be beautiful by day so that all the world would honour and envy him for possessing so fine a wife. But alone with him at night she would be monstrous ugly. Or she could be repulsive by day and beautiful by night so that he alone could admire and love her.' [...]

'Which one did Sir Gawain choose, Mama?' [...]

'I'm glad you asked. [...] It was not easy for Sir Gawain to decide. He considered how each of those choices would affect him. Then his heart was moved with pity for what the Loathly Lady had suffered. He said he would let the decision be hers. [...] No sooner had Sir Gawain spoken those words,' Caroline continued, 'than there was a flash of sparking light and the Loathly Lady transformed into the most beautiful maiden he had ever beheld. She told him that by permitting her to choose her own fate he had freed her from the spell entirely. Now she would be beautiful all the time. Wasn't that lovely?' (313-15)


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