Cousin Kate Analysis by Christina Rossetti

Cousin Kate Analysis: The time and sequence in the poem are quite deliberate in building sympathy for the speaker. If she had started the poem talking about how happy she is with her son then it would have been a lot more difficult to gain the reader's sympathy.

So the poem starts with the speaker looking back in a retrospective at her life before she slept with the lord. The first stanza is filled with regret and wonder as to why it had to be her.

This is shown in "why did the great lord find me out and praise my flaxen hair?"-it's as if she's asking a higher power why it had to be her. Why the lord had to pick her out. The fact that the man is just referred to as the lord could have a religious connotation.

She could be asking why God chose her to be the one that succumbed to the man and then must bear all the guilt and consequence.

The speaker then shows how low she has sunk in the eyes of society etc by dwelling on what happened and how foolish she was.

She also shows her bitterness towards cousin Kate. Her unhappiness and regret is shown in "now I moan an unclean thing, who might have been a dove"-She is now dirty in the eyes of everyone around her and she is filled with remorse and bitterness that she could have been this pure, virtuous woman had it not been for the lord.

However, at the end of the poem the speaker drops in a twist, she reveals she has gained a son from her experiences and she seems to be sure that everything will be ok as she talks of her son inheriting the lord's lands. So we go on a journey with the speaker.

We see he go from high to all-time low to another, new different high. One that revolves around her son and the promises he holds for the future.

Finally, as we are told about her son, in the end, it's the last thing in our minds having read the poem. So the last message we get from the poem is that something good always comes out of a bad situation.

In this case, the speaker has become a stronger person and re-gained her pride in the form of her son.

Overall the sequence of the poem is ordered and simple so that there is no confusion. The time and sequence help build on the morals and themes of the poem as well.

Setting and Destination

The setting is shown in many lines in the poem 'Cousin Kate'. For example, the first line including "cottage maiden" suggests the countryside. As does the mention of "working among the rye" and the word "lane".

These are all things I would associate with rural areas as opposed to urban areas. "Cottage maiden" also is symbolic of vulnerability and low social status and wealth. So this helps with the understanding of the poem.

Also when the speaker mentions the "lord" I imagine a lord of the manor, with a big estate in the country. His land is also referred to later on.

The fact that the poem is set in the country could also show why the speaker's actions with the lord are considered so scandalous.

The society in the country could be a lot more sheltered than that of the city. Plus the atmosphere is set with "hardened by sun and air"-it creates a very romantic feeling of the countryside, however, what happens in the poem between the lord and the speaker isn't the least bit romantic.

The setting used in the poem may not be real, but may just be symbolic for creating atmosphere. Also for foreshadowing the destination of the poem in terms of the innocent maiden being taken advantage of by the powerful lord.

However, the destination of the poem is not as expected. The fallen woman metaphorically gets back on her feet at the end and prevails over the other characters.

She doesn't wallow in self-pity, she embraces her new life with her son and seems in control. This is not what I expected when I read the beginning or middle of the poem.

So the twist at the end makes the destination unpredictable which, I think, adds to the poem as a whole.


The voice throughout the poem is that of the narrator, the woman who has become an "outcast thing" in society due to her brief love affair with the lord without marriage. For the majority of the poem the narrator or speaker is talking to her cousin Kate, who could actually be her cousin or she could be representative of how women should be close (like family/cousins) yet they stab each other in the back often.

She is reflecting on everything that has happened to her and addressing Kate directly-"O Lady Kate, my cousin Kate".

In the poem the way the speaker talks to Kate it's like she's providing a voice for all these so-called 'fallen women who may have done nothing wrong.

Rossetti could have done this intentionally as she may have worked with such women, who are also single mothers at St Mary Magdalene's penitentiary in Highgate.

In the last few lines of the poem, the speaker stops talking to Kate and starts addressing her son. "Cling closer, closer yet: Your father would give lands for one To wear his coronet"-So maybe the speaker was just telling a story to her son about society and the injustice of it, but that they will benefit in the end.

Points of View

The main point of view we see in the poem is evidently that of the speaker, however, we also get hints of general society's view. We know that the speaker acknowledges she was tricked by the lord but still seems bitter as she feels she didn't do anything wrong. 

This is shown in "Shameless shameful life"-she feels she hasn't sinned, but society says she has. We see society's view when it says "The neighbors call you good and pure, call me an outcast thing"-society obviously values marriage very highly and thinks it important in order for a woman to remain "pure". Whereas through the speaker's point of view we see this is unfair, as the same rules don't apply to men.

Also when the speaker says "why did the great lord find me out?" and repeats this it's evident she feels it's the man's fault and that anyone in her situation would have been tricked just as she was. 

We also see that the speaker thinks it's wrong that Kate married the lord,  and she says she would have "spat in his face". She seems to think that Kate has done more wrong than her as her love for the lord was short-lived and she betrayed the speaker.

The speaker seems to find the most fault in the lord, she repeats over and over again how "he" did this and "he" did that. To perhaps illustrate that he was in the wrong. She was the object and he was the subject.

Finally, it is the narrator's point of view that she is still strong at the end of the poem. She is a fallen woman with the means to metaphorically get back on her feet, for example, she has a new joy in her son. 

She shows this by saying "I have a gift you have not got and seem not like to get"-the fact she refers to her son as a gift shows that, in her view she doesn't see her son as proof of her shame etc, she feels she has gained something wonderful by having him. 

She refers to him as her "shame" and "pride"-again it's like in the view of society he is her shame, whereas, in her eye, he is simply her pride.

So overall we are persuaded by the narrator to see her point of view, we aren't supposed to side with anyone else.


The Speaker

The speaker in the poem is the one who has become an "outcast" in society due to her brief love affair with a lord she wasn't married to. 

The way the speaker talks about the events that unfold, it's obvious we are supposed to be on the speaker's side, rather than the lord's and cousin Kate's.

For example, the description the speaker gives of herself at the beginning suggests to me she was innocent and very happy with her life before she made the mistake of mistaking sex for love with the lord. "cottage maiden" suggests to me virginity and innocence. 

Plus she obviously isn't from the city so she could be seen to be vulnerable-she is being set up as the victim already. 

Also, we are told she was "contented with my cottage mates"- Rossetti/the speaker is illustrating how everything in the girl's life was good before until the lord tricked her and messed it all up. 

We are also told that the speaker doesn't know she's beautiful, "not mindful I was fair". This suggests to me that she was virtuous, humble and pure.

Then when the speaker starts to tell us what happened we see that she was indeed the victim. She says that the lord "lured" her to his home. 

The word "lured" again suggests he is leading her, and she is merely following him, taken in by his influence and her own love for him. 

We see how he cruelly used her for sex and she bares the consequences of this because she is a woman and has no power.
Cousin Kate Analysis

So again this links to feminism and the idea of 'fallen women'. The speaker acknowledges that she was merely his "plaything" and he has made her an "unclean thing" in the eyes of society. There is also an injustice in that she actually loved the lord, "my love was true".

So we are already sympathizing with the speaker. Then she introduces cousin Kate, the woman who the lord left her for. 

In a way cousin Kate was in the exact same position as the speaker, the only difference is the lord "bound" her with his ring. 

The use of the word "bound" also suggests he trapped her in a way similar to the speaker. So all this makes us feel sorry for the speaker as we see she is the same as Kate, yet Kate is called "good and pure" because she is married, and the speaker is called "an outcast thing" as she isn't-thing, not the person. 

We also side with the speaker as she acknowledges she was naive to have been tricked by him, this is shown where she says "fooled".

Finally, we prefer the speaker to any of the other characters as she is shown to have good morals. 

She ensures cousin Kate that were their places reversed, the lord "would not have won her with his love" or "bought her with his land". 

So the speaker is presented as good as she would have stuck to her morals and not given in to the lord for want of fortune.

The lord

The lord is made out to be a very seedy, horrible man. He "lures" the speaker into sleeping with him out of wedlock and then he goes in living his life without regret or prejudice against him.

We are told he "changed me (the speaker) like a glove"-after he used her for sex he easily discarded her. We are also told he "sits up high"-so we can infer he's very rich and high up in the social hierarchy. 

This also makes him sound almost godlike, perhaps to show man's power over women. The lord also seems arrogant as he "chose you (Kate0 and cast me by (speaker)"- he feels he can just pick and choose women when he feels like it. So we see the lord isn't a nice man at all.

Cousin Kate

Cousin Kate is made out by the speaker to be very weak for agreeing to marry the lord, despite the fact she presumably knew about what he did to the speaker. 

The speaker says "He lifted to from mean estate"-So the lord took Kate from rags to riches, and this may have been why she married him. We are also told Kate "sits in gold and sings"- she is enjoying the good life and having a "pure" reputation. 

The speaker also says that Kate's "love was writ in the sand"- this shows how Kate never really loved the lord like the speaker did, her love for him was very impermanent like writing in the sand. 

We also dislike Kate because she is respected by everyone in society just because she's married. She seems to have got away very lightly compared to the speaker.

We also see from the speaker's description of Kate that she seems to have only married the lord for want of material things, like land and "clothes and wedding ring". 

So she is living this false life of virtuousness and happiness, whilst the speaker is looked down upon and considered a fallen woman living a "shameful life".
Next Post »