Looking at Rheam brought me to La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
She stands over the dying knight, with an entourage of ghostly knights awaiting her will. The removal of his helmet makes him human and vulnerable. Keats’ poem was a popular Victorian subject.
Neatby’s illustration is just of her: she looks out at the male viewer, inviting him in.
In Rossetti’s sketch, there is far more work on the woman than the man: she has a face and body, he has a suggestion and a box-like form, enough to show where his foot would be to support hers. Yet she is still the Other before the male gaze: in the poem and the paintings, there is no suggestion that anyone asks the questions, what does she want? What is she thinking? What might “mercy” look like?
This is the verse he has copied:
I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery’s song.
In Frank Dicksee’s painting, I note the effect on the man: he is made an automaton or mannequin.
I needed Martin Earl’s commentary to point out the doubles entendres. Walter Crane’s illustration is similarly- “innocent” is such an unsatisfactory word. In his picture, one can imagine him just riding with her-
Oh. Yes. They are kind of unavoidable, aren’t they?
But what did she want? Was she collecting? Did she put up with their attentions, as the best way to get them to stop bothering her? Punch has an answer:
And finally, I am grateful to Jake for copying out most of Fardell v Potts, from Misleading cases in the Uncommon Law. No-one would ever expect a woman to be “reasonable”.