‘Cousin Kate’ was Set and written in the mid 1800s and set in rural England. ‘The Seduction’ was written in 1985 for the Young Observer poetry competition, which it won first prize. It was written when she was seventeen.
In ‘The Seduction’ a girl goes to a party with the intention of finding a nice ‘boy next door’ boyfriend. She meets a boy who takes her to the grimy, putrid Birkenhead docks. He seems like the complete opposite to her, he does not have any plans for the future, and truants school and spends his time sniffing paint thinner by the docks reading his dads magazines. She seems to have things more planned out, as she talks to him about her ‘O’ levels and school. He pulls a bottle of vodka out of his bag and gets her drunk. He talks with her and gains her trust and then has sex with her. She then discovers she is pregnant 3 months later.
In the poem ‘Cousin Kate’ the narrator is a ‘cottage maiden’. She is quite content with her life and happy the way she is. One day the Lord of the manor discovers her. He thinks she is beautiful and ‘lured’ her back to his home. The Lord exploited her and treated her as a ‘plaything’ but she allowed him to do it because she was in love. The Lord saw her cousin Kate and thought she was much fairer and prettier and cast the narrator aside and married Kate instead. The narrator was left an outcast because she was then an unmarried mother. She became bitter and resentful towards Kate because she felt she loved the Lord, and Kate didn’t, Kate only loved his wealth. The narrator also felt that if she had been in a similar situation she would not have betrayed her own blood and would have ‘spit in his face’ than taken his hand. But she loves her son and calls him her ‘shame’ and her ‘pride’. She knows that the Lord needs an heir and calls her son a ‘gift’ that Kate is not likely to get.
In ‘The Seduction’ the girl was hoping to find a nice boyfriend, which all her magazines had promised. She talks about ‘all the parties where you meet the boy next door’ She was looking for a relationship and the kind of romances she had been ‘promised’ in her magazines. She wears her ‘high white shoes’ with the intention of looking older.
The boy she meets had come for a different reason entirely. He had come for sex. He had even come prepared with alcohol to get his victim drunk and Listerine so he wouldn’t put the girl off with his smoky breath at the crucial moment. He occupied her with idle chatting, to gain her false assurance, and slowly got her drunk with his vodka, so she would think she was in love with him. He seduces her in a filthy damp dock. The story becomes more tragic when he talks about truanting, sniffing paint thinner. They are a similar age but he has nothing to lose, and will not end up losing anything, whereas the girl will lose her education, her reputation and more importantly, her childhood from this.
Three months later when she discovers her pregnancy, she doesn’t feel bitter towards the boy, but towards her magazines. She feels angry at her teenage magazines because they broke their promises of romance and love. She takes her frustration out on her ‘high white shoes’
‘And on that day she broke the heels of her high white shoes (as she flung them at the wall)’
In comparison the narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ was content with her life and didn’t have the need to find a boyfriend. But the similarity between the two women is that their partners exploited them both. They both thought they were in love, even if it was only induced by the alcohol that the boy was giving her. The poem says:
‘As he brought her more drinks, so she fell in love.’ (The Seduction)
In the poem ‘Cousin Kate’ the narrator says,
‘Why did a great lord find me out to fill my heart with care?’ (Cousin Kate)
Both men in the poems had the same attitudes towards the women. They regarded them almost as toys. In ‘Cousin Kate’ it refers to her as ‘His plaything and his love’. The narrator also says ‘He wore me like a silken knot, and changed me like a glove’
This suggests that the lord’s attitude towards the narrator was more that she was a ‘plaything’, and that he paid attention to her when he wanted to, and would discard her when he wanted. In the narrator’s view, he treated her more like a whore, than someone he loved and respected.
The boy in ‘The Seduction’ also thought very little of the girl. In the poem it says:
‘She giggled drunk, and nervous, and he muttered ‘little slag”
The difference between the two women is that in ‘Cousin Kate’ the narrator was left by the lord because he saw Kate, who was younger, prettier, and ‘purer’. In the case of the girl in ‘The seduction’, it does not seem likely that he had any intention of pursuing a relationship with her.
Another similarity between the two women is that they both felt like outcasts and worried what their neighbours thought of them.
‘The neighbours call you good and pure, call me an outcast thing;’ (Cousin Kate)
‘The neighbours whisper that you’d always ‘looked the type” (The Seduction)
The narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ is called an ‘outcast thing’, almost as if she has fallen so low that she can only be described as a ‘thing’.
The narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ felt resentful towards both the lord and Kate. But she seemed more distressed that her own cousin had betrayed her and she is bitter that Kate doesn’t even love him. The girl in ‘The seduction’ seems more bitter about her ‘high white shoes’ and her teenage magazines. She feels disillusioned and ‘cheated by the promise of it all’ because she read all the romanticised stories of love and what it should all be like. She calls them ‘stupid, stupid promises, only tacitly made’. She feels like she has been lied to, and the night drunken on the dirty docks should have been ‘a glass of lager shandy on a carpeted floor.’ She does not seem to be concerned that it was the boy who had taken advantage of her by getting her drunk.
The main similarity between them is that they both become pregnant, although their reaction to it is completely different. The girl in ‘The Seduction’ feels angry and ashamed of her pregnancy. She says it ‘would be better to be smoking scented drugs’ ‘than to fall into this despicable feminine void’. She thinks everyone is gossiping about her and saying she’s ‘always looked the type’, passing judgement on her before they even knew her situation. She feels that she has missed out on all her childhood and all the parties. I think she also feels that she will not find another boyfriend again because she will have a child. In the poem it says:
‘Where were the glossy photographs of summer,
Day trips to Blackpool, jumping all the rides?
And where, now, were all the pink smiling faces in the picture:
Three girls paddling in a the grey and frothy tide?’
She feels that she has to grow up early, and she is going to miss out on her life, and she won’t be able to spend as much time with her friends, and there will be no ‘glossy photographs of summer’ because she won’t be able to be there.
She thinks that now she will never meet her ‘boy next door boyfriend’.
She has given up on all the plans she had and says that it would be
‘Better to be smoking scented drugs,
Or festering, invisibly, unemployed,
Better to destroy your life in modern man made ways’
She feels that she has become a lower person, and wants to hide herself away in ‘the locked darkness of her room.’ The feeling I get from this poem is that she has completely given up all hope.
This is also true with the narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’, when the neighbours called her an ‘outcast thing’, but she reacted very differently to having a child.
The lord was much older than the narrator, and probably felt she could trust him. In ‘The seduction’ the boy and the girl were both around the same age.
In ‘The seduction’ on the night of the party I think she was quite happy. She was quite willing to follow him down to the docks and drink his vodka. The poem says:
‘And she stifled a giggle, reminded of numerous stories
Stories from teenage magazines.’
I think this proves she was happy on the night because she giggled when he kissed her, because she was reminded of her magazines and she thought that all the stories of romance and love in the comics were coming true. She felt nervous because she probably hadn’t ever had a boyfriend before. In the poem it says:
‘She giggled drunk and nervous’
She was jubilant that night because her and her high white shoes had accomplished their aim for that night- to find a boyfriend. I think at the time, she did love him, because she was quite naive and had had a lot to drink. In the poem it says
‘As he brought her more drinks, so she fell in love,
With his eyes as blue as iodine.’
She was quite excited that night, and she listened intently to whatever he was saying. It mentions her ‘wide blue eyes’ so she was interested, or trying to be interested, in what he was saying, even thought most of it was irrelevant to her. I think she was very eager to please that night, in the poem it says:
‘As she nodded quite enchanted, and her eyes were wide and bright’
And she had followed him down to the docks and done everything he had wanted her to do. I think she trusted him, and thought that from her ‘Jackie’ comics that boys were all the same. He had spent a lot of time gaining her assurance, by talking ‘about school in a disjointed way’.
In ‘Cousin Kate’ the narrator felt ashamed by her relationship with the lord. She describes her life with him as ‘shameless, shameful’
Looking back on the her relationship, I think she feels dirty and used, because in the poem she says:
‘So now I moan an unclean thing,
Who might have been a dove.’
The narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ is quite proud of her son, despite becoming an outcast amongst her neighbours. She calls her son a ‘gift’ and ‘my shame, my pride’. She sees her son almost as a weapon against Kate, and says ‘your father would give lands for one to wear his coronet’ and calls him a ‘gift’ that Kate is not likely to get.
She loves her son and is protective of him and she says:
‘My fair haired son, my shame, my pride,
Cling closer, closer yet.’
Her son has the same fair hair as she has, not the features of his father. This shows that he is more like her than him, and he is not the same as his father.
It almost sounds as if she is taunting the lord when she says:
‘You father would give lands for one,
To wear his coronet.’
The narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ does not dwell too much on the fact that she has missed out on things now, like getting married, whereas the girl in ‘The Seduction’ did.
The feelings the lord has towards the narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ is that she was more of a ‘plaything’ for his pleasure than a lifelong partner. He seemed more concerned with her looks, and obviously just wanted someone who would look pretty on his arm, because it would make him look good. So when he saw that her cousin was prettier and fairer, he left the narrator and married her instead. In the poem it says:
‘He saw you at your father’s gate,
Chose you cast me by.’
The lord was in a position of power and respect so it would not matter if he had sex with a lot of women, and this is why he could get away with it. In the period in which the poem was set, women did not have as much power as men did and this probably explains some of his behaviour. Women were seen more as people who had and looked after children, so he would have thought he was higher up than she was, which he was because he was a lord, but I think some of his attitude was probably due to the views towards women in that era.
In ‘The Seduction’ the boy did not think much of the girl, and had come to the party with the intention of sleeping with one of the girls. As he was filling her with his vodka, he called her a ‘little slag’, even though she had probably never done anything like this in her life, and he was the one corrupting her. I think this shows that he thinks she is stupid for going along with it and has not got much respect for her.
The boy was probably attracted to the girl because he had ‘danced with her all night’, but he did not had any intentions of pursuing a relationship.
The girl was most likely one of a long list of girls he had done this to. He seems to know what he was doing, and had everything planned out. He had brought Listerine, vodka, and he even knew where to take her. To him she was just another girl.
In ‘Cousin Kate’ the neighbours think the narrator is ‘an outcast thing’. They think Kate is ‘good and pure’. They call the narrator a ‘thing’ as if she is not a human being. They show no sympathy towards her, despite the fact that it was the lord who had got her pregnant and left her for Kate. The neighbours think she is dirty and this is all her own fault. They think this way because of the social stigma at the time about unmarried mothers, which is still around nearly a hundred and fifty years later when ‘The seduction’ was written.
In ‘The Seduction’ the girl’s neighbours judged her before they even knew the situation. In the poem it tells the reader that:
‘the neighbours whisper that ‘you always look the type’.’
They thought that she was the kind of girl who had sex with a lot of boys and then ended up pregnant. This is not surprising because when a young woman like her falls pregnant, people always think they are the type of person that ‘sleeps around’. They jumped straight to this conclusion even though she had never done anything like this, had never had a boyfriend, and it was him who corrupted her. But I think that was the norm at the time, and still is sometimes, to take that attitude towards unmarried or single mothers.
The things in ‘Cousin Kate’ which make it recognisable as Victorian are the settings, the language, the attitudes of the characters and their action and the attitude of the poem towards its subject. Some of the language in the poem is immediately recognisable as Victorian such as ‘woes me joy thereof’ ‘flaxen hair’ and ‘O’ Lady Kate’. These words are not now in common usage, and have been replaced with modem alternatives, which is why they stand out so much. The attitudes of the characters such as the lord and the neighbours are also typical of the period. The way that an heir is so important to him, the way he treats the narrator and the effect his power has among the common people are all traits which today would not mean as much.
The attitudes of the neighbours stand out because the attitude that unmarried mothers are ‘outcast’ things is not as strong anymore. The fact that the lord is not criticized for what he did, because he is a man, and he is in power is a also recognisable because nowadays people in power or in the public eye are no longer feared as much, and people will criticise them more openly. Kate would not have been so anxious to have a son for the lord and would not have betrayed her cousin so she could marry the lord and be rich, unless she was a malicious person.
The setting is quite recognisable as Victorian because they worked ‘among the rye’ and lived in cottages. The narrator also refers to herself as a ‘cottage maiden’.
The things which make ‘The Seduction’ recognisable as 1980s are the events, the personalities, and the comics which the girl reads. The things that the boy and girl talk about are instantly recognisable as 1980s, such as when the boy was talking about football and ‘Sammy Lee and Ian Rush’ and the ‘Milk Cup’ and the ‘McGuigan fight’. The girl talks about her ‘O’ levels, which we do not have anymore and the magazines she reads, like My Guy and Jackie are also from that time.
The attitude towards the girl’s pregnancy is also typical of the time.
Despite the gap of nearly one hundred and fifty years between them, I think that the poems are still very similar. They both describe the social stigma surrounding teenage pregnancies and unmarried mothers. They both show that despite the situation, it is always the woman who ends up with the blame. The narrator in ‘Cousin Kate’ was labelled an ‘outcast thing’ and the girl in ‘The Seduction’ was whispered about, even though it was the boy who had taken advantage of her. Even though a hundred and fifty years had passed since ‘Cousin Kate’ had been written, people still had the same ideas about teenage/single mothers. The attitude I pick up from these poems is that it is looked down on for women to become single mothers, and it is wrong for women to have sex with a lot of people, but for a man it is acceptable, and no label or shame is placed upon him.