These two poems although set in very different time periods share many similarities in their themes and characters. Cousin Kate is set in the 1700’s where women were seen as men’s possessions that they could do what they liked with. Women could have no real career. Their only way to get ahead in life was to marry into a rich family and become a good wife. It was set in a period where a single mother was seen as a sinner.
“The seduction” is set in or around the late 1960’s early 1970’s. You would expect women’s rights to change a lot in the few hundred years that had passes since cousin Kate, which they had to a degree, but single mothers were still frowned upon, men still took advantage of women although not as much as in the 1700’s.
The title “the seduction” is quite ironic as it makes you think of a romantic scene, but actually he is seducing her by “handing her the vodka” which makes this boy seem as though he cant get girls in any other way. This can be contrasted to “Cousin Kate” where the lord seduces the cottage maiden with his obviously very good romantic skills “he praised my flaxen hair” the lexical choice “praised” makes this line seem much more romantic. The boy in the seduction clearly knows that he is doing wrong as “he led her to the quiet bricks of Birkenhead docks” Here the author uses alliteration of the letter B emphasizes the fact that they are completely alone by making the scene seem more deserted.
He also emphasizes that they are alone by not only making the scene they are in seem quiet but also by making the city which is usually associated with lots of noise seem calm and distant “Far past the silver stream of traffic through the city, far from the blind windows of the tower blocks.”
The sibilance here makes the noisy traffic seem far away. This technique of audible imagery is very effective I think it underlines the fact that that the two of them are isolated from civilisation. The author puts little things in throughout the poem to show reasons why this boy cant get a girlfriend by normal means for example where she writes “he spat into the river” and when he tells her that he comes to this place “with me dads magazines” These are put in to give you an idea of how disrespectful to women this boy is and how sordid the whole situation is. The lord in Cousin Kate also has little or no respect for women as the cottage maiden tells us “he wore me like a silken knot, he changed me like a glove.” This objectifies the women as she is compared to an item of clothing that can be just discarded or changed as he wishes without any thought for the woman. The girl in the seduction thinks that she is in love with this boy but none of it is real. She is just intoxicated by the alcohol “As he bought her more drinks so she fell in love.” The author links the drink with falling in love in this line on purpose to show how false the whole thing is. Also we notice that she says “he” bought the drinks rather than her which suggests he is deliberately trying to get her drunk. This boy has no real grasp of right and wrong or if he does he has no problem with rule breaking “When I should be at school or eating my dinner” this line emphasizes his lack of respect for school or his family as he disobeys both. Also he himself takes drugs ” with a bag of shimmering sweet paint thinner” shimmering and sweet symbolize something good but then paint thinner is obviously bad which is a paradox. By the time they get to the docks the girl is obviously completely inebriated by the vodka “and sat in the dark, her head rolling forward.” This image calls up images in the reader’s mind of past experiences, which makes you know how little the girl can do to resist when she is so drunk. The line “the frightening scum on the water” is a pun that could literally mean scum on the water or it could be a reflection of the boy who is scum. The boy now is going to make his move on the girl now that she is completely out of control. “He swiftly contrived to kiss her.” The lexical choice contrive makes the reader see how engineered and planned this whole set-up is. The girl has little experience either, as she is young. ” She stifled a giggle.” The word “giggle” has connotations of innocence inexperience that emphasizes how immoral this is. We don’t know what goes on from here as the poem jumps on in time from this line “stories in teenage magazines . . . The three full stops are a caesura that is put there to symbolize the passing of time. This can be compared to Cousin Kate where time moves on between the cottage maiden being pregnant and then in the next verse time has jumped on to after her son is born. Also this is a contrast between the two poems as In Cousin Kate we hear of the cottage maiden’s feelings after her son is born “my fair haired son”. Where as in the seduction time only moves on further into the pregnancy.
For the rest of the seduction the mood changes and the girl has done a lot of growing up in the three months that have passed and she now realizes the true consequences of her actions on that night “when she discovered she was three months gone, she sobbed in the cool, locked darkness of her room” The author here gives us little information on why she is locked in her room. She leaves it up to the reader to decide if she has locked herself in or weather somebody like her parents have locked her in as in the 1960’s-1970’s it was a terrible thing to be a single underage mother. This girl is no longer the innocent little girl she was before now she “broke the heels of her bright white shoes”. This symbolizes the losing of her innocence, virginity or both as the colour white represents purity and now she is breaking that.
In a way the girl is blaming her magazines for her getting pregnant “she ripped up all her my guy and Jackie photo comics” as she rips these comics up its as though she is ripping up her dream of becoming one of the happy ending stories out of them herself. This girl now hated herself and what she had become. “She was sickened every morning by stupid stupid promises only tacitly made. McCauley uses a pun here where she says sickened every morning. She could mean morning sickness or she could mean sickened mentally by what had happened. the women in both poems are worried about how others will perceive them now they are pregnant. In The seduction she says “better to turn away, move away, fade away, than to have the neighbours whispering that you always looked the type” and in Cousin Kate the cottage maiden says “the neighbours call you good and pure, and me an outcast thing.” These two lines stress the fact that single mothers were social outcasts.
The girl in the seduction then thinks how good life could have been where she goes “to the parties and meets the boy next door” and walk hand in hand” these lines conjure up the fairytale image in your head just like in her magazines but she knows that now she can no longer have this dream. Now she thinks that she is in the worse possible scenario she can think of. She says “better to destroy yourself in man-made ways than to fall into this despicable feminine void.” Here the writer really shows how depressed she is by making her want to almost do absolutely anything apart from being pregnant.
I think is the real difference between the two poems is in who or what they blame for their situation. In Cousin Kate the cottage maiden blames the whole thing on the man “I would have spit into his face.” When she knew exactly what was going on and what the risks of pre-marital sex were, where as the girl in the seduction who had no control of this boy who got her drunk and then more-or less raped her, blames the magazines that she reads “full of glamour with a stammer and glossy horoscopes, full of fresh fruit diets how did she feel betrayed?” The irony being that both women are blaming the wrong person for their predicament.
These poems are both very anti-male as you can see from the way the authors seem to describe the men almost as manipulative rapists in these poems which makes them a lot easier to compare than contrast.