Lady Pole

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Lady Pole (b. 1789) is the wife of the government Minister Sir Walter Pole. For much of the time described in the book she is under an enchantment laid on her by the gentleman with the thistle-down hair which obliges her to visit him at his palace of Lost-hope every night. Since a further condition of this enchantment is that all her attempts to explain her situation are transformed into irrational ramblings as soon as she utters them, Lady Pole is confined at home as a madwoman. After she makes an attempt on the life of Gilbert Norrell she is taken away to a remote and secluded house in Yorkshire, and there she is eventually freed from enchantment by the agency of John Childermass and John Segundus and the death of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair.

Early life

Before her marriage Lady Pole was a Miss Wintertowne, the sole child of her widowed mother, an heiress and a great beauty. A wealthy heiress is of course very apt to be esteemed a great beauty, but of Miss Wintertowne's charms we may be certain - no less a judge than Christopher Drawlight was in rhapsodies about them: "Oh! she was a heavenly creature. Quite divine. An angel..Her eyes were perfection...a clear dark grey, with long dark eye-lashes and dark eye-brows.[8]" Her engagement to Sir Walter Pole was considered a very fortunate match for them both, as there was wealth and looks on her side and power and title on his. At the time of their engagement however she was somewhat sickly and in need of tender nursing, but unfortunately her mother, Mrs Wintertowne - although a woman of excellent understanding and a most affectionate parent - having blinded herself to her daughter's frail state of health[6], allowed her to neglect herself : and so, just as the marriage was going forward, poor Miss Wintertowne died.

It was at this point that English magic, in the shape of Gilbert Norrell, intervened. Finding himself in desperate need of an advocate in government to promote his darling cause of the Revival of English Magic, Mr Norrell realized that by restoring Miss Wintertowne to life he might bind Sir Walter to him forever. Nevertheless, he paused. To perform such extraordinary magic as returning someone to life he would need to enlist the help of a fairy, and Mr. Norrell had the strongest abhorrence of accepting aid from such a source. In these circumstances however he overcame his reluctance and, in the very chamber where Miss Wintertowne lay dead, he summoned the gentleman with the thistle-down hair. With his help the spell was performed and Miss Wintertowne restored to life, and to Sir Walter Pole[8].

Unfortunately, Mr Norrell's reservations about accepting aid from a fairy turned out to be well-founded. The Gentleman, always susceptible to the charms of an elegant woman, was entirely ravished by the beauty of Miss Wintertowne. He cunningly made a stipulation that if he helped restore her to life then half her life justly belonged to him: and Mr Norrell agreed. Thus he unknowingly condemned Lady Pole to the dreadful existence she was forced, for the next ten years, to lead; for rather than allowing her to live some portion of natural life before stealing her away forever to Faerie, as Mr Norrell had supposed, The Gentleman took her away there every night! It was no concern of his how dreadful her existence might be in the waking world, where to all observers she seemed listless, depleted and unable to communicate except in the maddest utterances: nor was it possible for him to understand that her enforced attendance at the unendingly dreary entertainments of Faerie was an intolerable burden to her. Thus for the long, melancholy years of her enchantment she pined, dead within if not without, and cheered only by the friendship she eventually formed with the kindly Arabella Strange[27].

Abduction of Mrs Strange and attempt upon the life of Mr Norrell

It was the peculiar misfortune of Mrs Strange that, during her frequent kind attendances on Lady Pole at her house, she should naturally fall into an acquaintance with the gentleman with the thistle-down hair: and he, as was his wont, very wickedly conceived a passion for her. This led him in time to plot a means to carry her away with him to Lost-hope, a design in which, with the help of an obliging piece of moss-oak, he eventually succeeded. Consider Lady Pole's feelings on seeing her dearest friend share her imprisonment! To know that while she and Mrs Strange might pine eternally from the effects of an unjust captivity Mr Norrell, the author of their misery, lived on secure and oblivious in his comfortable house at Hanover-square! Can it be wondered at that Lady Pole was driven, in the very frenzy of her despair, to a remedy so repugnant to the tender feelings of her sex as to attempt to pistol Mr Norrell on the steps of his own home? Fortunately the timely intervention of John Childermass prevented the mischief[46].

Release from Enchantment

Lady Pole's grieved husband, believing her actions were the result of insanity, undertook that his wife should never again have an opportunity of wreaking her lunatic hatred on so apparently innocent an object. She was removed from London, under the supervision of Stephen Black, to Starecross Hall in Yorkshire. There under the considerate care of John Segundus she received every kindness and mark of attention that might possibly lighten the burden of grief which crushed her spirit[47]. It was to no avail. Her long and weary durance at Lost-hope continued, and she must have begun to believe no power could ever end it. Yet already there were signs of hope. Mr Segundus, with his great sensibility to magic, had already observed that Lady Pole was not merely mad but labouring under an enchantment. Jonathan Strange had found means to return to her the little finger the Gentleman had claimed as handsel when he and Norrell had bargained away her life between them. Strange had also re-awoken the old alliances John Uskglass had established between the natural forces of England and English magicians, and thus put it in their power to perform again the ancient spells which had lain inutile for centuries. When Childermass and Segundus between them did the magic that restored Lady Pole to wholeness they severed the enchantment that tied her to the will of the gentleman with the thistle-down hair[64]. He felt it, at once. He turned and in his depravity would have taken condign revenge on her [65] had Stephen Black not interposed. He made the great sacrifice of giving up all chance of knowing his own name and parentage and chose instead to protect the life of Lady Pole. He struck her tormentor down, though his heart bled to do it[68]. Lady Pole was truly free at last, free to speak of all she had suffered, and she immediately announced her intention of exposing Mr Norrell by writing to the public prints. But alas, events had overtaken her. Mr Norrell was no longer in a situation where he needed greatly to care for the world's opinion, having entered the Pillar of Darkness with Jonathan Strange.