Study Guide

Elaine of Corbin in The Once and Future King

By T.H. White

Elaine of Corbin

Elaine (not to be confused with Elaine, Lancelot's mother, or Elaine, Arthur's sister) is King Pelles' daughter. Described as child-like and guileless, she is locked up for five years while being perpetually boiled in scalding water, which does not exactly sound like a relaxing time in the tub.

She shows that she's capable of manipulation when she tricks Lancelot into sleeping with her (disguising herself as Guenever). She does this out of extreme love of Lancelot, and because she wants to bear his son (who turns out to be Galahad).

Friendzone Level: Eponine

Even though she loves Lancelot and will wait around for him, he doesn't return her feelings. In fact, he bears a pretty wicked grudge against her for robbing him of his virginity. When she finally gets him back for a while, she's so blinded by her love for him that she doesn't realize the woman figure on Lance's shield is actually Guenever.

So, even when she thinks she has him, she doesn't really.

This ends up giving her a weird sort of passive strength, though. We're told that instead of playing dirty and manipulating him into staying, "there was something in her heart—either decency, or pride, or generosity, or humility, or the determination not to be a cannibal—which spared him" (K.22.1). The climactic action of this passive strength is when she commits suicide for the love of Lancelot, an act that is called "the only strong blow of her life" (K.40.1).

After death, she doesn't even appear to be herself: "The stern, grey face in the barge was evidently not Elaine—who had gone elsewhere, or vanished" (K.40.4). Death, then, transforms her into someone not herself. In life she is passive and weak, but in death she becomes strong. Even Lancelot recognizes this in the end… even though he never returns her feelings.

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