In Tennyson's Name: Identity and Responsibility in the Poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Ashgate), Anna Barton adopts cultural, materialist, and formal analysis to assess anonymity and shifting signatures ("Alfred Tennyson," "Alfred Tennyson, D.C.L.; Poet Laureate," "Alfred, Lord Tennyson") throughout Tennyson's career. Barton's point of departure is J. S. Mill's A System of Logic (1843), which asserts that proper names have no inherent meaning (as Saussure later argued of signifiers generally), since parents' hopeful naming of children often comes to naught. While a poet could construct a proper name's connotations, Tennyson faced the challenge of sustaining a name signifying poetic merit in an era of emergent commodity culture and brand names divorced from substance. His poems' content, Barton argues, increasingly reflected his negotiation of names and naming.
"Naming the Dead" (chap. 3), for example, examines the disparate acts of poetic memorializing of In Memoriam and "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington." In the first an intensely private memorial to a gifted youth cut down before making his name was transformed into compelling public poetry in part because Tennyson's recurring declaration of language's inadequacy freed him to write as much as he would and to demonstrate his poetic art in the process. The "Ode" paid tribute to a public figure whose famous deeds neither required elaboration nor could be ignored by Victoria's poet laureate, forcing Tennyson into the artifice of a public (rather than subjective Romantic) ode and elaborate phrasing that chimed with the excess of the public funeral. Only in the final line, "God accept him, Christ receive him," does Tennyson revert to the plain-spoken simplicity befitting the dead man rather than a vaunted public name.
"'General Names' and 'Small Names'" (chap. 1) contends that Poems by Two Brothers could not be "Tennysonian" because its verses were anonymous and derived authority more from printed books that supplied notes or epigraphs than from their author. Tennyson's first signed work, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830), in contrast, turned on names in the female portraits which, lacking referential substance, could be filled in with the display of poetic craft that made Tennyson's name. The unnamed hero of Maud (the focus of chap. 4) likewise embroiders and lyricizes a woman's name--until the brother's arrival forces a confrontation with the meaning of family names. Ironically Tennyson's anonymous political verses of the 1850s parallel the self-indulgent speaker of 1855 insofar as they display minimal poetic craft and attack without naming opponents. Like Maud and the female portraits, the 1859 idylls (discussed in "The Commodified Name," chap. 5) were built around female names; but Elaine's name was substanceless, Lancelot abandoned his public name and was nearly killed, and Elaine died partly from fetishizing an object of desire (the shield) as in full-blown commodity culture. Barton also discerns in the focus on knights who win names through public deeds or lose them through dishonor Tennyson's anxiety about becoming a commodified brand name with merely arbitrary links to substance. Other chapters investigate "Inherited Names" in The Princess and Tennyson's late reflection in "To E. FitzGerald" on what had survived from his early days as an anonymous poet circulated through manuscript and supported by a friend's generosity.
Barton does not cite Kathryn Ledbetter's 2007 study of Tennyson's periodical poetry, which intimates Tennyson's willing self-commodification and provides evidence that Tennyson's targets of attack in anonymous political verse were readily identified by a newspaper-reading audience. Nor does her study indicate, after forcefully suggesting the aptness of Tennyson's adoption of the "anachronistic" verse epistle for "To E. FitzGerald" (1885), whether the verse epistle functions similarly in "To the Rev. F. D. Maurice" (1855), "To Mary Boyle" (1889), or "To the Master of Balliol" (1892). But Barton's study usefully reopens these matters, and her deft close readings and successful integration of materialist and poetic analysis form an important contribution to scholarship.
Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue (Oxford Univ. Press), by Cornelia Pearsall, focuses on four dramatic monologues Tennyson wrote shortly after Arthur Henry Hallam's death: "St. Simeon Stylites," "Ulysses," "Tithon" (later "Tithonus"), and "Tiresias." Pearsall's multilayered investigation spans a range of theological, political, sexological, oratorical, classical, and aesthetic cruxes while presenting a new rhetorical model of the dramatic monologue itself.
If "transformation," one key term in Pearsall's subtitle, involves being moved, "rapture" indicates being caught up and whirled outside of oneself through ecstasy or kidnapping by the gods. Persuasive rhetoric introduces additional meanings of transformation and rapture, according to Pearsall, as in In Memoriam (87.32), in which Tennyson recalls the "rapt oration" of Hallam. Unlike most scholars since Robert Langbaum (1957), who approach dramatic monologues as gratuitous utterances in which speakers distinguished from the poet reveal more than they intend and thus veer into lyric expression, Pearsall contends that dramatic monologues feature self-aware, self-interested speakers who seek to move their audiences and are themselves transformed in the process of speaking. Simile is the master trope of the dramatic monologue accordingly, since through persuasion the auditor is moved to a like stance but not identity with the speaker. ("Supposed Confessions" and "Oenone" thus cannot be full-blown dramatic monologues since they have no unified persuasive aim or attendant audience.)
Pearsall also dissents from Mill's distinction between oratory or eloquence and poetry, noting, for example, that Quintilian's oratorical treatise analyzes Priam's speech to Achilles in the Iliad; she also contests Langbaum's emphasis on sympathy and judgment in reading dramatic monologues, pointing out that judgment is a two-way process between audience and speaker. Indeed, she adds that Tennyson's speakers usually announce the judgments they expect from auditors. She also locates a specific Whig politics in Tennyson's poetry, an affiliation shared with Hallam and dedicated to preserving aristocratic power by adhering to the Constitution and advocating gradual reform.
Pearsall reads each of the four dramatic monologues closely, rhetorically, and contextually, richly layering interpretive commentary on Tennyson and his culture. For example, relative to "St. Simeon Stylites" and his desperation to be "sainted from above" and from below by earthly auditors, she cites Edward Irving, who preached the imminent moment of congregants' removal to heaven and encouraged speaking in tongues; Irving, notably, attracted the attendance of Hallam and Cambridge Apostle Richard Chenevix Trench at one of his sermons. Hallam's analysis of Christ's relation to God in Theodicaea Novissima, moreover, obliquely recalls Irving's heretical belief that the fleshly Christ was human rather than divine and was translated to heaven only by the saving grace of the holy spirit. If Simeon's rhetorical aim is obvious, his obsession with his pillar's height and bowing down is more subtly registered in the rising rhythm of the iamb. Indeed, in Simeon's boast that his followers "think that I am somewhat. What am I?" (1. 124), Pearsall even detects a blasphemous pun on God's biblical "I am that I am" and on the poem's foot or measure (iamb that iamb).
She approaches "Ulysses" in terms of the classical figure's unstable significance as honorific or deceitful rhetor in Tennyson's Homeric and Dantean sources and the rival interpretations by Hallam and his close friend William Ewart Gladstone at Eton. Tennyson's Ulysses is both a destroyer of cities and insincere orator who needs new mariners, whom he deceptively invites to become his equal comrades so that he can validate his name by seeking out yet another site of destruction. Through a performative speech act Ulysses literally cedes the scepter to Telemachus, the poem's true Whig figure who will "thro' soft degrees" (1. 37) improve his people while continuing to hold power.
If Ulysses' most famous deception was the Trojan horse that led to the burning of Troy (another form of rapture for Pearsall), Tithonus was one of a Trojan line of princes notable for stunning beauty who attracted the erotic attentions of the goddess Aurora. Victorian sexology is pertinent to Tithonus' feminized position during lovemaking, but the rhetorical aim of the now-withered Tithonus is to recuperate the beauty he once embodied physically through utterance itself. Pearsall approaches "Tiresias" in relation to the Third Reform Bill and Tennyson's reading of "Tiresias" to Gladstone and Dean Bradley at Westminster during parliamentary debates. Tiresias' attempt to persuade his auditor Menoeceus to sacrifice himself for the good of his country resembles the efficacy of democratic oratory as conceptualized and practiced by Gladstone, which entailed the orator's enunciation of his auditors' views. Yet if Tiresias persuades Menoeceus to sacrifice himself he merely incites death in an audience of one, and Tiresias' means to rapture and transformation is imagining himself singing heroic hymns and being heeded by an audience of heroes on "one far height in one far-shining fire" (l. 177).
Pearsall's book is erudite and highly original, and her new model of the dramatic monologue is especially compelling for "St. Simeon Stylites" and "Ulysses." Perhaps because his monologue provides no explicit indication of Aurora's response, the success of Tithonus' rhetoric is less clear. Also left unresolved is whether certain poems are full-fledged dramatic monologues or not. "Rizpah," for example, has an auditor throughout and a clear rhetorical purpose--establishing the superior claims of maternal rights over legal codes regarding a son's bones--but the speaker is dying and wanders in and out of self-aware control. If some questions raised by her study remain open-ended, Pearsall offers important new protocols for reading Tennyson's monologues and their cultural, religious, rhetorical, and political contexts.
Matthew Bevis manages to survey Tennyson's entire career in a single chapter ("Tennyson and Sound Judgement") in The Art of Eloquence (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007), which likewise emphasizes rhetoric. Bevis' framework is the larger Victorian "debating society" created by Arnoldian disinterestedness and the unprecedented circulation of political oratory through both Hansard's (founded 1803) and proliferating newspapers. This phenomenon had a literary counterpart in prominent authors who sought to persuade readers not through polemic but through opening minds to multiple possibilities. Bevis' approach thus occupies a mediate position between Pearsall's, which examines self-interested persuasion resulting in personal transformation, and Angela Leighton's On Form (discussed last year), which repositions aesthetic form in conversation with ethics and embodied life. Like Robert Douglas-Fairhurst and Seamus Perry, moreover, Bevis emphasizes the sonic effects of Tennyson's poetry, arguing that Tennyson's engagement with public discourse is most tellingly registered in the auditory effects of multiple perspectives tested ("sounded") against each other.
Though Bevis and Pearsall both adopt rhetorical analysis and question Mill's separation of poetry from oratory, they posit divergent cultural contexts. Bevis emphasizes the emergence of the first party platform (Peel's Tamworth Manifesto of 1834) in relation to the rise of the dramatic monologue and, rather than Edward Irving, cites the Saint-Simonians as most relevant to "St. Simeon Stylites." Simeon's dismissal of the people while relying on their support obliquely comments on Saint-Simonian proselytizing, Bevis suggests, while Simeon's egotism, most audibly registered in repeated 'T' sounds, glances toward claims that Saint-Simon had suffered more on behalf of the poor than Jesus. If Bevis also references Gladstone's and Hallam's disagreement over Ulyssean oratory, he argues that the most immediate context for "Ulysses" is the bill abolishing West Indian slavery passed only two months before Tennyson wrote this dramatic monologue, a context reflected in Ulysses' modulation from "savage race" to a "rugged people." The very cacophony of Maud suggests divergent, clamoring views about policy (in contrast to the unified wartime oratory advocated by Gladstone), while the reference to Maud's brother as the "Sultan" points toward the concerns for wealth and territory that underlay governmental claims that war was necessary to protect Christians in the Crimea. Bevis frames Idylls of the King in terms of the Indian Rebellion, arguing that Tennyson's ambivalence about empire and imperialism is registered in Arthur's periodic embrace of violence that is pronounced wicked in his conquered subjects. Bevis' analysis of rhetorical aims and Tennyson's poetics is nuanced throughout, and his tracing of an intricate interplay of sounds in lines on Hallam's oratory in In Memoriam (113.9-12) is well worth revisiting.
Bevis's 2007 essay "Fighting Talk: Victorian War Poetry" (Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry, Oxford Univ. Press [repr. as "Warring Claims," Cahiers Victoriens et Edouardiens 66 (2007): 413-447]) ranges among Arnold, Tennyson, Hardy, Kipling, Hopkins, and Housman, overturning old saws about Victorian poets' unreflecting endorsement of war and empire in the process. He again approaches Tennyson's sonic effects as a sounding out of tentative positions and philosophical explorations. In "Charge of the Light Brigade," for example, successive echoes of the verb "erred" ("Blundered," "Hundred," "wondered," "Shatttered," "sundered") serve to "question why" and "reply" to war's potential for both heroism and stupid slaughter in ways impossible to the charging soldiers.
War and empire are recurring reference points in Herbert Tucker's Epic: Britain's Heroic Muse 1790-1910 (Oxford Univ. Press), itself (the pun is unavoidable) an epic achievement in scholarship, in twelve chapters. Chapter 8, "There and Back: Emigrant Epic 1840-1850," pairs both Arthur Hugh Clough's The Bothie and Tennyson's The Princess and Bulwer Lytton's King Arthur and Tennyson's "The Epic" and "Morte d'Arthur." Tucker reads the former as representing nation (and empire) building insofar as young men undergo tutelage culminating in marriage, a trope of newly made realms that can reconcile nature and passion, human feeling and body--rather as epic simile posits a joining but not identity of compatible elements. Even in his earlier Arthurian works, Tucker argues, Tennyson's yoking of history and myth anticipates his "serviceably supple doublethink" that squared "the realm-extending, norm-policing centralized bureaucracy of the Round Table with upstart Arthur's plucky mission to rid his territory of imperial bullies and fend off savage marauders" (p. 319). Tucker situates the spasmodic epic (chap. 9, "On Impulse: Spasmodic Epic 1850-1860") between the poetry of sensation advocated by Hallam in 1831 and the sensation novel that followed, arguing that Maud had particular power to disturb because Tennyson's "barbaric yawp" originates in a country gentleman's house. Chapter 10 ("In Plight of Troth: Mythological Epic 1860-1870") situates the idylls written in 1868 among published epics likewise concerned with narrative's power to enact and elicit a willing pledge of faith in the tale told. Discounting the 1859 Idylls as epic, focused as they were on domestic tales and Lancelot's characteristically modern inner conflicts, Tucker argues that only when Tennyson hit upon tales premised on communal assent to what is not directly seen did he fashion true epic and national myth. Thus the knights quest after a grail seen only by Galahad; Arthur is a weekend mystic paying heed, like Victorian society, to religion but sequestering it to its marginal role within a secular commercial state; and as in an unwritten constitution, his people act upon an adultery that is never confirmed or narrated. The realm fractures in the middle, sixth book that in classical epic marks the descent to the underworld, when Vivien's tale of adultery overpowers Balin's ability to honor the faith in faith on which the modern state hinges.
Like Tucker, Agnieszka Setecka aligns the 1859 idylls with novelized verse, pointing out the close affinities of Guinevere (and more expectedly Vivien) to sensation fiction in "Alfred Tennyson's 'Vivien' and 'Guinevere': Sensation Stories in Medieval Setting," in Medievalisms, ed. Liliana Sikorska (Peter Lang). Benjamin F. Fisher traces "Laughter in the Idylls of the King" (Journal of the Georgia Philological Association 3: 27-37), illuminating laughter's fragility and unstable significance; initially suggesting fellow-feeling and honor, laughter becomes linked instead to the raw aggression of Mark and Vivien's crude guffaws or Guinevere's scorn.
Noelle Bowles, like Tucker, is concerned with the Idylls and the nation state, considering how a king unquestionably Catholic came to be the stuff of national epic ("Tennyson's Idylls of the King and Anglican Authority," Christianity and Literature 56, no. 4 [Summer 2007]: 573-594). Tennyson's solution, she argues, was a church identified with a monarch who was in turn identified with Christ, a tacit counterpart to Britain's national church. Nor was it coincidental that the grail was available only in Britain, another means of distancing it from Rome. Michael Kuczynski's "Translation and Adaptation in Tennyson's Battle of Brunanburh" (Philological Quarterly 86, no. 4 [Fall 2007]: 415-431) sheds new light on an oft-criticized line in Tennyson's translation in which the Scottish king's son is "Mangled to morsels." Kuczynski points out that the Anglo-Saxon dictionary owned by Tennyson defined the verb "wundun forgrunden" as to grind up or demolish; that an 1849 edition of the Alliterative Romance of Alexander had adopted a similar phrase ("in morsels magged"); and that Tennyson's phrasing (however clumsy) consorted with Tennyson's ambivalence elsewhere about war and its bloody mutilation of human beings.
In "The Morbid Meters of Maud" (VP 46, no. 3: 279-297) Scott Dransfield adopts the methods of physiological poetics (familiar from Kirstie Blair's Victorian Poetry and the Culture of the Heart, 2006) to explore why Maud struck so many Victorian readers as "morbid." Healthy nerves regulated and mediated opposing forces of excitability and control, analogous to Coventry Patmore's assertion that English prosody mediated between passionate spontaneity and law. Citing Paul Fussell on the nineteenth-century replacement of strict accentual-syllabic prosody with an accentualism that permitted trisyllables within predominantly duple patterns, Dransfield argues that the meters of Maud are literally lawless (excepting the strict accentual-syllabic lines elicited by Maud's military ballad) and thus directly convey the sensory experience of morbidity.
Yopie Prins, a key scholar in the new prosody studies, turns to historical poetics to (con)test claims that twentieth-century avant-garde lyric disrupts sound and thereby resists Hegelian Romantic lyric premised on direct expression of intense subjectivity. In "Historical Poetics, Dysprosody, and The Science of English Verse" (PMLA 123, no. 1: 229-234), Prins alternatively instances nineteenth-century recited verse as a public performance of what is only fictionalized as private and personal, as in The Science of English Verse (1880) by American Sydney Lanier. Lanier's musical notation of Tennyson's "Break, break, break" positions heard lyric as a set of relations among sounds--and silences--performed by what is simultaneously an instrument (human vocal cords) and voice. Mediation and alienated voice are keynotes here rather than direct lyric expression.
Kirstie Blair's transatlantic study in "'Thousands of throbbing hearts'--Sentimentality and Community in Popular Victorian Poetry: Longfellow's Evangeline and Tennyson's Enoch Arden" (19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Centruy 4 ; www.19.bbk.ac.uk) explores whether affect and sentimentality are synonymous or distinct, and whether shared feelings-non-verbal, hence indefinable, though alleged to unite communities--can in fact be shared. Her case study concerns two of the most notoriously sentimental poems of the nineteenth century, which she returns to us as more vexed, tentative explorations. Longfellow's lovers share one moment of union after decades-long suffering, only to be consigned to graves ignored by busy Philadelphians hurrying past. Enoch Arden is denied even a recognition scene and in death can hope only that his infant son--who alone has not been claimed by his former rival Philip--will embrace him.
Like Prins and Blair, Seamus Perry intervenes in a larger debate in "Tennyson and the Legacies of Romantic Art" (Romanticisms 14, no. 1: 1-12). Perry contends that the common point of departure in critiques of Romantic ideology, Romanticism's aspiration to an autonomous imaginative realm cut off from the world, is moot to begin with. Both the preface to "Kubla Khan" and deliberately flat endings of Wordsworth's "Resolution and Independence" and "The Sailor's Mother" indicate that art always can be interrupted by a something beyond itself and that gorgeous or "pure" poetic language may be insufficient to a poet's struggle to represent the real. Perry then examines "The Poet's Mind," "The Palace of Art," "The Lady of Shalott," and Enoch Arden for Tennyson's Romantic legacy centered on awareness of both the possibilities and dubiousness of art's high claims. In "The Palace of Art," for example, art's status "is left hanging, even to its last word, as 'guilt' puns on 'gilt', looking back to all the gilded loveliness inside, and the word (like the poem) turning in the wind between moral judgment and aesthetic delight" (p. 9).
Tennyson's relation to another Romantic heir, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is the focus of Amy Billone's "Elizabeth Barrett's and Alfred Tennyson's Authorial and Formal Links" (SEL: Studies in English Literature 48, no. 4: 779-789), which explores their parallel, often interactive life experiences, their representations of female artists, and, most intriguingly, the line Tennyson borrowed from her 1844 sonnet "Grief" ("Most like a monumental statue set") in his conclusion to In Memoriam ("like a statue solid-set, / And moulded in colossal calm," Epilogue, ll. 15-16). Yet Barrett Browning critiqued the Epilogue for a "discord in the music" despite generally admiring Tennyson's work and responded to In Memoriam in Book 9 of Aurora Leigh: "Art is much, but love is more. / O Art, my Art, thou'rt much, but Love is more!" (ll. 656-657).
The Tennyson Research Bulletin's special issue devoted to Charles Tennyson Turner includes Valerie Purton's "Two Brothers: A Note on Charles Tennyson Turner's Influence on Tennyson's Poetry" (TRB 9, no. 2: 201-204), which argues that In Memoriam ("More than my brothers are to me," 9.20) as well as the prefatory poem Tennyson wrote for Tennyson Turner's posthumous Collected Sonnets ("Midnight, June 30, 1879") inform the closing utterance of the dying brothers in Balin and Balan. Purton's argument is shored up by newly identified evidence from Harvard Notebook 33 that Tennyson may have written the passage around the time of Charles's death.
Tennyson Turner himself emerges as a far less predictable or humble poet in essays contributed by Roger Ebbatson ("Charles Tennyson Turner: Lyricism and Modernity," TRB 9, no. 2: 157-176) and Joseph Phelan ("Charles Tennyson Turner's Prefatory Sonnets," TRB 9, no. 2: 177-187), which respectively read "The Forest Glade" in relation to Heidegger and "The Process of Composition" in relation to Walter Pater's Conclusion to Studies in the History of the Renaissance, the wording of which Tennyson Turner may have influenced. (Ebbatson also reads Tennyson himself in relation to Heidegger in Heidegger's Bicycle [Sussex Univ. Press, 2006], which includes a fine reading of "Crossing the Bar.")
Two intersections of Alfred Tennyson with aestheticism emerge in Rodney Edgecombe's "Tennyson, Wilde, and the Anti-Aubade in Dombey and Son" (N&Q 55 [March 2008]: 38-39), which proposes the debt of "On the bald street breaks the blank day" (In Memoriam 7.12) to the wedding scene in Dickens' novel and the influence in turn of Tennyson's line on Wilde's alienated figure of dawn in "Harlot's House"; and in Carolyn Williams's "Parody and Poetic Tradition: Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience" (VP 46, no. 4: 375-403), which connects Everard Hall's "hollow oes and as" in "The Epic" (l. 50) and the 1869 "Passing of Arthur" ("hollow, hollow, hollow all delight" [l. 37]) to Bunthorne's recitation of "O Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!"
Poetry figures relatively little in Victorian Glassworlds (Oxford Univ. Press), but Isobel Armstrong intriguingly suggests that Lancelot's image flashing into the Lady of Shalott's mirror obliquely comments on the inverted image perceived by the human eye or the ungrounded, reflected images of Victorian glass. As well, she discerns references to the dissolving views of the magic lantern in the uncanny afternoon world under a stationary moon in "The Lotos-Eaters" as well as the after-images generated by a waterfall dropping, pausing, dropping. Only "Akbar's Dream: Moghul Toleration and English/ British Orientalism" (Modern Philology 104, no. 3 : 379-411) reprises postcolonial studies in this year's survey. Paul Stevens and Rahul Sapra assess Tennyson's poem as part of an imperial attempt to "Indianize" the British Raj by presenting it as the fulfillment of Akbar's religious aspirations; yet the poem (however unintentionally) represents reverse transculturation in suggesting that tolerance, a key virtue of the Enlightenment, originated not in Europe but India.
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|Title Annotation:||Guide to the Year's Work|
|Author:||Hughes Linda K.|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|