Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue

Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue

Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue

Tennyson's Rapture: Transformation in the Victorian Dramatic Monologue

Synopsis

In the wake of the death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, the subject of In Memoriam, Alfred Tennyson wrote a range of intricately connected poems, many of which feature pivotal scenes of rapture, or being carried away. This book explores Tennyson's representation of rapture as a radical mechanism of transformation-theological, social, political, or personal-and as a figure for critical processes in his own poetics. The poet's fascination with transformation is figured formally in the genre he is credited with inventing, the dramatic monologue. Tennyson's Rapture investigates the poet's previously unrecognized intimacy with the theological movements in early Victorian Britain that are the acknowledged roots of contemporary Pentacostalism, with its belief in the oncoming Rapture, and its formative relation to his poetic innovation. Tennyson's work recurs persistently as well to classical instances of rapture, of mortals being borne away by immortals. Pearsall develops original readings of Tennyson's major classical poems through concentrated attention to his profound intellectual investments in advances in philological scholarship and archeological exploration, including pressing Victorian debates over whether Homer's raptured Troy was a verifiable site, or the province of the poet's imagination. Tennyson's attraction to processes of personal and social change is bound to his significant but generally overlooked Whig ideological commitments, which are illuminated by Hallam's political and philosophical writings, and a half-century of interaction with William Gladstone. Pearsall shows the comprehensive engagement of seemingly apolitical monologues with the rise of democracy over the course of Tennyson's long career. Offering a new approach to reading all Victorian dramatic monologues, this book argues against a critical tradition that sees speakers as unintentionally self-revealing and ignorant of the implications of their speech. Tennyson's Rapture probes the complex aims of these discursive performances, and shows how the ambitions of speakers for vital transformations in themselves and their circumstances are not only articulated in, but attained through, the medium of their monologues.

Excerpt

In Tennyson’s Rapture I explore Alfred Tennyson’s intimate relation to his age through a detailed focus on poetic form, in particular the poet’s manifold uses of the dramatic monologue, a genre whose Victorian incarnation he essentially invented. A notoriously elusive genre to define, the dramatic monologue ultimately may be characterized less by its technical elements than by the range of transformations it represents. “Rapture” is a word that signifies aggressive, often transgressive, acts of seizure or rapine, as well as submission to ravishing transport or exaltation; I argue that this poet’s major dramatic monologues can be seen to explore these and other mechanisms of radical transformation. At the same time, I track certain processes in these poems of rigorous ratiocination, also in the cause of articulating and effecting processes of change, reading against a critical tradition that views Tennyson as overwhelmed by his own lyric abundance, unknowing in his affect and his effects, stupefied. In searching through the worlds, Victorian and ancient, of Tennyson’s dramatic monologues, I focus on a number of his contemporaries, including a wide range of theologians, classicists, explorers, philosophers, and politicians. I investigate some of the poet’s major works within such seemingly disparate and yet surprisingly intertwined contexts as nineteenth-century reform politics, classical scholarship, sexological theory, and evangelical writings on the rapture (I follow Victorian theologians in not capitalizing the term). While Tennyson’s poetry is at the center of my study, I examine closely the poet’s consequential and revealing converse with a range of contemporaries, including Thomas Carlyle, William Gladstone, John Stuart Mill, and Heinrich Schliemann. My readings of Tennyson’s verse draw as well from the illuminating resources of Victorian anecdote, attending to myriad conversations, debates, and pronouncements taking place in college rooms in Cambridge, on country walks in Sussex, at dinner parties . . .

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