Tennyson

By Hughes, Linda K. | Victorian Poetry, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Tennyson


Hughes, Linda K., Victorian Poetry


Publishing history and inter-arts relationships, prosody, Arthurian tradition, and science were the principal focus of essays and chapters on Tennyson in 2011. No full-length book was devoted to Tennyson, but Martin Blocksidge's biography of Arthur Henry Hallam, 'A Life Lived Quickly': Tennyson's Friend Arthur Hallam and His Legend (Sussex Academic Press), will interest Tennyson scholars. Blocksidge aims to rescue Arthur Henry Hallam from In Memoriam and recuperate his distinctive personality, even as the biography's subtitle acknowledges the impossibility of separating Hallam from Tennyson's poetry and greater fame. Reassessing Hallam's reputation for supernal gifts, Blocksidge points out the disappointment of Hallam's disciplined, methodical father, the distinguished historian Henry Hallam, in his son's more mercurial habits and inability to buckle down to systematic study of mathematics and the classics. Yet the son's gifts were undeniable, and Blocksidge speculates that the originality and mature critical vocabulary of "On Some of the Characteristics of Modern Poetry, and on the Lyrical Poems of Alfred Tennyson" (1831) pointed toward likely success in literary criticism and sage writing. If Anna Wintour and the significance of the teenage Hallam's amorous attentions to a woman six years older than he remain rather dim, Blocksidge admirably recovers Hallam's intense (if sometimes patronizing) response to Tennyson's sister Emily, whose poem after Hallam's death he also prints from a manuscript at the British Library. Emily's poem expresses her desire to "be his bride above / For an eternal day" and laments the "little time" that would "have passed / Ere I'd been made his wife" (in Blocksidge, p. 223), words suggestive of some of the domestic scenarios in In Memoriam. Blocksidge adduces an explicit source of the "Dark House" section (VII) in the penultimate stanza of Richard Monckton Milnes's lyric "On the Death of--" (1838):

   I thought, how should I see him first,
   How should our hands first meet,
   Within his room, --upon the stair,--
   At the corner of the street?
   I thought, where should I hear him first,
   How catch his greeting tone,-And
   thus I went up to his door,
   And they told me he was gone! (cited in Blocksidge, p. 223)

The contribution of Blocksidge's highly readable biography is extended in a special issue of the Tennyson Research Bulletin (9, no. 5: Nov. 2011) dedicated to Hallam, with Seamus Perry exploring the influence of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria on Hallam's 1831 essay ("Hallam and Coleridge," pp. 434-444), Roger Ebbatson's reading of Hallam and "The Kraken" through the lens of Adorno ("'Impassioned Song': Arthur Hallam and the Crisis in Lyric Poetry," pp. 445-453), and Gregory Tate's analysis of Hallam's uneven ability to assert poetic affect as a medium for binding successive states of being together ("Arthur Hallam's Fragments of Being," pp. 454-462).

Patrick Scott looks to another early influence in Tennyson's life in "The Market (place) and the Muse: Tennyson, Lincolnshire, and the Nineteenth-Century Idea of the Book" (Victorian Newsletter 117 [2010]: 5-37). Noting the contrast between Tennyson's mutating contributions to periodicals (traced earlier by Kathryn Ledbetter) and the fixity of his book formats of octavo green cloth-bound boards innocent of gilt or illustrations, Scott traces Tennyson's idea of a book to his father's library and local poetry publication among gentry in Louth. From both he learned to associate books with cultural continuity and class identity. His unchanging formats also allowed Tennyson generic freedom as he moved from volume to volume, creating a body of work that, like his volumes, provided a dialogue of past and present in an era of rapid change.

Lorraine Janzen Kooistra's beautifully produced, wide-ranging Poetry, Pictures, and Popular Publishing: The Illustrated Gift Book and Victorian Visual Culture 1855-1875 (Ohio Univ. …

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