Camelot in the Nineteenth Century: Arthurian Characters in the Poems of Tennyson, Arnold, Morris, and Swinburne

By Laura Cooner Lambdin; Robert Thomas Lambdin | Go to book overview

to be a warning against the Victorian tendency to become blindly and overwhelmingly devoted to various causes, like evangelical reform or utilitarian progress (68). Tennyson seems to be intentionally expressing the belief that the total commitment to one purpose, as seen in the characters of the Idylls, does not allow for the normal complexities of life:

Far from catering to a demanding public, Tennyson created such a paradoxical and, in the finest sense, realistic work that any contemporary dogmatist--whether evangelical, atheist, hero-worshipper, aesthete, cynic, or utilitarian-- could see a reflection of his ideals in the story of the Round Table but could not read the Idylls as the Bible of his faction without finding that somewhere he had parodied himself. ( Eggers 101)

If Tennyson intended to combat the Victorian tendency toward rigidity, he did so by concentrating on the negative effects of obsession. There is no important character in the Idylls except Geraint--following his period of turmoil--who is able to achieve a life of proper balance. Tennyson, a poet known for equivocally straddling the middle course between irreconcilable opposites, created in his Idylls a series of vignettes that reflect the impossibility of perfect loves or deaths among people who are unable to live both morally and in moderation.


NOTES
1.
J. M. Gray edition of the Idylls ( New York: Penguin, 1983) notes these biblical allusions.
2.
Robert Martin gives a concise explanation of the Hallam connection:

Although not intended as a literal portrait, the blue-eyed Arthur of Camelot owed a great deal to the blue-eyed Arthur of Cambridge, even to the likeness of the names of places with which they are associated. The Idylls were developed out of the "Morte d'Arthur," which was written in grief at Hallam's death; throughout the Idylls King Arthur's character seems made to fit that of the dying king in the final idyll, who of course recalls Hallam. (495)

3.
Arthur is definitely the child of Uther Pendragon and Ygrene in Malory Morte. In Frederic Madden's edition of Layamon Brut ( London: Society of Antiquaries,

-47-

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Camelot in the Nineteenth Century: Arthurian Characters in the Poems of Tennyson, Arnold, Morris, and Swinburne
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions to the Study of World Literature ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Chapter 1 Arthurian Legends: Origins to the Nineteenth Century 1
  • Notes 11
  • Chapter 2 Alfred Tennyson 13
  • Notes 47
  • Chapter 3 Matthew Arnold 51
  • Notes 68
  • Chapter 4 William Morris 71
  • Notes 103
  • Chapter 5 Algernon Swinburne 107
  • Notes 139
  • Chapter 6 Final Remarks 143
  • Selected Bibliography 147
  • Index 155
  • About the Authors *
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