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Alfred Tennyson

Alfred Tennyson: The Critical Legacy

Laurence W. Mazzeno
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 248
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    Alfred Tennyson
    Book Description:

    Alfred Tennyson: The Critical Legacy' explores the critics' reaction to the work of the nineteenth-century English poet most closely associated with the Victorian era. Perhaps more than any other Victorian poet, Tennyson's reputation has waxed and waned in the century since his death. He has been alternatively sanctified and vilified for his choice of subject matter, social outlook, morality, or techniques of versification. His reputation has weathered even the most vitriolic attempts to discredit both the man and his writings; and as criticism of the late twentieth century demonstrates, Tennyson's claim to pre-eminence among the Victorians is now unchallenged. Laurence Mazzeno begins this narrative analysis of Tennyson criticism with an look at how Tennyson was regarded by his contemporaries, before launching a detailed examination of twentieth-century criticism. A chapter is devoted to the period immediately following Tennyson's death, when a generation of post-Victorians reacted violently against what they considered his sappy sentimentalism, cloying moralism, and insensitive jingoism. Subsequent chapters describe how critics resurrected Tennyson, highlighting both his technical mastery and his social criticism. Special attention is given to major biographers and critics such as Harold Nicolson, the poet's grandson Sir Charles Tennyson, Jerome Buckley, R. B. Martin, Michael Thorn, and Peter Levi. A final chapter focuses on the ways Tennyson and his work have been addressed by poststructuralist critics. Throughout the study, Mazzeno demonstrates that the critics' reaction to Tennyson reveals as much about themselves and the critical prejudices of their own times as it does about the Victorian Laureate and his poetry. Laurence W. Mazzeno is president emeritus of Alvernia College, Reading, Pennsylvania.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-646-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1855, Charles Tennyson, Baron d’Eyncourt of Bayons Manor, found himself once more embarrassed by one of his unsuitable relatives. Throughout most of his life he had become accustomed to treating the family of his Uncle George with open disdain. But now he was totally exasperated with his nephew Alfred’s latest volume, Maud, and Other Poems. “Horrid rubbish indeed!” he wrote to a correspondent. “What a discredit it is that British taste and Poetry should have such a representative before the Nations of the Earth and Posterity! For a Laureate will so appear. Posterity will, it is hoped, have a...

  5. 1: Tennyson Among His Contemporaries: 1827–1892
    (pp. 11-30)

    To appreciate the vicissitudes of Tennyson criticism in the twentieth century, it is necessary to understand how his reputation first developed among his contemporaries in the nineteenth. Of course, any assessment of the early critical reception of Tennyson’s poems must be undertaken with a certain degree of wariness. Tennyson often encouraged his friends to write reviews of his work, so his first readers would have been encouraged to buy his books by someone who had a vested interest in seeing Tennyson’s career advanced. The most famous, and in some ways most biased, was written by the poet’s bosom friend and...

  6. 2: A Mixed Legacy: 1892–1916
    (pp. 31-64)

    Tennyson’s death brought forth dozens of personal recollections and reminiscences by friends, family, and acquaintances. The month after his funeral, a reviewer for Blackwood’s (November 1892) provided a review of his career, commenting that “minor voices chirp on” (748) but the country’s greatest poetic voice has gone silent. The scholar Herbert Paul offered a more detailed retrospective for The New Review (November 1892), outlining the major events of Tennyson’s life and commenting on his many achievements. The Nineteenth Century ran articles in December 1892 and January 1893, each titled “Aspects of Tennyson.” In the first, H. D. Traill celebrates Tennyson’s...

  7. 3: Criticism Pro and Con: 1916–1959
    (pp. 65-103)

    How serious the reaction against Tennyson had become by the First World War may be seen in a brief essay by Alice Meynell. Writing in 1917 Meynell, herself a poet, displays the conflicted views so typical of her generation. Fearing that less judicious readers might dismiss all of Tennyson because of “the peculiar Tennyson trick” of appealing to sentimentalism and bourgeois taste (80), Meynell attempts to salvage what she can of the poet’s reputation by proposing the idea of The Two Tennysons. “If ever there was a poet who needed to be parted from himself,” she argues, it is Tennyson...

  8. 4: The Tennyson Revival: 1960–1969
    (pp. 104-126)

    It is always dangerous to cite a single book as the source of a change in attitudes toward any writer. With that caveat in mind, it may not be too farfetched to say that Jerome Buckley’s Tennyson: The Growth of a Poet (1960) was a watershed in Tennyson criticism. Virtually everyone writing about Tennyson after the publication of Buckley’s study has found it necessary to cite this work, either to expand on Buckley’s suggestions on to refute his claims for Tennyson’s greatness.

    Buckley had already written approvingly of Tennyson in The Victorian Temper (1951) and had edited Tennyson’s poems for...

  9. 5: The Height of Critical Acclaim: 1970–1980
    (pp. 127-148)

    During the 1960s and 1970s several British publishers created series of critical volumes designed to help students and general readers develop an appreciation for Victorian poets and novelists. John Pettigrew’s contribution to the Edwin Arnold series, Tennyson: The Early Poems (1970), offers brief analyses of poems published in the volumes of 1827, 1830, 1833, and 1842. What is significant about this work is that Pettigrew adds his voice to the growing cadre of scholars who feel compelled to counter the “hopelessly partial” criticism of Sir Harold Nicolson (7) and demonstrate how Tennyson makes “great poetry out of his quarrels” between...

  10. 6: Tennyson Among the Poststructuralists: 1981–1989
    (pp. 149-174)

    In “Tennyson and the Histories of Criticism” (1982), a lengthy review article surveying a half-dozen studies of Tennyson published between 1979 and 1981, the distinguished critic Jerome McGann charts a course for Tennyson studies that many would follow during the next two decades. McGann warns that “ideology is not an aesthetic problem for a poem, it is a critical problem” (231). The real danger is for critics to read poems in the way made popular by New Criticism: as if the essential elements of poetry were somehow ahistorical and not affected by the cultural, political, and aesthetic assumptions — often...

  11. 7: Tennyson Fin-de-Siècle: 1990–2000
    (pp. 175-193)

    The approach of the centenary of Tennyson’s death spurred critical activity in the early 1990s, resulting in the appearance of several new major biographical and critical studies. Two helpful, if limited, books deserve brief mention. The first, A Tennyson Chronology (1990), is F. B. Pinion’s compilation of a chronological listing of events in the poet’s life. Issued as one of a series of “Chronologies” by the publishers at Macmillan, Pinion’s guidebook is useful for scholars wishing to check facts, but offers little interpretation about the significance of events that shaped Tennyson’s art. The second, Roger Simpson’s Camelot Regained (1990), is...

  12. 8: A Twenty-First Century Prospectus
    (pp. 194-196)

    What is the future of Tennyson studies?

    Any attempt at a definitive answer would be immediately suspect. The foregoing study demonstrates quite clearly that, like so many other great poets, Tennyson has had as many detractors as supporters. One might think his contemporary, Matthew Arnold, had him in mind when he observed in the opening line of his sonnet to Shakespeare: “Others abide our question. Thou art free.” Like all the “others,” Tennyson has certainly not been free from questions — about his artistry, his politics, his “representativeness” or his individuality. But there is no guarantee that in the next...

  13. Works by Alfred Tennyson
    (pp. 197-198)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 199-226)
  15. Index
    (pp. 227-239)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)