The Spokesman of His Age: Three Approaches to Tennyson
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114 PETER ALLEN divided nature, his uncertain perception, [and] his sense of a fundamentally ambiguous paternal authority: One wonders whether this sense of the play is quite as unknown to modern criticism as Scofield would have us believe. The reading of Hamlet which is the climax of the book defines its major preoccupations in its title, 'Perception, authority, and identity.' Fastidious in his judgments, Scofield offers sound analysis of a divided and disturbed protagonist in a play especially concerned with problems of perception and self-definition. Invariably suggestive are Scofield's observations on the ambiguous authority and provenance of the Ghost. For Scofield, as for many another, Hamlet comes close to being an overt metaphysical statement about 'the fallibility of man's perception, his lack of self-knowledge, and his need for the experience of authority: But Scofield is also aware, like Rabkin, of interpretive conflict. He finally settles on the cautious conclusion that 'there remains something indeterminate and unrealized about Hamlet, and about the playas a whole,' leaving us with a vision of the play spectrally pursuing itself down the corridor of time 'in search ofthe interpretation and definition' which it can never achieve. So we return to the crisis of confidence that plagues contemporary Shakespearean scholars, who yearn to say something about the subject on which they are experts, but who fear that their utterances will express only a subjective reality or a partial truth. If we are not visionaries and prophets, like Wilson Knight, we can still achieve our own limited illuminations from time to time, small victories in private raids on the inarticulate. According to temperament, we will be consoled or discouraged by Eliot's delphic observation in East Coker, as pertinent to scholarly exercises as to poetical, that 'one has only learnt to get the better of words I For the thing one no longer has to say.' The Spokesman of His Age: Three Approaches to Tennyson PETER ALLEN Robert Bernard Martin. Tennyson: The Unquiet Heart Oxford: Oxford University Press I Faber and Faber 1980. 643, illus. $48.75 Donald S. Hair. Domestic and Heroic in Tennyson's Poetry Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1981. 251 $25.00 Kerry McSweeney. Tennyson and Swinburne as Romantic Naturalists Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1'}81. 222. $25.00 These books are admirable and irritating. Admirable because each makes an interesting and useful contribution to our understanding of Tennyson. Irritating because each proceeds by isolating, expanding upon, and helping to confirm a single aspect of our understanding rather than coming to grips with the UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 52, Nl1MBER I, FALL 1982 0042-0247/8211000-0114-0125$00.0010 ttl UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS APPROACHES TO TENNYSON 115 contradictions among its many aspects. The stories our age tells itself about the greatest literary spokesman of the Victorian age are notoriously discrepant. Tennyson was a neurotic genius who increasingly sought refuge from personal insecurity in the conventions of Victorian thought. He was a masterly poet of profound insight and a certain craftsmanship even in the most seemingly inconsiderable or seemingly episodic of his compositions. He was the hapless exponent of a Victorian sensibility divided against itself. One can see how with a little ingenuity any two of the familiar tales might be reconciled. But all three? To consider these books together is to experience an intense and peculiar frustration, rather as if the blind men we sent to inspect the elephant had regained justenough of their sight that each could now report in convincing detail on his bit of the whole, could even dimly discern the others as they wentabout their work, and yet ... and yet ... Robert Bernard Martin's new biography ofTennyson is the winner of the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize and has been widely praised for its scholarly and literary merits. It seems admirably designed for the general educated public. The book is large, handsome, and well illustrated. The text is consistently readable. Martin's prose is lucid and quietly witty, his narrative pace reasonable and steady, his use of anecdote always judicious. But more, it is absorbing: a famous Victorian is skilfully brought to life before our eyes, together with the entire social world...