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Tennyson's "The Lotus-Eaters" and the Politics of the 1830s Francis O 'Gorman The obvious tiling to say about audience and the dramatic monologue 's "art of disclosure" is that the reader bears the burden of interpretation (see subtitle, Tucker 1980). The less obvious but more important tiling to say is that the form has often constrained readers, fixing limits of interpretation at the same time as it has enfranchised the reader's hermeneutic activity. The dramatic monologue in its classic male Victorian form — exemplified by Tennyson and Browning — has recurrently in recent critical history thrown the weight of the reader's interpretation on to questions rooted in character: irony, accidental revelation, the relationship between the authorial view point and the subtly critiqued attitudes vocalized by the monologist. And character readings have been dominated by the patterns of what Robert Langbaum called in his highly consequential account of the work of the dramatic monologue the tension between sympathy and judgement (Langbaum 1957; see also Scheinberg 1997 and O'Gorman 2004). Linda Hughes typically spoke of the way in which the "dramatic monologue depends far more on the reader"(Hughes 1979: 301) than other forms of poetry, comprising a genre that reveals in an explicit way that which Wolfgang Iser distinguished as the "esthetic" of the text as it is constructed by the reader (see Iser 1978). But Hughes's account of Tennyson's "The Lotos-Eaters" (1832/42), likeJames Kincaid's earlier view of the poem in Tennyson's MajorPoems (1975), demonstrated the way in which the dramatic monologue has limited the terms of critical reading. Concentrating on "the inner life of the speaker[s]" in the Choric Song of the Victorian Review (2004) F. O'Gorman poem, Hughes mapped the patterns of Langbaumian sympathy and judgement, offering a model of the reader as "mariner" navigating through the psychological revelations of the poem (Hughes 1979: 301; see also Kincaid 1975: 38-40). She did not suggest that "The Lotos-Eaters" — or the genre which she makes it represent — might be fruitfully approached from other perspectives that creatively resist the lure of the monologue's apparent template for the "necessarily active" reader (Hughes 1979: 302n). Matthew Reynolds has recently proposed a way of considering the relationship between early to mid-Victorian poetry and a major strand of nineteenth-century political debate that is both provocative and enabling. The Realms of Verse (2001), tackling the subject of the relationship between poetry and nation-building, chiefly the unification of Italy, insists that poetry may be shaped by political debates even if it keeps a "generic distance from [its] immediate historical surroundings"(Reynolds 2001: 16). Abstracting "themselves from the present," Reynolds remarks, can allow poems to respond to political events in broader imaginative terms, in ways that cannot be tied directly to local empirical detail but which maintain a relationship with the political Gestalt of the culture nonetheless: poems musing on marriage may well process ideas about the unification of disparate Italian states. Whatever the success of Reynolds' application of this assumption to the poetry of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Browning, Tennyson, and Clough, and despite the problems of generality that are inevitably involved, The Realms of Verse usefully challenges how one might differently construct the "esthetic" of the early Victorian dramatic monologue from its customarily prominent models. To what extent might one approach classic versions of this genre in terms of their broader relations to dominant political themes without being entirely constrained by - though also without entirely ignoring - historically privileged reading patterns, recently reenumerated by Nicholas Shrimpton?(see Shrimpton 1993). In considering an answer to this question in relation to early Tennyson , I involve myself in another debate. This concerns ways in which Tennyson's early poetry may be read politically, despite its frevolume 30 number 1 Tennyson's "The Lotus-Eaters" quent gestures towards emancipation from the demands of quotidian existence. Eminent Tennysonians have dismissed Tennyson's interest in politics in his early life, as evidenced in Poems, Chiefly Lyrical (1830) and Poems (1832, though with 1833 on the title page). The poet was "not a political animal," according to his biographer Robert Bernard Martin, and the dismal events of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 1-20
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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