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  • Tennyson
  • Linda K. Hughes (bio)

This survey of scholarship published in 2012 appropriately begins with the long-awaited biography of Tennyson by John Batchelor, already released in paperback in the UK and soon to appear in the US. The subtitle, taken from "Ulysses," indicates the principal theme of Tennyson: To Strive, to Seek, to Find (Chatto & Windus). If Tennyson suffered, fretted, nearly went mad in youth, and later faced the threats of adulatory fame and an overprotective wife, he always pursued his poetic vocation with steely determination. He deflected attempts to force him into a profession in his youth; and he persisted in developing his major Arthurian poem, which can be seen as his life's work, despite [End Page 422] John Sterling's tepid response to "Morte d'Arthur" in 1842 and the diverting of his energies into In Memoriam and Maud in the mid-1850s. Coming after the Tennyson bicentenary and the citation of "Ulysses" on the London Olympics wall, this biography seems in many respects aimed at a popular British audience. Batchelor's Tennyson is a character that general audiences can embrace, even emulate, as a flawed, hard-drinking man who did whatever it took to protect his undeniable gift. Batchelor, of course, mentions poems and their significance but abstains from in-depth analysis, nor does he often cite scholarly debates or recent approaches. Still, Tennysonians will find much to appreciate. Batchelor contends that Arthur Henry Hallam was right to insist that The Lover's Tale should appear in 1832, when its hallucinatory, Gothic passages and nuanced treatment of sexual desire could have had their greatest impact (in contrast to the nullifying effect of adding "The Golden Supper" decades later). Batchelor is far more sympathetic to George Clayton Tennyson than Robert Bernard Martin, reminding us of the the attractive, well-liked, intelligent neighbor he was before the onset of acute alcoholism. The Lushingtons of Park House also play a larger role in Batchelor than in Martin. More than providing a wedding scene for In Memoriam's epilogue, Edmund Lushington and Tennyson's sister Cecilia offered respite and a convenient stopping place to the entire Tennyson family, who often visited or resided temporarily during Edmund's extended absences during teaching terms at the University of Glasgow. Martin's biography will remain the definitive scholarly biography, but the human touches in Batchelor's account—Tennyson as a second father to Anne Thackeray Ritchie after her father's death, his growing a mustache and beard to deal with the awkwardness of new false teeth—are engaging and appealing.

Two 2012 essays can also be aligned with biography. In "Tennyson, Heidegger, and the Problematics of 'Home'" (VP 50, no. 2: 227-248), Valerie Purton probes the significance of Tennyson's careful transcription of Lincolnshire dialect nursery rhymes—more raucous, less refined than better-known versions—into a notebook that apparently dates from his undergraduate years, when George Clayton Tennyson's violent outbursts set the entire household on edge and the Somersby cook died traumatically in a fire. Citing Martin Heidegger's work on the unheimlich or uncanny and the heimlich, that which is private or secret, she aligns Tennyson's assiduous transcriptions with his gravitation toward the Volk, who as household servants could subvert class and domestic hierarchies, and with the uncanny atmosphere produced by the father's violent indoor outbursts. Purton then traces elements of the heimlich, unheimlich, and Volk in Tennyson's poems of childhood, in "The Losing of the Child," where the unknowable inward world of the child remains inaccessible to adult rationality. [End Page 423]

Sarah Rose Cole also considers Tennyson's undergraduate career in "The Recovery of Friendship: Male Love and Developmental Narrative in Tennyson's In Memoriam," (VP 50, no. 1: 43-66), but she focuses on male friend ship networks and reads Tennyson's elegy as a representation of bildung—the formation and development of an adult self. Unlike the bildungsroman, which relies on continuous linear plot, stages of development in Tennyson's poem are rendered metaphorically at separate moments in time. The speaker first retreats into feminized grief within domestic settings, then begins to imagine ongoing friendship with Hallam, whose bildung continues in...


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pp. 422-431
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