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  • Tennyson
  • Linda K. Hughes (bio)

In 2014 Tennyson scholarship focused principally on his long poems, often within a historicist framework and with an emphasis on gender. I begin with an exception to these dominant approaches, Jesse Hoffman’s “Arthur Hallam’s Spirit Photography and Tennyson’s Elegiac Trace” (Victorian Literature and Culture 42.4: 611–636). Amidst a larger exploration of the impact of photography on Victorian elegy, Hoffman seeks to locate the “language of photography” in Tennyson’s early poetry, specifically “The Miller’s Daughter” (1832; rev. 1842). Hoffman’s point of departure is an 1894 memoir recounting a “spirit photograph” of Mrs. Emily Tennyson Jesse, Arthur Hallam’s former fiancée, in which a shadowy presence was interpreted by her and others to be Hallam. In addition to suggesting that Tennyson’s own involvement in spiritualism was more intensive than Hallam Tennyson’s Memoir indicated, this biographical anecdote highlights the interplay of absence and presence, past and present, mourning and recuperation that also informs the medium of photography itself. Recuperating the past in the present is of course intrinsic to elegy as well.

Hoffman draws upon the work of Eduardo Cadava, who contends that the language of photography preceded the medium; Geoffrey Batchen, who underscores the role of real-world light in “writing” on paper to tease out photography’s epistemological complexities; C. S. Pierce’s concept of “indexicality,” whereby an object (e.g., a photographic image) at once signifies a prior cause or effect (as in the writing of light) but also bears upon the memory, sense, and affect of the person for whom the object is a sign; and Roland Barthes, whose concept of the “punctum” in Camera Lucida (1980) posits the inseparability of the photographic [End Page 339] image from imagination and language. If photography is defined by indexicality and Barthesian desires to recover a past that can never be more than an imagined event, Hoffman argues, then the language of photography ceases to be anachronistic and becomes a powerful hermeneutic for Tennyson’s passion of the past that invests landscapes with vanished figures. The nineteenth-century photographers of Tennysonian landscapes inevitably failed to capture the import of the poetry, since the detailed landscapes of the text had fused with the poet’s inward sensibility and imagination. Hoffman’s framework is especially apt for “The Miller’s Daughter” (1832; rev. 1842), which explicitly inscribes an aperture of vision (the window out of which Alice leans) and the effects of light in creating an image when a leaping trout triggers what the young speaker next saw, the “reflex of a beauteous form” (l. 77) on the water’s surface. Hoffman more briefly discusses the language of photography in In Memoriam. I missed any reference to Angela Leighton’s memorable discussion of the “flash” when Hoffman discusses Section 95, but Hoffman’s elegant essay is an effective contribution to Tennyson studies.

Of the long poems discussed in 2014, which I take in order of the poems’ publication, The Princess (1847) is one of two narratives examined in Anna Barton’s “Long Vacation Pastorals: Clough, Tennyson and the Poetry of the Liberal University” (Victorian Literature and Culture 42.2: 251–266). Part of Barton’s larger project on Victorian poetry and liberalism, this essay references Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Between Men (1985) to argue that Arthur Hugh Clough’s The Bothie of Tober-na-Vuolich (1848) is more exclusionary in class and gender than is The Princess. For Barton, the ostensibly free play of the mind offered within a liberal university education is always predicated on excluding all but a few, a manifestation of boundaries consonant with the bounded metered forms of most nineteenth-century poems. Though Clough’s protagonist Philip has broken out of the university during the long vacation, his participation in a reading party reinstates all the “liberal” rules of university life, and at most, Barton argues, Philip at the end merely reestablishes in New Zealand a mirror of English culture left behind (cp. Jason Rudy, briefly cited below). But the tale told in The Princess is made at the behest of women (Lilia and her aunt) in the mode they dictate, a “summer’s...


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