After a hiatus from "This Year's Work" in Fall 2016, I now examine Tennyson scholarship from 2015 to 2016 plus two 2017 books. This scholarship includes extended work on Tennyson's publication and reception, his formal repetitions, and his relation to nineteenth-century science in addition to more occasional discussions of his poems' relation to war, imperialism, and gender.
Jim Cheshire's Tennyson and Mid-Victorian Publishing: Moxon, Poetry, Commerce (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) is, in a sense, a study of collaboration, since publication necessarily requires partnerships between creative artists and publishers. Cheshire's specific interest is Edward Moxon's and James Payne's roles in constructing Tennyson's reputation, his commercial appeal, his popularity, and thus his reception from 1842 until he broke with the firm in 1869 and moved to Alexander Strahan's publishing house. Perhaps the most important finding of Cheshire's well-researched and lavishly illustrated book is that the 1842 Poems did more to cement Tennyson's emergence as a poet of note than did his annus mirabilis year of In Memoriam and the laureateship's bestowal (1850). Cheshire likewise suggests that the successive editions of the 1842 Poems over Tennyson's lifetime (the source of fully half his published output) are a better gauge of his reputation than were critical reviews. By 1849, for example, Tennyson had sold 8,000 copies of the Poems. Moxon, who established his press's reputation with editions of Romantic poets (he was the first to issue Shelley's Defense of Poetry in 1840), relied on niche publishing and new technologies of printing and distribution to help make his Tennyson books distinctive, adopting cloth rather than paper boards early on and, in the case of In Memoriam, selecting not a green but a purple cloth cover, since purple or lavender was the color of mourning. Though Payne's attempt to promote himself and squeeze Tennyson (as Cheshire earlier recounted in his 2012 article in VP, "The Fall of the House of Moxon") ended Tennyson's relation with the firm, Cheshire adds the important detail that Payne's decision to publish Selections from the Work of Alfred Tennyson (1865) did more to establish Tennyson as a household name than Idylls of the King did, since this edition of Tennyson's most accessible (often shorter) poems sold between 95,000 and 152,000 copies, he estimates. Because Cheshire's focus is on books, he sometimes underestimates the role of periodical reviews in Tennyson's sales. For example, Cheshire asserts that seven months into the publication of In Memoriam, readers had scant opportunity to consider its contents and relied on the laureate's new celebrity [End Page 401] alone to purchase his poem; but after the volume appeared in May 1850, readers could sample seven lyrics by 8 June in the Examiner—an effective channel of advertisement, especially since the review hinted so broadly at the poet's identity. Cheshire's task, however, is to document the topics identified in his subtitle, and this he does effectively and in great depth.
Though in a very different respect, Justin Sider also examines Tennyson (and other poets) in the context of print culture, in "Dramatic Monologue, Public Address, and the Ends of Character" (ELH 83, no. 4 : 1135–1158). Rather than emphasizing sympathy and judgment as so many scholars have done since Robert Langbaum, he foregrounds a print-based characterological theory of form that assisted Victorian poets when mass print was fragmenting audiences into multiple publics and niches. Noting the recurrence of valedictory addresses in dramatic monologues (e.g., "St. Simeon Stylites") in which speakers seek to finalize their characters for those whom they leave behind, Sider concludes that character in a dramatic monologue, as in a printed text, is always understood retrospectively, after the life (and text) reach an end. Rather than a character first imagined by the poet that then creates utterance, it is utterance/text that creates character, which depends for its comprehensibility on audience reception.
No systematic study of Tennyson's reception in Europe has been undertaken before Leonee Ormond's edited collection The Reception of Alfred Tennyson in Europe (London: Bloomsbury...