The sceptical strain : readings in Tennyson's poetry, 1829-1855
The thesis examines the place in Tennyson's poetry, in the period from his undergraduate career at Cambridge to the publication of Maud in 1855, of Romantic idealist concepts and traditional Christian ideas. The study concentrates, first of all, on examples of shorter works composed between 1829 and 1842 which are characteristically rich in sensuous impact and mythological resonance. It is argued that these poems do not --- as is often asserted --- show a retreat into a conceptually bankrupt lyricism on the part of a Romantic imagination dispossessed of any comprehensive scheme of thought and belief about the world. Nor is it sufficient to claim that the only real achievement in Tennyson's poetry of this kind lies in its occasional anticipation of Symbolist poetic technique. Rather, Tennyson is conducting through a poetic style inherited from the Romantics a profoundly sceptical inquiry into cardinal tenets of Romantic ideology and Christian doctrine. Secondly, Tennyson's longer poems In Memoriam (1850) and Maud (l855) are considered in relation to The Lover's Tale, a work first published in 1879 hut originally composed in the late l820s and early 1830s. Tennyson's treatment of the relationship between the protagonist and his female lover is discussed in a study of the text as it stood in 1832. This relationship is considered in the light of the frequent representation of a female figure as a projection of a male protagonist's own personality in the writings of Shelley and Keats. What has been termed, with particular reference to Shelley, the 'psyche-epipsyche strategy' is seen to inform not only The Lover's Tale but also the fundamental conceptual and imaginative structures of both In Memoriam and Maud. Following Tennyson's attempted optimism in In Memoriam, Maud demonstrates the poet's failure of confidence in the epistemological and metaphysical idealism implied in this distinctively Romantic strategy. Throughout the thesis extensive use is made of unpublished poetical draft material.