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The Victorian Poet and His Readers: The Strange Case of Tennyson’s «The Princess»


Magdalena Pypeć

The author follows the interpretative pursuits of nineteenth-century readers and analyses Tennyson’s The Princess through the prism of their critical ideas. She analyses Tennyson’s reconsideration of gender binaries and women’s rights as well as the poem’s reliance on the aesthetics of the grotesque and its metapoetic games. The book rests on the premise that literature cannot be studied in isolation from its immediate socio-historical context. As such, poetry becomes an outcome of social and cultural negotiations, moving «in a strange diagonal» between the author and his public.
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Chapter Two: The Princess and the Reviewers


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Chapter Two:  The Princess and the Reviewers

Vex not thou the poet’s mindWith thy shallow wit:Vex not thou the poet’s mind;For thou canst not fathom it.Clear and bright it should be ever,Flowing like a crystal river;Bright as light, and clear as wind. Alfred Tennyson, “The Poet’s Mind” (1830)

The twofold purpose of this chapter is to render an account of the critical reception of Tennyson’s works before and after writing The Princess (Poems 1832 and Poems 1842) and to examine the influence of nineteenth-century reviewers on Tennyson’s poetical choices, with the particular attention focused on The Princess.

Literary criticism in the nineteenth-century enjoyed a high-prestige because of its power to influence and define both society and its literary norms and tastes. In her study The Woman Reader 1837–1914, Kate Flint points out that the critic, by definition, is placed in a position of authority relative to the text, the author and the reader: “authority to speak, to write, to define, to manage, and to change not just the institution of literature, but those of society itself” (43). Literary historian Margaret Beetham argues vividly that the ever mushrooming Victorian periodicals were the metaphorical space in which “writers, editors, publishers and readers engaged in trying to understand themselves and their society … to make their world meaningful” (20). Since those who owned and wrote for the press had more power to make their perspectives socially acceptable, the Victorian...

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