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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 Three: “Wild places” – The Princess and the Grotesque


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Chapter Three:  “Wild places” – The Princess and the Grotesque

Tennyson’s manicured poetic courts disguise, at roots,wild places.Aidan Day “Tennyson’s Grotesque.”

Nineteenth century reviewers make it abundantly clear that Tennyson’s The Princess violates clear-cut generic taxonomies and thereby classify the text as an example of the literary grotesque. As we have seen in the previous chapter, they note the incongruous jumble of genres and thematic elements – “the incoherency of its characteristics” (Athenaeum, January 1, 1848) and in its May 22, 1848 edition, the Dublin Evening Herald compares reading the poem to wondering in a labyrinth with no way out (Shannon 123, 105). The notion of the grotesque immediately calls to mind the important nineteenth century essay discussed earlier, Walter Bagehot’s “Wordsworth, Tennyson and Browning: or, Pure, Ornate, and Grotesque Art in English Literature” (1864). In his essay, however, Bagehot dilates upon Robert Browning as the supreme poet of the grotesque, resulting from defects in subject and of style. Bagehot’s key example of Browning’s grotesque art is a poem entitled “Caliban upon Setebos,” in which the eponymous character is depicted as “a nasty creature, a gross animal, uncontrolled, unelevated by any feeling of religion or duty” (Bagehot 410). According to the critic, grotesque art “deals with abnormal specimen, not with what Nature is striving to be, but with what by some lapse she has happened to become. It enables you to see … the perfect type by painting the opposite deviation” (Bagehot 410). It...

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