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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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The best poetry is what we want; the best poetry will befound to have a power of forming, sustaining, anddelighting us, as nothing else can.Matthew Arnold, from The Study of Poetry (1880)

This book rests on the premise that literature cannot be studied in isolation from its immediate socio-historical context. It relies heavily on the new-historicist principles of interpreting literary texts which are not only created by individual authors, but also by broader cultural forces and controversies of the age. For new-historicists, literary texts influence their socio-historical context to the same extent as the socio-historical world influences literary texts. They shape and reshape each other in a continual cycle of influence and exchange which Stephen Greenblatt called “the circulation of social energy” (Shakespearean Negotiations 1). The journal Representations was founded “to encourage a new community of scholarship among all who explore the way artefacts, institutions, and modes of thought give a heightened account of the social, cultural and historical situations in which they arise” (Fraser 9). Thus, new historicism is interdisciplinary and intertextual, concerning the dynamic dialogue between various texts within a given historical time period. It has enabled scholars to cross well-guarded boundaries separating literature, art, history, and politics, as well as other disciplines and sciences. The boundaries, to use Greenblatt’s words, “are contested, endlessly renegotiated, permeable” (Representing the English Renaissance vii). “Literary and non-literary texts circulate inseparably,” H. Aram Veeser argues, “Circulation, negotiation, exchange – these … metaphors characterize new historicists’ working vocabulary” (xi, xiv). Contrary...

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