Weekly Assignment #4

September 14, 2006 at 2:09 pm (Weekly Assignments)

For this week’s assignment, I’d be especially interested in seeing questions and answers about Victorian culture, social issues, and philosophy as suggested by “In Memoriam A. H. H.” in addition to questions about Tennyson himself.

The first part of the weekly assignment is to ask a question about the reading for this week — a real question; i.e., something you don’t know the answer to. ONE sentence only, please: questions of more than one sentence will not receive credit. I might give an extra point for great questions. Questions are due by midnight on Monday. Late questions will not be given credit.

The second part of the weekly assignment is to answer someone’s question (not your own). You must cite at least one authoritative source. (I will withhold credit for answers without a reference. If you make a sui generis argument, find an authority to support it, or else find an authority to testily contradict.) These answers can be as long as you like; I might give an extra point for great answers. Answers are due by midnight on Wednesday. Late answers will not be given credit.

Submit all questions and answers as comments to this post. Feel free to post other commentary in the comments, as well.



  1. Amanda French said,

    Horrible and hilarious at the same time. I didn’t even mention the dreaded amphibrach, which sounds like a beastie from Jabberwocky. Thanks!

  2. Chris Nelson said,

    Was “In Memoriam A.H.H.” influenced by the emerging theories of Social Darwinism? It seems so to me upon first reading, but I don’t trust myself here.

  3. Jake Burnett said,

    Dibs on Chris’s question.

  4. Jake Burnett said,

    Chris – could you be a bit more specific about the passages that make you think of Social Darwinism?

  5. Chris Nelson said,

    Sorry about the confusion. Like I said, I’m probably way off base, but the passages that made me wonder are in Section 55, especially lines 5-13, and again in Section 106, lines 13-20. When I read those it seemed reminicent of the early Social Darwinist ideal that the best way to solve the problem of inequality was to let the poor die off, and I wondered what Tennyson thought of that.

  6. Jake Burnett said,

    What are some of the possible symbolic meanings of the sycamore?

  7. Sarah Simpson said,

    I’ll take Jake’s question.

  8. Sarah Simpson said,

    But Jake–as you asked of Chris–can you point out to me where the sycamore appears in the poem?

  9. Sarah Simpson said,

    Nevermind, Jake. I found the sycamore in line 4 of section LXXXIX, and in line 55 of section XCV. Are there any other references I’ve missed?
    Now my question: What’s the significance/tradition of the orange flower that Tennyson associates with brides?

  10. Daniela Newland said,

    I’ll try to answer Holly’s question. (Does that sound optimistic?!)
    What happened to Tennyson’s sister (Hallam’s fiancee) after Arthur Hallam died, and how did she and the rest of Tennyson’s family respond to Hallam’s death?
    Posted by Holly Ellern ( on September 17, 2006 at 01:15 PM EDT

  11. Daniela Newland said,

    I’m wondering how Victorian readers would have read this rather long poem–i.e. like a collection of connected poems, or like a novel/longer narrative.

  12. Aaron M. Bobick said,

    I heard this way back as an undergrad and I thought I might ask this here hoping someone could find something on it. The question: Did R. Browning get upset about Tennyson’s promotion after the publication of In Memorium?

  13. Eric Gerson said,

    Is Tennyson attempting to glorify Hallum as a Christ-figure, as the images of the cross and the crown of thorns seem to be prevalent?

  14. Chris Nelson said,

    I’ll take Daniela’s question.

  15. Chris Nelson said,

    Oh, by that I meant Daniela’s first question. Re: The grief of the fiancee and family.

  16. Lindsay S. said,

    Ok, so this might be completely obvious, but what would have been the Victorian reaction to such a great work, such a long work, such a loving work, dedicated from a man to another man?

  17. Laura Robinson said,

    What was customary in terms of outward expressions of mourning (and/or burials) in Victorian society?
    *I’ll take Eric’s question.

  18. Holly Ellern said,

    I’ll take Meredith’s question about the life of Arthur Hallam.

  19. Kelly Mahaffey said,

    Were poems of this length memorializing a close friend common in Tennyson’s time?

  20. Eric Gerson said,

    I’ll take Matt’s question.

  21. Eric Gerson said,

    While grieving over Hallum, Tennyson was in seclusion at his home in Somersby. During this time, Tennyson wrote the “Fair Ship” portion of the poem, which later became part “IX” (Rader 420). Since the ninth section of the poem was the first installment, it is apparent that the poem was not written in the order which it was published.
    Joyce Green’s essay, “Tennyson’s Development during the Ten Years’ Silence,” further contributes to Rader’s argument. Green contends that thirty-four stanzas of “In Memoriam” were published separately from the whole, along with many other poems, thereby illustrating that the poem was first published in segments.
    Interestingly, T.H. Vail Motter, in his essay “When did Tennyson meet Hallum,” suggests that Hallum himself may have contributed to parts of the poem prior to his death. Motter references the Allen Manuscript at Trinity College, Cambridge as containing an unpublished sonnet written by Tennyson, but “amended” by Hallum, which is dated 1828″ (Motter 210). Motter does not say which sonnet of “In Memoriam” the original writing may be. Nonetheless, it seems really interesting, and a little spooky, to think that Hallum may have written part of his own “eulogy.”
    Unfortunately, I cannot find a source that discusses whos decision it was to publish the sonnets in the order in which they came to be arranged. Sorry.
    Green, Joyce. “Tennyson’s Development during the ‘Ten Years’ Silence’ (1832-1842). PMLA 66, 5 (Sept. 1951): 662-97.
    Motter, T.H. Vail. “When did Tennyson Meet Hallum.” Modern Language Notes 57, 3 (Mar. 1942): 209-10.
    Rader, Ralph Wilson. “Tennyson in the Year of Hallum’s Death.” PMLA 77, 4 (Sept. 1962): 419-24.

  22. Meredith Willis said,

    I’ll grab Laura’s question.

  23. Aaron M. Bobick said,

    I’ll answer my own question becasue I’m very curious. Here’s what I found:
    It was EBB that had been advanced as a possibility for laureatship and not RB, though, continuing with my scholarly gossip, nothing I could find showed any clashing between these two candidates. From Mason Long’s article, and his citations of the Browning-Tennyson correspondence, it seems that the Brownings hadn’t even met the Tennysons formally until after Alfred was appointed.
    The Brownings and Tennysons were nothing but the best of friends and corresponded frequently. The slightest hint of jealousy over Tennyson’s appointment is not seen in any of the letters, and in fact the Brownings are quite respectful and reverant of Tennyson’s work. The Brownings were even invited and attended the christening of Hallam Tennyson in late 1852.
    Long, Mason. “The Tennysons and the Brownings.” College English. Vol. 9, No. 3 (Dec., 1947), pp. 131-139.

  24. Lindsay S. said,

    To answer Kelly’s question insufficiently:
    From the little searching I’ve done, it does appear that the elegy was incredibly common in the Victorian period. Obviously, Tennyson’s is probably the longest and most famous of the bunch, but I think everyone (from Arnold to Rossetti to Swineburne) wrote his or her share of elegies. I could use some help on this, if anyone has a broader knowledge of the elegy and more examples from other Victorian poets.
    As a side note, and as a semi-answer to my own question (because I’m a literal reader and am easily trapped by the homoeroticism of any text), I came across an interesting article (probably one of many) concerning the homoeroticism of In Memoriam. The author, Jeff Nunokawa, argues that the manifestations of homoeroticism were clearly evident to Victorians and even shunned – the Times, he says, “condemned In Memoriam for its ‘tone of amatory tenderness'” (427). He also argues, however, that the homoeroticism in In Memoriam can be understand as what as defined against heteroeroticism – that is, that In Memoriam presents a model of erotic development, where the homoerotic is a phase that leads to the maturation of the heterosexual male.
    In brief, Nunokawa claims that homoerotic voice in In Memorium appears when Tennyson measures himself (stunted and immature) against the ideal of mature, brilliant manhood (A.H.H). He also compares it to the similar tone in Shakespeare’s sonnets (which Tennyson adored), and sees parts of In Memoriam as a Victorian revision of the homoerotic idea in the sonnets.
    Whether you agree or not, I think it’s an interesting perspective to take, especially tied as it is to an evolutionary development of manhood – at least given the critical consensus that In Memoriam is a precurser to Darwin in its evolutionary ideas.
    I doubt any of this really fully answers Kelly’s question or my own, but that’s what came to me tonight. See everyone tomorrow!
    Nunokawa, Jeff. “In Memoriam and the Extinction of the Homosexual.” ELH: 58.2 (1991). 427-438.

  25. Matt Simmons said,

    The answer, briefly is kind of. To paraphrase Devon Fisher’s argument quite swiftly, what Tennyson is affecting in the personification of Hallam in this manner is a sort of “secular canonization”. Though Tennyson, in my opinion, moves more in the direction of outright apotheosis of Hallam than the secular canonization Fisher argues, I find Fisher’s argument convincing in the matter of WHY Tennyson chooses to present Hallam in this manner. Religious language is everywhere in Victorian culture, and, as far as I can infer from Fisher’s essay, Catholocism had kind of “made a come back” in Victorian England. According to Fisher, Tennyson is using a Christological figure, a secular canonization, to examine the conflicts between the Catholic and Protestant in England’s past, their relationship in the present, and, perhaps most importantly, the place of religion in England’s future.
    Fisher, Devon. “Spurring an Imitative Will: The Canonization of Arthur Hallam”. Christianity and Literature, Vol. 55 No. 2, Winter 06

  26. Laura Robinson said,

    Authors agree that Hallam was used as a Christ figure in Tennyson?s writing of “In Memoriam.” They also assert that viewing Hallam as a physical being as well as a spiritual being helped Tennyson?s personal understanding of the unity between Christ?s humanity as well as divinity. Eugene R. August asserts that even though the poem is about Hallam, ?the figure of Christ is always present in the background.? He continues that Hallam is an ?After Christ ? sharing the human/divine nature? or ?Before Omega ?reconciling God and nature.? In both cases, the idea is that love and evolution continues beyond the physical life.
    You were correct to mention the imagery of the crown, and Marvel Shmiefsky also explains that the symbol of the violet is also significant. The violet is used to represent innocence, suffering, mourning, and modesty ? all of which point to humility and possibly to Christ. Also significant is the color of the violet, purple, which clearly is related to royalty.
    This is the tip of the iceberg of information that is out there… many authors have explored the idea.
    August, Eugene R. ?Tennyson and Teilhard: The Faith of ?In Memoriam.? PMLA. 84, 2 (March 1969):217-226.
    Shmiefsky, Marvel. ?In Memoriam: Its Seasonal Imagery Reconsidered.? Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 7, No. 4, Nineteenth Century. (Autumn, 1967), pp. 721-739.

  27. Laura Robinson said,

    Matt – Hey, I didn’t realize till I posted right behind you that you had just posted on the same question. Looks like we covered several angles, though! Laura

  28. Josh Gane said,

    How did Victorian mourning traditions affect the writing of In Memoriam?

  29. Josh Gane said,

    In answer to my own question:
    In Memoriam progresses through a process of coming to terms with the death of a friend (and was writen over many years) which suggests that the mourning traditions of that time did play a large role in the way in which Tennyson came to terms with his friends death.

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