Tennyson's In Memoriam

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Tennyson's In Memoriam In Memoriam is an elegy to Tennyson's friend Arthur Hallam, but bears the hallmark of its mid nineteenth century context, 'the locus classicus of the science-and-religion debate.'Upon reflection, Hallam's tragic death has proved to be an event that provoked Tennyson's embarkation upon a much more ambitious poetic project than conventional Miltonian elegy, involving meditation upon the profoundest questions faced by mankind. Scientific advancements, most notably in the fields of geology and biology, challenged the beliefs that form the foundation of Christianity: the belief in a beneficent God responsible for creation and ensuing superintendence and the belief in man's immortal soul. By the mid nineteenth century apologist arguments such as those of William Paley could no longer convincingly reconcile science and faith. In Memoriam stands as a work that truly represents the anxieties within the Victorian mind. Queen Victoria once remarked that In Memoriam was her closest consolation, after the bible, following her husband's death. This essay charts the consoling properties of In Memoriam and interrogates the notion of Tennyson as a reinventor of faith for the troubling scientific age. There is a consensus among critics, such as Matthes and Willey, that Lyell?s Principles of Geology provoked much of Tennyson?s troubling religious doubts that were to be compounded when his dearest friend was robbed from him. Lyell made no explicit challenge to Christian scripture (and indeed made attempts in his work to ensure readers did not interpret his work as such), but his assertion that the Earth?s landscape was shaped by an extremely long and gradual process of weathering presupposed a much greater age for the Earth than was allowed for in biblical chronology. Essentially Lyell?s theories questioned the Christian belief in Divine creation of the Earth over a period of seven days. Lyell?s discussion of the discovery of fossilised remains of extinct animals was perhaps even more troubling because it questioned the existence of a beneficent providential power and the notion of divine superintendence. Principles of Geology was so earth-shattering because essentially it questioned the very validity of euthesitic belief, whether God really does have his eye cast on every sparrow that falls to earth. Brooke asserts that In Memoriam i... ... middle of paper ... ...ress to God seems to a critical reader too much like a denial of deep seated doubts through religious immersion. In Memoriam demonstrates Tennyson?s masterful handle of language to create a fitting tribute to his deceased friend, but his genius lies in transcending this initial subject matter to embrace one at the heart of the Victorian psyche- the challenge of scientific discoveries to deeply held Christian belief. He reinvents faith in the sense that he encourages a different angle to view it from, and encourage a holistic approach to the study of nature in which scientific and religious approaches are not mutually exclusive. Bibliography Baldick, Chris: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) Brooke, Stopford A: Tennyson: His Art and Relation to Modern Life (London: Ibister and Company Limited, 1894) Hunt, John (ed.) Tennyson: In Memoriam: A casebook (London: Macmillan, 1970) Mattes, Eleanor Bustin: In Memoriam: The Way of a Soul (New York: Exposition Press, 1951) Moi, Torl: Sexual Textual Politics (London: Routledge, 1995) Willey, Basil: More Nineteenth Century Studies (London: Chatto and Windus, 1956)
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