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Tennyson and the Measure of Doom

Herbert F. Tucker, Jr.
PMLA
Vol. 98, No. 1 (Jan., 1983), pp. 8-20
DOI: 10.2307/462069
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462069
Page Count: 13
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Tennyson and the Measure of Doom
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Abstract

Tennyson's habits as a writer-composing longer works backward from a foreordained conclusion, stationing lyric speakers in a terminal situation-justify approaching his oeuvre as a poetry of aftermath. An obsession with the inevitable, which underlies his weaknesses in presenting character and in advancing narrative or dramatic action, also supports his compensatory strengths: evocation of atmospheric mood and sheer rhetorical splendor. Tennyson's rhetorical inevitability corresponds to intuitive convictions about the inevitability of the self's place in the world. His incapacity wholly to accept or resist the doom of the self engenders his typical melancholy; it also may explain the success he enjoyed as a Victorian spokesman. Never acquiring more than a fitful conceptual grasp of the fatality that was his subject, Tennyson conceived it instead in musical, often rhythmic, terms. He thus devised in "measured language" unsurpassed means of embodying and sharing the sense of a humanly definitive doom.

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