Tennysonian Love: The Strange Diagonal
by Gerhard Joseph
University of Minnesota Press, 1969
Paper: 978-0-8166-5800-8


Tennysonian Love was first published in 1969. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

In the century or so since Alfred Tennyson's poetry reached the height of its popularity and critical acclaim, the pendulum of criticism has swung wide in opposite directions. From the earlier idolatry to the later ridicule, that pendulum has now settled into a position of qualified and selective praise from which a more thoughtful consideration of the poet is possible. Consequently, as this critical study suggests, new values and dimensions are recognizable in his work.

Professor Joseph, concentrating on the theme of love but involving in his argument other facets of Tennyson's achievement, demonstrates the thesis that the poet moved as in a "strange diagonal." This phrase used as the subtitle of the book comes from Tennyson's poem The Princess in which the narrator "moved as in a strange diagonal / And maybe neither pleased myself nor them."

As the author shows, Tennyson throughout his work moved between a Platonic conception of love in which the highest kind of spiritual love has disencumbered itself of sense and a Neoplatonic ("Dantesque") one in which sense and soul tend to merge. In coming to terms with the nineteenth-century form of this divided Western heritage, the pietism of the evangelical revival on the one hand and the idealized eroticism of his Romantic predecessors on the other, Tennyson became the exemplary poet of Victorian love. No other Victorian poet, Professor Joseph concludes, exhibits quite his representative and successful blending of these clashing strains. For while moving between the alternate traditions of Western love, Tennyson was able to forge a large body of highly disciplined, beautifully wrought, and far-ranging verse.

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