Masters Thesis

In Memoriam: an ode to melancholy and religion in Tennyson’s magnum opus

This thesis dissects the role of melancholic imagery and religion in Alfred Tennyson’s poetry, with a special focus on his magnum opus, In Memoriam A.H.H (1850) and how the use of melancholy and religion act as rhetorical tropes in conveying the depths of his grief after losing his dear friend, Arthur Hallam. Furthermore, I analyzed particular cantos adjacent to a few of his other poems such as “The Lady of Shalott” (1833 and 1842), “Mariana” (1830), and “The Sleeping Beauty” (1830). The use of melancholic imagery is abundant in Tennyson’s work, but this thesis argues that upon the death of Arthur Hallam, Tennyson reconfigured his melancholic aesthetic that we see in his older poems to fit the melancholic tone in his elegy. Therefore, I trace Tennsyon’s original aesthetic of melancholy in his more fantastical works and how he reconfigures his aesthetic through the writing process of In Memoriam, shifting from a romantic and colorful melancholy to a confrontation of a dark and grim grief and its place in the interrelation between faith and doubt. The shift in Tennyson’s aesthetic of melancholy and cantos in In Memoriam work brilliantly together when intertwined not only with each other, but also with Tennyson’s beautiful command of meter, diction, and syllabic dexterity. The death of Tennyson’s beloved friend Arthur Hallam was the catalyst for Tennyson’s artistic manifestation of grief and doubt employed in In Memoriam as well as the religious odyssey Tennyson embarks on for seventeen years after Hallam’s death. This grief and doubt intertwine with Tennyson’s reconfigured aesthetic and serves to speak to and unite his Victorian audience because they both embraced the notion of depression as a unifying human emotion and related to him on a religious level. Because Tennyson’s writing invokes melancholy and discusses mental illness, particularly depression, his poetry serves as unifying in the face of death. His understanding of his religion plays a similar role in unifying Victorian and modern readers alike with a common human emotion. This thesis ends with an analysis of The Prologue, which serves as the final admission of Tennyson’s baptism of fire and how he is able to heal himself through the love and salvation of Christ.

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