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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Threatening essentials: Women and varieties of manhood in Tennyson's “Idylls of the King”
by Turner, Benedick G., Ph.D., New York University, 2009, 253; 3342376
Abstract (Summary)

The poems that make up Idylls of the King construct a range of masculinities, and in all cases relationships with female characters are presented as both a threat to and an essential component of manhood. Men’s loyalty to their mothers and their love for their wives sometimes interfere with their duties as knights, which are defined in the text as “man’s work.” Yet wives and lovers often accompany knights on their quests, and women inspire in men both the bravery needed for martial prowess and the manly control over emotion necessary to focus this prowess into productive labor. These poems thus challenge the ways previous studies of masculinity in Victorian literature have characterized as antagonistic the relationships between women and men and between professional and domestic life.

Previous studies have mostly misread the poems as a result of understanding them first and foremost as parts of one whole rather than as individual works: the first poem’s happy ending and the last poem’s seemingly sad conclusion have influenced many critics to understand the collection as a single narrative of moral decay and consequently to misinterpret the early poems as purely comedic and the later ones as relentlessly tragic; read as individual works, the poems reveal more complexity. Although previous studies of Tennyson’s work have dismissed the Idylls as poor examples of the poet’s work, the poems use a sophisticated variety of verse strategies to express different masculinities. And while existing criticism asserts that many of the characters are one-dimensional symbols of individual human traits, studying the way masculinity is represented in the poems facilitates and is facilitated by an understanding of how the verse imbues characters with the impression of psychological depth.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Maynard, John
Commitee: Momma, Haruko, Poovey, Mary, Rust, Martha, Sussman, Herbert
School: New York University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 70/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature, Gender studies
Keywords: Idylls of the King, Manhood, Masculinity, Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, Baron, Victorian, Women
Publication Number: 3342376
ISBN: 978-1-109-90260-0
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