Tennyson Undiscovered: Working in the Tennyson Archives


by Sophie Chapman (MA)

While studying for my Master’s degree in English Literature at Bishop Grosseteste University (2015-16), I took the module ‘Author in Focus: Tennyson’s legacy and a family archive’. This module was an independent research module on Tennyson and a rare opportunity for an aspiring MA student. It took place in the Tennyson Research Centre and the assignment was to create an academic poster on an aspect of Tennyson and his poetry which I had to find in the archive.

After meeting Grace Timmins, the Collection’s Access Officer, I was free to delve into the world of Tennyson. The Tennyson family’s archive has been carefully preserved for modern day academics and admirers of the Poet Laureate. With no solid idea where the focus of my research project was going to be, I decided to start with the Death Albums. After Tennyson’s death on October 6, 1892, his family collected, cut and pasted newspaper clippings into albums. The clippings were articles published by a variety of newspapers from all over the United Kingdom. They were paying tribute to the loss of a good man and a master of the written word. The idea that Emily Tennyson and her family would have saved those remembrances fascinated me. After much reading, I soon realised that they were not so much statements of grief about Tennyson’s death but celebrations of the man who had been the Poet Laureate.

Once I had finished my research relating to the albums, I moved on to the many editions of Tennyson’s poems. I discovered that many of his own copies, such as of The Princess have his own notes and editing commentaries written within them. Tennyson had gone as far as to rewrite some of his own poetry after it has already been published, as a result of which more editions were published. I was curious about why Tennyson was constantly changing his own poetry, but my mind kept returning to the newspaper clippings surrounding Tennyson’s death, therefore I decided to delve deeper into the recordings of Tennyson’s death. I had found the focus of my academic poster!

As part way through my research in the Tennyson Research Centre, I discovered a box which contained many poems sent to Tennyson’s family shortly after his death. The poems inside it were hand-written and typed, composed by young girls and older gentlemen from the United Kingdom and all over the world and they all appeared to have the same purpose: the expression of grief over the death of Tennyson. I became fascinated with the idea that some people had sent their poems privately to the Tennyson family, while others decided to express their ‘private’ grief publically by placing them in their local newspapers. Many decided to tribute Tennyson by calling their own poems ‘In Memoriam’, after their own grief for the lost poet. This act was referencing when Tennyson expressed his own grief in his famous poem of the same title. This spurred the argument to whether those who had published their poetry to the public had done so for the celebration of the lost poet, or in aspiration that their own work would be associated with Tennyson. In addition, whether or not the poems where published privately or publically, they all had one primary focus of trying to keep the dead poet alive. Through their grief depicted in an elegy and love song, they are keeping Alfred Tennyson and his poetry alive in memory. This was the conclusion which then led to the production of my scholarly display ‘Elegy and Grief: How ‘In Memoriam’ shaped the Victorian’s response to Alfred Tennyson’s death’.

Author in Focus: Tennyson’s legacy and a family archive’, a module on the MA in English Literature, allowed me explore a part Tennyson’s legacy, research the family’s archive and work on what not many have heard of: private and public expressions of grief, celebrating the death of Tennyson. I think that through my academic poster I have paid tribute to the great Poet Laureate.

Above: Presenting my Scholarly Display

Below: Scholarly Display