Taking various forms of the address terms (my) ‘dear/ dearer/ dearest’ this presentation explores an example of how close and informed attention to language specifics can illuminate larger issues of identity and culture.
Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ dominated Victorian literature from its first publication in 1850 but also caused increasing unease in admiring readers and the author himself as the century went on culminating in Oscar Wilde’s well-known prosecution for homosexuality in 1895 alluded to in my title.
First reviewers of ‘In Memoriam’ assumed a female author, a war widow. Once Tennyson’s own authorship became more widely known the poem’s references to himself as a widow or widower, a lover of his lost Cambridge friend, Hallam, came to be increasingly denounced or excused as excessive and not appropriately masculine.
Using a mixture of cultural criticism, corpus linguistics and reception studies the wider troubling issues raised by ‘In Memoriam’ can be explored more precisely and systematically than has been done till now, coming to understand the tensions involved as attempts were made through the 19th century to fix gender in normatively approved ways.
Geoff Hall is Dean of Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and a Professor of English. Researches relations between (mainly English) language and literature, including pedagogical implications of language based approaches to literature reading. Editor of ‘Language and Literature’ (Sage) from 2010-2016. A second edition of Literature in Language Education (Palgrave) appeared in 2015.