Abstract: “Tennysonian Scale.” (invited discussant on panel with Andrea Henderson, Stefanie Markovits, and Imogen Forbes-Macphail). North American Victorian Studies Association. Columbus, OH. October 2019.
What can ordinal numbers teach us about knowledge? And how are such hierarchies of first/second/third, small/medium/large, big/bigger/biggest related to scale? This paper will draw upon Tennyson’s In Memoriamto explore the relationship between scale and ordination. Further, it will demonstrate how ordinal numbers and scale inform and alter Tennyson’s poetics. Whether one is looking at individuals or large groups of population in a geographic region, scale effects knowledge bases. One of the great challenges of understanding relationships between microscale and macroscale phenomena and processes is that shift from small details to systemic complexity. Tennyson, too, likewise attempts to calculate a grief that is at once focused on an individual and a “large grief” that “enfolds an outline and no more” (V.11-12). Moving between these scales of the one and the many, the little and the infinite, Tennyson comes to terms with his inability to know either the reasons for Hallam’s death or the possibilities of his own future. Ultimately, human attempts to quantify, calculate, and assess by such measures fail in light of greater spiritual knowledge. The poet writes, “Our little systems have their day; / They have their day and cease to be: / They are but broken lights of thee, / And thou, O Lord, art more than they” (ll. 17-20). Yet, Tennyson’s meliorative move is to recognize scale as preservative through which he can delay Hallam’s passing from mind, and ultimately existence. For instance, when he says, “A little grain shall not be spilt,” the poet recognizes that the smallness of Hallam’s being can not only be subsumed into his own existence but potentially secured in the afterlife as a result. There is an exchange through which Tennyson claims “lives in me, / [and] A part of mine may live in thee / And move thee on to noble ends” (LXV.10-12). What’s more, Tennyson experiments with the famous In Memoriam stanzaic form and meter to shape the speaker’s reflection on the relationship between knowledge and scale as an existential problem. The speaker will never know with certainty where his loved one has gone, but understanding the hierarchies of ordination as scale enables Tennyson to feel he can retain the “little grain” of Hallam. Tennyson endorses a formal epistemology in which the inability to know preserves Hallam’s life through a self-organizing, endlessly flexible propagation of forms. Consequently, Tennysonian scale perpetually generates more forms, effectively suspending Hallam’s passing as a consequence of the inability to know everything. Scale and ordination, therefore, emerges as a poetic method through which the poet defers conclusions, processes loss, and reaches acceptance.
Abstract: “‘Like two blossoms on one stem: Christina Rossetti’s Forms of Twoness.” (Midwest Victorian Studies Association panel). Midwest Modern Language Association Convention. Chicago, IL. November 2019.
Doubling takes many forms in Christina Rossetti’s work, from the pairs necessary to create rhyming patterns to the duality emerging from repetition. In this paper, I argue that the forms of Rossetti’s Goblin Marketand her later sonnet sequences, Monna Innominata and Later Life: A Double Sonnet of Sonnets, interrogate the concept of twoness to foreground the difficulties and value of creating communities and intimacy for women. I use the word “twoness” here because Rossetti is interested not only in doubling and dividing but in the number two itself, in what it means to be two of something. If women are supposed to be subsumed into masculine others in marriage, she asks whether each “one” is a single unit before marriage? Are women united with or divided from one another? Is the proper way of being one or two? Through her forms of twoness, the separation of two things, which scholars such as Emily Harrington have read as a block or failure in Rossetti’s work, becomes the poet’s point. Divisions are necessary and beneficial, she implies, especially for women. Here, I demonstrate how her dissatisfaction with the subsumption of “one and one” into a fusion emerges in her poetic experiments with doubling and division. Ultimately, Rossetti shows that poetry is capable of thinking through the problematic nature of gendered social counting in its own structures, and of offering alternative social models.