Tennyson's Legacy

Tennyson, Alfred Tennyson, G. Woolliscroft Rhead, Louis Rhead, Stephen S. Yates, Robert Howard Russell, and John Louis Haney. Idylls of the King: Vivien, Elaine, Enid, Guinevere. New York: R.H. Russell, 1898.

The often beautifully illustrated publications and editions behind Tennyson’s work were widely popular in England as well as the United States. Because of this wide-ranging popularity, Alan Lupack notes, “The people of this age were reminded of Tennyson’s Arthuriana, and therefore of the moral implications of these poems, by various images that they encountered in their daily routines” (95). Tennyson’s work became a part of the popular cultural consciousness through a number of different styles and mediums varying from postcards or wholesome advertisements to children’s books and more. The character Elaine/the Lady of Shalott herself was most widely publicized through paintings, poetry, plays, music, brands of cigarettes, hotels, and restaurants, all spanning from the Victorian to modern period (115-116). Even individuals’ homes were touched by Tennyson’s Arthurian work, as seen in a series of twelve tiles designed for Minton in about 1876 by John Moyr Smith (1839-1912). One such Minton tile, depicted here in the exhibit, shows Elaine in her death barge (wondrously crafted into the shape of a swan) being discovered by Arthur in Camelot. The tiles could be purchased in varying color patterns and be made to fit in fireplaces or alongside ornate furniture to continuously remind Victorian households about the morals surrounding Tennyson’s text.

Ref: Lupack, Alan. “Popular Images Derived from Tennyson's Arthurian Poems.” Arthuriana 21, no. 2 (2011): 90-118. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23238244.