Amateur hours: the visual interpretation of Tennyson’s poetry in two manuscript albums

Field, Hannah (2016) Amateur hours: the visual interpretation of Tennyson’s poetry in two manuscript albums. Journal of Victorian Culture, 21 (4). pp. 471-499. ISSN 1355-5502

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This article seeks to gauge Victorian readers’ responses by looking not at how readers wrote about their experience of texts, but at how they responded to their reading visually. To this end, the article presents a case study of two Victorian manuscript albums from the Tennyson Research Collection in Lincoln, in which Tennyson’s poetry has been transcribed alongside amateur illustrations. While these items improve our understanding of nineteenth-century manuscript culture in a similar way to commonplace books or scrapbooks, their sustained attention to individual texts is distinctive. The private nature of amateur illustration, and the fact that the amateur illustrator’s interpretations remain implicit, can encode responses to texts that are less articulable in other media. The first album, which contains Tennyson’s ‘The Day-Dream’, sheds new light on the problems of signification posed by the poem’s multiple endings; the album shows a reader who uses amateur illustration to create the ‘meaning suited to his mind’ that is mentioned and then dismissed by Tennyson’s narrator. In the second album, a talented group of sisters, including the amateur artist Ella Taylor, illustrated the 1859 Idylls of the King. The sisters’ pairings of word and image interpret the original four-poem Idylls in significant ways, for example, mitigating Guinevere’s guilt through the editing of extracts, and tacitly revelling in Vivien’s triumph over Merlin via an arresting illustration of Vivien in motion. As such, the album intervenes in Victorian debates surrounding female character, as the Taylor sisters sympathize even with the villainesses of the Idylls.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Tennyson, Amateur art, History of reading, Illustration, Fandom, Manuscript culture
Schools and Departments: School of English > English
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NC Drawing. Design. Illustration > NC0950 Illustration
P Language and Literature > PR English literature > PR4000 19th century, 1770/1800-1890/1900
Depositing User: Hannah Field
Date Deposited: 21 Mar 2016 14:49
Last Modified: 24 Dec 2017 02:00

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