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Hamilton, V. (1986). Grief and mourning in Tennyson's ‘In Memoriam’. Free Associations, 1(7):87-110.

(1986). Free Associations, 1(7):87-110

Grief and mourning in Tennyson's ‘In Memoriam’

Victoria Hamilton

Since Freud, psychoanalysts have concerned themselves with the psychological processes involved in grief and mourning. John Bowlby's Loss (Bowlby, 1980) is perhaps the most detailed and comprehensive account of the course of mourning which has been written both from a psychoanalytic point of view and from the perspective of contemporary attachment theory. Bowlby's Loss is intended to give us a map for charting the processes of both healthy and disordered mourning. Tennyson's ‘In Memoriam’ was written over 17 years; it was published in the same year that the poet became the Poet Laureate (at 41 years of age) a year in which he also married the woman he had met 18 years before. The poem was evoked both by the untimely death of Tennyson's best friend, Arthur Hallam when Tennyson was 24 years old, and by the many losses and difficulties Tennyson had sustained during his childhood and youth. The publication of ‘In Memoriam’ marked the pinnacle of the poet's success and the final resolution of a long period of discontent and restlessness. ‘In Memoriam’ has been called ‘a universal book of consolation’. The beautiful and poignant verses vividly convey the anguish and struggle of a creative yet troubled person as he endures the many intense and contrary feelings which arise at different phases of the course.

Tennyson started the early stanzas of the elegy on 6 October 1833, immediately after the death of his best friend, Arthur Hallam. Hallam was 22 years old, Tennyson 24. Arthur Hallam died of apoplexy, in Vienna, on 15 September 1833, four years after he and Tennyson met in Cambridge. To Tennyson, Hallam ‘was as near perfection as a mortal man can be’ (Martin, 1980, p. 73). The two men met through the submission, in 1829, of their poems. In December of the same year, Hallam met Tennyson's younger sister, Emily. They were engaged at the time of Hallam's death.

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