Both this passage from Tennyson's “The Coming of Arthur" nd the one from Great Expectations aconcern allegiances between human beings. Dickens and Tennyson, in these cases, grapple with the real motives behind fidelity and loyalty.

King Leodogran rejoiced,
But musing 'Shall I answer yea or nay?,
Doubted and drowsed, nodded and slept, and saw,
Dreaming, a slope of land that ever grew,
Field after field, up to a height, the peak
Haze-hidden, and thereon a phantom king,
Now looming, and now lost; and on the slope
The sword rose, the hind fell, the herd was driven,
Fire glimpsed; and all the land from roof and rick,
In drifts of smoke before a rolling wind,
Stream'd to the peak, and mingled with the haze
And made it thicker; while the phantom king
Sent out at times a voice; and here or there
Stood one who pointed toward the voice, the rest
Slew on and burnt, crying, 'No king of ours,
No son of Uther, and no king of ours';
Till with a wink his dream was changed, the haze
Descended, and the solid earth became
As nothing, and the king stood out in heaven,
Crown'd. And Leodogran awoke, and sent
Ulfius, and Brastias and Bedivere,
Back to the court of Arthur answering yea
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The Coming of Arthur")

For now my repugnance to him had all melted away, and in the hunted wounded shackled creature who held my hand in his, I only saw a man who had meant to be my benefactor, and who had felt affectionately, gratefully, and generously towords me with great constancy through a series of years..."I will never stir from your side," said I, “when I am suffered to be near you. Please God, I will be as true to you as you have been to me!" (Great Expectations, pp. 415-416)

King Leodogran faces the dilemma of whether or not he should submit to Arthur's authority and join forces with him. The passage describes Leodogran's ambiguous dream, which begins with a vision that would seemingly dissuade anyone from allying with Arthur. Images of destruction, violence, and chaos intermingle with the representation of a “phantom king". All of this confusion is then succeeded by voices of protest claiming that some or other king is not legitimate. The dream changes dramatically, however, and Leodogran sees before him that “the king stood out in heaven, crown'd" (it is not entirely clear which king). Though Leodogran's dream indeed ends with a divinely chosen ruler, it is never clear who this king is or what the destructive part of the dream symbolizes. Nevertheless, Leodogran decides upon waking that he will send the message “yea" back to Arthur's court to form an alliance, despite the ambiguity of the dream. In portraying Leodogran's decision as such, Tennyson depicts the arbitrary means through which people make decisions about loyalty. Faith is apparently illogical. With In Memoriam, Tennyson develops this idea further by articulating that belief is entirely subjective.

In Pip's experience with Magwitch, Dickens explores a different facet of the motives which lead people to their allies. Not all of Pip's reasons for suddenly connecting with Magwitch appear logical or clear, but Magwitch's weakened physical and mental condition evidently play a large role. Up until this point in Great Expectations, Pip had needed Magwitch (mainly for his financial resources) in order to maintain his place in society. On the other hand, except for the early encounter when Pip feeds him, it is not evident that Magwitch depends on Pip (of course Magwitch proclaims that his reason for being was to make Pip a gentleman, but although we know throughout the book that Pip has a benefactor, we do not know until later the identity and motives of that person). When Magwitch becomes physically debilitated, and his freedom is taken from him once more, he now has an immediate need for Pip, who becomes his caretaker and advocate. Whereas Tennyson describes the irrational instincts behind human faith, Dickens emphasizes that human dependency serves as a major impetus.

The styles of passages are written prove central to their meaning. Dreams, while sometimes quite straight-forward, are often confusing, ambiguous, and quite illogical, as was Leodogran's. On the other hand, Pip's declaration of faith, which is based to an extent on reason, occurs while he is awake and in the midst of a startling incident (Compeyson's murder and Magwitch's apprehension).

Throughout the Victorian period, as Anthony S. Wohl points out, Liberal reforms shook parliament. The results of these reforms included ameliorated aid for the poor, the opening of government to Catholics and Jews, the opening of Oxford and Cambridge to Nonconformist students, and broader suffrage. The Reform Acts that expanded the electorate were rooted in widespread notions of social responsibility. In the spirit of these political changes, Pip reforms and recognizes his duties to an ailing Magwitch. Dickens emphasizes that responsibility to other human beings is based on need. Tennyson, on the other hand, believes that the decisions behind such relationships are subjective, a belief which in light of the contemporary political climate, seems to undermine this moral tendency of Victorian society.


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations Idylls of the King

Last modified 1996