In this section of In Memoriam that contains Tennyson's nightmare vision, despair fills the narrator as he struggles to believe. Using a dream, Tennyson creates a powerful image that parallels the crucifixion of Christ. The narrator, ironically, is a sort of Christ-figure as he meets with "scoffs" and "scorns" while wearing his "civic crown" of thorns. Moreover, a melodic tone hints at an underlying note of despair. The use of anaphora, with the word "I", in the second stanza that carries into the first helps to depict this melodic almost droning tone. Tennyson also paints a picture of an urban "wasteland" where the 'streets were black with smoke and frost" that helps to exude this feeling of despair. At one point, when the "angel of the night" appears there is a sudden sense of hope, but this sense of hope dissipates when the narrator finds that "the words were hard to understand." These incomprehensible words contain a message not of "grief" but possibly of hope.
Despair also fills Jane when she flees Thornfield after learning that Mr. Rochester has a wife, as Jane struggles to believe. However unlike the narrator in In Memoriam, Jane finds her faith and sense of hope. The wilderness envelopes Jane as she struggles with sleep
My rest might have been blissful enough, only a sad heart broke it. It plained of its gaping wounds, its inward bleeding, its riven chords...Worn out by this torture of thought, I rose to my knees...I felt the might and strength of God. Sure was I of His efficiency to save what He had made: convinced I grew that neither earth should perish nor one of the souls it treasured....I turned my prayer to thanksgiving...I again nestled to the breast of the hill; and ere long, in sleep, forgot sorrow. (285)
Unlike the narrator in In Memoriam, Jane finds peace and a sense of hope in her faith. Whereas in Tennyson's poem, the narrator's dream, reflects his state of mind and it is in this dream where the narrator struggles to resolve his sense of despair. In Bronte's novel, Jane resolves her sense of despair. The dream in the poem with its many patchwork images create of sense of distance while the Jane's real-life action of praying confronts the situation.
The wasteland image of the urban landscape in the poem, unlike the setting of the rural countryside in the novel, emphasizes the sense of despair. With this transformation of technology came the transformation of the countryside. The "wooded hills of Yorkshire and Wales" almost overnight became "roaring crowded cities." Few became rich while the masses remained poor and a sense of despair permeated their daily lives. Therefore, a Victorian identifies the image of the urban landscape with despair, whereas the rural landscape will not have the same powerful effect.
Last modified May 1994