That I had a fever and was avoided, that I suffered greatly, that I often lost my reason, that the time seemed interminable, that I confounded impossible existences with my own identity... That I sometimes struggled with real people, in the belief they were murderers, and that I would all at once comprehend that they meant to do me good, and suffer them to lay me down, I also knew at the time. But above all, I knew there was a constant tendency in these people... sooner or later, to settle down into the likeness of Joe. (Great Expectations, 430)

Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam , 1850, presents many facets of a man's rationalizing the death of a very close friend. At points, utter hopelessness saturates the writing, creating a mournful dirge-like style. Dickens, although much departed from poetic and lyrical tendencies, handles the death of Pip's benefactor Magwitch in a echo of that sentiment. Tennyson describes a barren, industrial landscape where it “would be Spring no more," where “The streets were black with smoke and frost," where even nature becomes “a wood with thorny boughs." When the narrator dons a crown of thorns, he too must undergo the humiliation of Christ as he meets with “scoffs... with scorns... called... in the public squares / The fool that wears a crown of thorns." The world, though darkened by despair attains a beautiful illustration, and climaxes to a religious reformulation. Tennyson achieves lyrical quality with the rhyme scheme (a,b,b,a), sensible physical movement of the narrator (from the streets to the wood to the public squares), and repetition of sentence structure and images ("I wandered," “I wore," “I met").

Pip's world also becomes transformed, but it does so by the delirium of illness as well asby despair. His reason is lost, his sense of time dissipates, his identity splits, his vision of people turn them into would-be murderers. Not surprisingly, the phases of his sickness are also related in repeated sentence structures and with sensible progression. Both passages reach a climax with the entrance of a figure: with Tennyson, “an angel of the night," and with Dickens, Joe. Both offer some semblance of hope, as for Tennyson, “the look was bright... The voice was not the voice of grief." And for Pip, the strange dilated faces had a constant tendency to eventually settled down into the likeness of Joe. However, full relief from the mourning does not come from these figures (as of yet). The angel's words for Tennyson, “were hard to understand," while Pip has no real assurance that Joe is indeed there. Both passages, in actuality, relate to a religious crisis felt during the Victorian period, wherein “human beings hunger for a understanding of why things are as they are," such as why a good friend had to die or why a benefactor had to be recaptured and consumed by the judicial system.

In Memoriam

Last modified 1996