Blog Archives

A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘The Lady of Shalott’

Notes towards a commentary on Tennyson’s allegory

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-92) wrote two versions of ‘The Lady of Shalott’. Tennyson’s poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’ exists as both a 20-stanza poem published in 1832, and the revised version of 19 stanzas – which is the one readers are most familiar with – which was published in 1842. The poem, partly inspired by Arthurian legend (hence the presence of the knight, Lancelot) and partly by the epic sixteenth-century poem The Faerie Queene written by Edmund Spenser, remains popular, although the precise meaning of the poem remains elusive. So, a few words of analysis about this enchanting poem may help to clarify things.

The Lady of Shalott

Part I

On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the field the road runs by
To many-tower’d Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro’ the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
Flowing down to Camelot. Read the rest of this entry


Anthony Trollope’s The Fixed Period: Victorian Dystopia

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle examines a most unTrollopian Trollope novel

Anthony Trollope was a prolific writer. He wrote 47 novels, as well as numerous works of non-fiction including autobiography and travel writing. And he did much of this while holding down a job at the Post Office, by getting up at 5.3 0 every morning and writing 250 words every 15 minutes, pacing himself with a watch. (Clearly such industriousness ran in the family: Trollope’s mother, Frances Trollope, woke at 4 o’clock every morning and got her day’s writing finished in time to serve breakfast.) Not everyone was a fan of his work, which was considered too workmanlike for such an artful writer as Henry James. In response to the title of one of Trollope’s novels, Can You Forgive Her?, James is said to have quipped: ‘Yes, and forget her, too.’ Yet his novels of provincial life, British politics, and ecclesiastical scheming remain in print, with his Chronicles of Barsetshire and his Palliser novels still firm favourites with many readers.

The Fixed Period (1882), Trollope’s last novel, is an oddity among Trollope’s other works of social realism documenting contemporary life. Set in 1980 in the fictional republic of Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘Mariana’

On Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s early triumph

‘Mariana’ was Tennyson’s first great poem. Published in his 1830 volume Poems, Chiefly Lyrical when Tennyson was still an undergraduate student at Cambridge, it has become one of his best-loved poems and a timeless poem about unrequited love and the abandoned lover. Here is ‘Mariana’, followed by a few words of analysis about it.


‘Mariana in the Moated Grange’
(Shakespeare, Measure for Measure)

With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, ‘My life is dreary, Read the rest of this entry