Publisher: Cambridge University Press
As Tennyson's “little Hamlet ,” Maud (1855) posits a speaker who, like Hamlet, confronts the ignominious fate of dead remains. Maud's speaker contemplates such remains as bone, hair, shell, and he experiences his world as one composed of hard inorganic matter, such things as rocks, gems, flint, stone, coal, and gold. While Maud's imagery of “stones, and hard substances” has been read as signifying the speaker's desire “unnaturally to harden himself into insensibility” (Killham 231, 235), I argue that these substances benefit from being read in the context of Tennyson's wider understanding of geological processes. Along with highlighting these materials, the text's imagery focuses on processes of fossilisation, while Maud's characters appear to be in the grip of an insidious petrification. Despite the preoccupation with geological materials and processes, the poem has received little critical attention in these terms. Dennis R. Dean, for example, whose Tennyson and Geology (1985) is still the most rigorous study of the sources of Tennyson's knowledge of geology, does not detect a geological register in the poem, arguing that by the time Tennyson began to write Maud, he was “relatively at ease with the geological world” (Dean 21). I argue, however, that Maud reveals that Tennyson was anything but “at ease” with geology. While In Memoriam (1851) wrestles with religious doubt that is both initiated, and, to some extent, alleviated by geological theories, it finally affirms the transcendence of spirit over matter. Maud, conversely, gravitates towards the ground, concerning itself with the corporal remains of life and with the agents of change that operate on all matter. Influenced by his reading of geology, and particularly Charles Lyell's provocative writings on the embedding and fossilisation of organic material in strata in his Principles of Geology (1830–33) volume 2, Tennyson's poem probes the taphonomic processes that result in the incorporation of dead remains and even living flesh into the geological system.
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