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Tennyson's Balin and Balan as the reconciliation of the divided self: a new reading of the final Idylls of the King

University of Iowa
Publication Date
  • Poetry
  • Tennyson
  • Literature
  • Psychology


According to his younger brother Arthur, Alfred Tennyson's announced at an early age, "I mean to be famous." His poetry had from the beginning, in his own mind, a public dimension. The necessary consequence of being a "great poet," however, with its Laureate responsibilities and, for his time, unparalleled fame, was, according to later critical consensus, a vitiating self-division. Henry James famously found, to his great disappointment, that Tennyson the man was not sufficiently "Tennysonian." The tension is probably most explicit in the Idylls of the King, in which critics have often felt that Tennyson moves uneasily between public epic and private "psychodrama." Within the Idylls, it is most evident in the last three to be written, The Last Tournament, Gareth and Lynette, and in particular Balin and Balan (not published until 1885). It may be, however, that a more nuanced contextual reading of these final Idylls will yield a different story and a different resolution, one in which Balin and Balan emerges as the ultimate psychological resolution of the cycle as a whole.

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