In Memoriam: Reinvention of Faith for the Scientific Age?

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In Memoriam is an elegy to Tennyson's friend Arthur Hallam, but bears the hallmark of its mid

nineteenth century context – "the locus classicus of the science-and-religion debate."

Upon reflection, Hallam's tragic death has proved to be an event that provoked Tennyson's

embarkation upon a much more ambitious poetic project than conventional Miltonian elegy,

involving meditation upon the profoundest questions faced by mankind. Scientific

advancements, most notably in the fields of geology and biology, challenged the beliefs that

form the foundation of Christianity: the belief in a beneficent God responsible for creation and

ensuing superintendence and the belief in man's immortal soul. By the mid nineteenth century

apologist arguments such as those of William Paley could no longer convincingly reconcile

science and faith. In Memoriam stands as a work that truly represents the anxieties within the

Victorian mind. Queen Victoria once remarked that In Memoriam was her closest consolation,

after the bible, following her husband's death. This essay charts the consoling properties of In

Memoriam and interrogates the notion of Tennyson as a reinventor of faith for the troubling

scientific age.

There is a consensus among critics, such as Matthes and Willey, that Lyell's Principles of

Geology provoked much of Tennyson's troubling religious doubts that were to be

compounded when his dearest friend was robbed from him. Lyell made no explicit challenge

to Christian scripture (and indeed made attempts in his work to ensure readers did not

interpret his work as such), but his assertion that the Earth's landscape was shaped by an

extremely long and gradual process of weathering presupposed a much greater age for the

Earth than was allowed for in biblical chronology. Essentially Lyell's theories questioned the

Christian belief in Divine creation of the Earth over a period of seven days. Lyell's



Bibliography: Baldick, Chris: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) Brooke, Stopford A: Tennyson: His Art and Relation to Modern Life (London: Ibister and Company Limited, 1894) Hunt, John (ed.) Tennyson: In Memoriam: A casebook (London: Macmillan, 1970) Mattes, Eleanor Bustin: In Memoriam: The Way of a Soul (New York: Exposition Press, 1951) Moi, Torl: Sexual Textual Politics (London: Routledge, 1995) Willey, Basil: More Nineteenth Century Studies (London: Chatto and Windus, 1956)

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