any of Tennyson's poems in In Memoriam written in reaction to the death of his friend Arthur Hallam deal with the subject of faith. In this particular passage, the speaker wrestles through despair and a loss of faith to come to an understanding. The poem begins, “I dreamed there would be Spring no more,/ That Nature's ancient power was lost:/ The streets were black with smoke and frost,/ They chattered trifles at the door." A feeling of hopelessness and being misunderstood pervades the poem until the angel appears and “looked upon my crown and smiled," the only one to understand. “He reached the glory of a hand,/ That seemed to touch it into leaf:/ The voice was not the voice of grief,/ The words were hard to understand." Although the speaker has grown so accustomed to grieving that he finds the angel's words hard to understand, the angel's presence takes away the thorns of his suffering, turning them instead into leaves.
There are several possible interpretations for this poem. The angel could be a messenger from God, who restores faith that Nature's ancient power is not lost and alleviates the speaker's pain, or the angel could represent the passage of time, which dulls the sharp pain of grief while preserving the memory of loss through the crown of leaves. Although the speaker does not know what to make of this transformation of the crown, he nonetheless demonstrates that he has not completely lost faith, attempting to understand the angel's words at the close of the poem.
Dickens deals less openly with the concept of faith in Great Expectations, although he seems to convey a certain skepticism towards organized religion. Dickens's attitude towards religion and towards faith seems to focus more on Pip's inability to understand and to move beyond the external representations of faith. While he describes Joe as a gentle Christian man, and says to Estella, “O God bless you, God forgive you!" (Dickens 378), Pip does not indulge in introspection about faith or religion. His childhood experiences of going to Church and his perceptions of the Church clerk, Mr. Wopsle, leave humorous, yet unfavorable, impressions. Perhaps Dickens's most obvious comment on religion comes in his comparison of religion to Mrs. Joe's brand of cleanliness. “Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable than dirt itself. Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and some people do the same by their religion." (Dickens 54). Although the outward manifestations of faith in Great Expectations receive a humorous and satirical treatment, faith does underlie Pip's dependence on outside forces controlling his life. In that manner, faith is a concept that Pip unknowingly subscribes to, yet does not understand.
The subject of In Memoriamis much more personal than Great Expectations, and the form that Tennyson chooses, the dramatic monologue, establishes a connection to the reader much more so than Dickens's form. The dramatic monologue addresses the reader directly, drawing the audience into the emotions while allowing the poet to maintain a distance from the emotions. The speaker's “I met with scoffs, I met with scorns," asks the reader not to scoff or scorn. In contrast, Dickens tells us Pip's story in a retrospective, descriptive narrative form that allows the reader to act merely as an observer to the scenes rather than as a participant.
Dickens's emphasis on the outer ideas of faith represents the popular moral sentiment of the time that the middle and upper classes, at least, should attend church once a week, but whether because of conviction or convention was difficult to tell. (Evans 81). Tennyson's more interior questioning of faith also reflected a movement of doubt and unbelief that came partly from the advance of science, biblical criticism, and splintering from the established church. (J.W. Burrow, “Faith, doubt, and unbelief," in The Victorians edited by L. Lerner, 153, 163).
Last modified 1996