Decorative Initial M orte d'Arthur," the earlier version of "The Passing" which Tennyson published in 1842, had employed a more awkward, self-conscious frame. According to his recent editor Chrisopher Ricks, the trial version of the poem appeared without any such device, but when the poet published his Arthurian piece he added a fifty-one line introduction set in Victorian England. This introduction, "The Epic," tells how "At Francis Allen's on the Christmas-eve" the narrator listens to his friend recite the fragment of an Arthurian tale which he had written and then burned because he believed it unsuitable for what Matthew Arnold would term "an iron time." By stating objections to the use of Arthurian legends beforehand, Tennyson attempts to use the ancient rhetorical refutatio to anticipate and hence weaken opposition. But the very self-consciousness of this strategy unfortunately does more harm than good, and when Tennyson published his modified version of the poem as "The Passing of Arthur" in 1869, the existence of the other sections of The Idylls now permitted him to avoid this problem by making Bedivere the narrator. Tennyson also uses this device, well known to readers of fantasy, satire, and utopian fiction, in "The Day Dream ," and within The Idylls "The Holy Grail" similarly employs it with particular effectiveness. Percival's narrating the visionary quests to Ambrosius superbly sets off this section's magical, often surrealistic experiences from the world of everyday expectations.


[This lexia has been adapted from George P. Landow, "Closing the Frame: Having Faith and Keeping Faith in Tennyson's 'The Passing of Arthur.'" Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 56 (1974), 423 — 42.]

Last modified 30 November 2004