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Victorian Medievalism

The Fallen Women of Tennyson's Camelot

Curated by Sarah W. Clausen

School of History, Archaeology and Religion

 

Exhibition case

 

 

1. Selections from Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, (c.1862)

Attributed to Sir R.R. Holmes, this illuminated manuscript has also appeared at the National Library of Art at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The hand-painted illumination is an exquisite example of moral aspiration couched in artistic opulence that typified Victorian medievalism.

 

Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, 1865 manuscript

 

 

2. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). The Lady of Shalott

‘Like some bold seer in a trance, seeing all his own mischance, with a glassy countenance did she look to Camelot’

This 19th century illuminated manuscript depicts the demise of the Lady of Shalott, brought about through her own agency. This Victorian motif hearkens back to the medieval past, signifying the conflict between feminine public and private roles.

 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). The Lady of Shalott

 

 

3. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). Vivien, (1868)

Illustrated by Gustave Doré (b. 1832, d. 1883).

This excerpt from Idylls of the Kings casts Vivien in the role of the female temptress, a popular medieval motif re-imagined in the Victorian age.

 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). Vivien, (1868)

 

 

4. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). The Idylls of the King, (1911)

Illustrated by Eleanor F. Brickdale.

Here, Vivien is depicted as ‘the wily woman, between elf and friend.’ Her sinuous figure positioned amidst wild environs reflects the volatility of the feminine disposition within the Victorian imagination.

 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). The Idylls of the King, (1911)

 

 

5. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). Tennyson’s Guinevere and other poems, (1912)

Illustrated by Florence Harrison.

‘The end is come, and I am sham’d for ever’, uttered Guinevere upon the discovery of her adulterous affair with Lancelot. Florence Harrison illustrates the conflict between morality and decadence that was deeply ingrained into the Victorian consciousness.

 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). Tennyson’s Guinevere and other poems, (1912)

 

 

6. Alfred, Lord Tennyson (b. 1809, d. 1892). Guinevere, (1868)

Illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Tennyson’s representation of Guinevere as a fallen woman demonstrates the Victorian penchant for using medieval entities as a mouthpiece for modern disquiet.