• Jean-Marie Sherry

Student thesis: Phd


This research analyses 72 unpublished, handwritten poems and condolence letters written to the family of Poet Laureate Alfred Lord Tennyson in response to his death on the 6th October 1892. This body of English-language 'death correspondence' was written by 52 people, mainly from the working- and middle-classes of the British Victorian public. Through my transcription and analysis of these original documents, for what I believe to be the first time in 130 years, this thesis asks: how did working- and middle-class poets commemorate Tennyson through the written form? What does their writing tell us about late-nineteenth-century British mourning culture? What does condolence correspondence from the late-Victorian, English-speaking public to Tennyson's family reveal about literacy, class, community, and family at the nineteenth century fin de siecle? Chapter one analyses the social and legal forces that impacted upon nineteenth century literacy and education, and the varying access to formal education that was available to the poor and working-class communities. This chapter then argues that Tennyson's celebrity death provided a unique impetus for ordinary people to write poetry, and evoked anxieties relating to their perceptions of dying traditions, perishing moralities, and notions of belonging and nation. Chapter two argues that a sub-group of these death correspondents 'individualised' their responses to Tennyson's death, often by appropriating Tennyson as kin. I argue that correspondents constructed idealised notions of marital roles and 'queenly widows' to demonstrate their deference to cultural traditions and class divisions, while simultaneously bridging class delineations through the self-same acts of writing. Chapter three argues that 'communal mourners', another sub-group of the death correspondents, drew upon literary, biblical, and newspaper references to inform their correspondence, often representing themselves as part of an extended, non-kin cultural family or an 'emotional community'. In particular, this chapter argues that these writers employed influences from their social groups and newspapers, literature, and oral traditions to devise the Poet Laureate as a communal 'Father Tennyson', with clear connotations of Tennyson as a moral guide or teacher.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMichael Sanders (Supervisor) & Hal Gladfelder (Supervisor)


  • death
  • culture
  • mourning
  • grief
  • poet laureate
  • letters
  • fin de siecle
  • 19th century
  • history
  • family
  • community
  • women
  • poetry
  • working class
  • Tennyson
  • Victorian

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