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Civic subjects: Wordsworth, Tennyson, and the Victorian laureateship Open Access


Other title
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Ellison, Carmen E.
Supervisor and department
Sinnema, Peter W. (English and Film Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Kooistra, Lorraine Janzen (English)
Hamilton, Susan (English and Film Studies)
Lemire, Beverly (History and Classics)
Wiesenthal, Christine (English and Film Studies)
Department of English and Film Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Civic Subjects examines the ways in which poets laureate William Wordsworth and Alfred Tennyson negotiated the terrain between poetics and politics during the long reign of Queen Victoria – a period during which the monarchy was both contested (especially by popular republicanism) and in a state of transition. The first chapter traces important moments in the history of the office in Britain, both in order to establish the traditions handed down to Wordsworth and Tennyson and to clarify the office’s complex relationships to poetics, to reading publics, to the monarchy, and to the elected government. Despite the remarkable differences between the laureates examined, both have a common task: to balance the political claims of a monarchist institution against the responsibilities each feels to his own politics and poetics. Civic Subjects therefore examines circumstances where such negotiations become visible: Wordsworth’s insistently private laureate relationship with Queen Victoria; Tennyson’s early experiments in constructing a laureate voice in the Crimean War-era volume Maud, and Other Poems; and the role of Tennyson’s verse written to mark royal events (deaths, marriages, and anniversaries). Overall, Civic Subjects argues that the laureateship can illuminate both the contested power of poetry in public political life and the constant, sometimes violent, renegotiation of concepts of British citizenship. The structure of laureateship, wherein one poet is called upon to be a ventriloquist for the monarchy and for the people, simultaneously, makes legible the difficult ideological work of maintaining a coherent national narrative – especially during a period in which the role of monarchy in national life is repeatedly brought under fire, debates about the constitution of a proper political subjectivity are constantly embattled, and the poets laureate themselves hold strong views of their own on the politics of poetics.
License granted by Carmen Ellison ( on 2010-08-31T21:51:25Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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