"Wandering between two worlds": Poetry as a stabilizing force in the Victorian crisis of faith
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The context of this analysis is the religious climate of the Victorian era, specifically the tension between traditional religion and modern natural science and philosophy, and the resulting narratives of crises of faith in the literature of the era. In my research on this context, I often found aspects of duality, which eventually resulted in the framework of duality and tension between opposing forces that this thesis builds on. Central to this framework is the idea of the Victorian era as an age of transition characterized by the tension between destruction and reconstruction. This thesis centers on my analyses of three Victorian poems that I consider representations of the religious climate of their time: “Stanzas of the Grande Chartreuse” by Matthew Arnold, Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam, and The City of Dreadful Night by James Thomson. My analyses of these poems rely on two main ideas. First, I explore how the poems, through their interplay between opposing forces, are part of the Victorian crisis-of-faith discourse, and what solutions the poems may suggest to that crisis. Secondly, I inquire into the role and purpose of poetry in this historical and literary context, and discuss the idea of poetry as a stabilizing force in a time of change, an idea represented both explicitly and implicitly in the three poems. I argue that the stabilizing property of poetry, is its function as an arena for voicing doubt and pain, but also for exploring and searching for the new certainties which the Victorians had yet to find in their contemporary society. Thus, poetry may play a key role in escaping the limbo of living between two worlds, in solving a crisis of faith, and in uniting isolated and alienated individuals.