Tennyson’s nationalism
Epic and lyric in Idylls of the King
in Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’
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With Tennyson’s encouragement, Cameron illustrated the poet’s Idylls of the King in two volumes. The publication reimagined the poem: For each subject that she selected, Cameron juxtaposed her hand-written excerpt from the larger poem and reproduced her hand in lithography, creating a layout that faced her photographic depiction of the same scene. This chapter examines the publication history of the photographic volumes and compares her artistic approach to that of Gustave Dore, who produced an illustrated text of Tennyson’s Idylls during the same period, and whom she perceived as a competitor. In addition, this chapter explores Cameron’s relationship with her publishers, her mentor Tennyson, and her interest in using the new Autotype process, an early carbon based process. The chapter examines how Cameron destabilized Tennyson’s patriarchal narrative in order to counterbalance the poet’s demands for national rejuvenation with the moral guidance and “temperate qualities” of his female characters, arguing that Cameron intended to counterbalance Tennyson’s call for national rejuvenation with a feminized appeal to emphasize moral guidance and temperance over war and violence.

Julia Margaret Cameron’s ‘fancy subjects’

Photographic allegories of Victorian identity and empire

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