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Clear Headed Friend,
This review is from: The Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson (Wordsworth Poetry Library) (Paperback)
On a recent expedition to a seldom visited corner of my bookshelves, I came across an ancient edition of Tennyson's poems, undated, since the flyleaf had been eaten by mice; and from the condition of the rest of the book, an ornate American edition, almost unread. The whole volume was a triumph of style over substance (or at least utility), ornate binding, small florid typeface, crammed into double columns on each page. No guidance or foreword, only indices of titles and first lines!
What a contast in the modern Wordsworth edition, where even the poem, printed facing the title page("Crossing the Bar") has a brief note placing it in context!
As a social historian manque, and someone who cannot appreciate a work of art without a context, I found this book a useful revelation. The introduction by Karen Hodder, is informed and comprehensive, and accessible without talking down to the reader. It does not shirk from using the occasional long word, but it is not more demanding than the works it introduces. Both she, and the publisher are to be congratulated on eschewing the blight of the academic book - the footnote, a distraction in small print, especially when longer than the main text, and spilling across pages, in favour of "Headnotes", which naturally are read before the accompanying poem. My prayer is that the notes are not so good that they will make reading the actual poems superfluous to todays spoon-fed scholar of short attention span!
There is a story told about Tennyson, who was sitting at a dinner party, next to a young lady, who eagerly anicipated an evening of witty repartee from the literary lion. She was, alas, disappointed. The poet spoke only twice - once to complain to his companion "Madam, your stays creak" (at the soup course); and over the desert "Madam, I apologise, it is not your stays, it is my braces"!
I am glad to say that none of Ms Hodder's (literary) apparatus creaks!