‘Thousands of throbbing hearts' - Sentimentality and community in popular Victorian poetry: Longfellow's Evangeline and Tennyson's Enoch Arden
This essay explores the function of sentimentality in popular nineteenth-century narrative poetry by focusing on Tennyson's Enoch Arden and Longfellow's Evangeline, two poems that have suffered relative critical neglect due to their status as sentimental verse. It argues that both texts, in their stories of exile, alienation and eventual recuperation, set up their hero and heroine as role-models for ways of feeling and use them to examine the possibility of using personal feeling as a conduit for communal sentiment. While both poems deploy the standard tropes of Victorian sentimentality, the ambiguous conclusions of Enoch Arden and Evangeline , I argue, call into question the clichés of sentimental discourse. The fates of Enoch and of Evangeline offer, to some extent, a darker vision of the potential for sentimental responses to an individual's suffering to create feeling communities either within or without the poem.
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