Alfred, Lord Tennyson's In Memoriam, a lengthy elegy composed over seventeen years, is consistent with the concerns of England’s Victorian era in numerous ways. The interrelated social, political, and intellectual conditions are shown both in the subject matter and the literary techniques that Tennyson employs. These concerns include a preoccupation with death, a strong interest in the power of natural forces, and the increasingly conflictual relationship between science and religion.
Its overall purpose of memorializing a beloved friend and fellow writer is consistent with the Victorian attention to death and mourning. The recognition of loss and associated responsibility of the living to perpetuate the memory of the lost loved one were heightened in an age when disease was often fatal and England was engaging in numerous wars. Tennyson uses classical allusions, as did many other writers of his time, to evoke the spirit of the departed and claim his membership in the “cruel fellowship” of “sorrow.”
The role of Christian religion that is stressed in the poem is also Victorian in its concern. While Tennyson acknowledges the power of doubt to sway an individual from their correct course, he advocates “faith, and faith alone” as the most certain support in times of crisis.
Tennyson’s ambivalent attitude toward nature also fits with his age. In the early nineteenth century, Romantic poets such as Wordsworth idealized nature and prescribed it as a sure antidote to the blight of industrialization. By mid-century, however, this idealism had faded, and writers increasingly probed the destructive power of “Nature, red in tooth and claw.”
Parts of the poem also indicate Tennyson’s strong interest in science, especially geology, as he speculates about the solidity and durability of Earth. The ongoing strength of the rocks offers a contrast to the fragility of the beings that inhabit the world. Rather than reject religion, however, the poet returns often to his confidence in faith.