Can anyone give me a very brief summary of "The Princess" by Alfred Lord Tennyson? I am home schooled and, as a result, I have no teacher to ask this question. I cannot seem to find a summary of...

Can anyone give me a very brief summary of "The Princess" by Alfred Lord Tennyson?

I am home schooled and, as a result, I have no teacher to ask this question. I cannot seem to find a summary of the poem on the internet. I have had a read through blocks of the poem as it is so long and I think that I have the general idea. However, I would like it if someone would confirm the overall story to me? Thank you

Jenny

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Often it is easy to underestimate the intelligence of Alfred Lord Tennyson due to the sheer beauty of his verse. The key to reading and understanding the poem is to realize that the most important issue here is not the fairly simple plot, but rather that Tennyson was very seriously trying to think through the issue of women's rights and education during a period when gender roles were rapidly evolving. Just as he tackled issues like species extinction, higher criticism of the Bible, and technological innovation (such as the railroad) in other poems, here he is trying to do what he considers the duty of the poet: To respond artistically to the great events, ideas, and upheavals of the world. 

The plot of "The Princess" is fairly simple. The Princess, Ida, wants to get the same education as is available to men, but she cannot attend the existing male-only educational institutions. She founds a woman's college. The Prince wants to marry her and slips into her college disguised as a woman. Through a few plot twists, the Prince leaves the college, is taken hostage, fights in a tournament to win the princess, is injured, and is then nursed back to health by Ida. 

Despite some situational comedy, the real issue that is tackled in the relationship is how love and gender will evolve in a world in which gender roles become less distinct. The happy resolution is not in an unequal marriage, the poem resolves when the Prince and Ida realize that the ideal marriage is one in which gender roles are not divided so that man and woman are each half a person with one having traditionally "masculine" characteristics and the other traditionally "feminine" ones; rather, both partners should share developed intellects and emotions and strengthen each other. 

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hi!

The context of the poem is the 19th century beginnings of the women's movement, the slow descent of the aristocratic rule and the also slow process of women gaining entrance and respect in the field of education.

In this poem, Tennyson uses the damsel in distress character to represent the princess, who has been bethroded to a Prince, and has lived her entire life within the walls of a gorgeous castle, and presumably has everything she needed to be happy. Yet, contrary to the expectations of her class, she wanted more than anything to be educated.

So, she went ahead and, in anger against the men who open colleges that women cannot attend, she opened a college for women to which men cannot attend. This sounded weird to her bethroded Prince, so he embarked on a mission of dissuading her and bringing her back.

The comedic part of the poem is that he and his knights had to dress like women to be able to enter the college to "save" the princess, and got discovered and beat down once found out.

In the end, the women help the men come back to health and the princess marries the prince. Basically, this was one of the very first pieces of literature written by a male which advocates in favor of the need for women to be educated.