What are the features of Victorian period poetry, especially pertaining to Tennyson and Browning?
While Victorian interest in medievalism does depart from Romantic poetry, it cannot be overlooked that Romantics, such as Keats and Coleridge, did use medieval themes in their poetry. For examples of this see “La Belle Dame Sans Merci,” “Christabel,” or “The Eve of St. Agnes.”
The Victorian interest in science and technology is one characteristic of the Victorian age and Victorian poetry. The Victorians, for instance, invented the modern idea of invention, meaning that the Victorians came up with the notion that an individual can create solutions to problems. In other words, the Victorians, believed that the individual could create new means of bettering the self and the environment.
This leads to what is, perhaps, the defining feature of the Victorian age: social responsibility. This is the basic attitude that differentiates the Victorians from their immediate predecessors, the Romantics. Tennyson, for example, traveled to Spain to help the insurgents, as Byron had gone to Greece and Wordsworth to France. Tennyson, unlike Byron and Wordsworth, would also posit the need to educate the poor. Tennyson, like Dickens, would write to promulgate a need for larger social responsibility on the part of the middle and upper classes.
In terms of religion, the Victorians experienced a great age of doubt. This was the first age that called institutional Christianity into question on such a large scale. In literature and the visual arts, the Victorians worked to combine Romantic emphases on self, emotion, and imagination with Neoclassical features that called upon the public role of art and a corollary responsibility of the artist.
Tennyson was a public and a nationalistic figure for the Victorians. As poet laureate, he readily accepted the mores of his day. His poetry willingly conformed to popular taste, and he wrote poetry that was easily understood and enjoyed. This contrasts Robert Browning, whose poetry was rejected by the Victorians. Interestingly, the poetry of Robert Browning’s wife – Elizabeth Barrett Browning – was readily accepted and enjoyed by the Victorians. Tennyson utilized medieval themes – as in poetry such as “The Lady of Shalott” – classical themes – as noted in “Ulysses” and “The Lotus Eaters” – and even wrote personal elegy – such as “In Memoriam.”
Robert Browning’s themes varied. He wrote of art as prophecy in “Fra Lippo Lippi,” psychology in “Childe Roland,” and the pursuit of wealth in “The Bishop Orders his Tomb at Saint Praxed’s Church.”
Some characteristics, or features, of Victorian poetry move poetry away from the Romantic era poets. One such characteristic, or feature, is the Victorian interest in Medieval legends, myths and fables over the classical legends and mythology embraced by the preceding Romantic poets. Another is a more realistic and less idealized view of nature, for instance nature's "red claws" are as likely to show as her woolly lambs. Another is a change of emphasis on what types of common people and common language is emphasized in poetry: whereas for Romantics it was the country rustic, for the Victorians it is more often the common urban dweller.
Tennyson's poems featured spiritual lessons wrapped in Medieval traditions as in "The Lady of Shallot." His symbolism led directly to pictures of humankind's condition and were not emblematic, that is not symbolically drawing similarities between nature and humankind's condition. Browning emphasized tales related to common urban people who had uncommon psychological dilemmas, like in"Porphyria's Lover," that were resolved in uncommon ways--not many people strangle their beloved with their own locks of hair. Browning was the master at developing the psychological shadings of his poetic characters in dramatic monologues as in "My Last Duchess."