Enoch Arden Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

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In ENOCH ARDEN, Tennyson relies on heavily adorned treatment of rather simple subjects. The plot as well is relatively straightforward: the problem of money or the lack of it accounts for much of the action. Enoch fears that his family will be reduced to a miserable existence because of their financial situation and Annie comes to know the misery of his fears when she has to face poverty alone when he goes to sea. Tennyson reaches the height of his power to evoke pathos and sentiment, however, in two scenes that balance each other. The first is at the beginning of the poem when Annie rejects the suit of Philip, the rich boy, for that of Enoch, the poor but noble fisherman. The second, which reverses the situations, comes near the conclusion: Enoch experiences Philip’s earlier deprivation after he returns from the sea to discover that he has lost his family and his wife. In both scenes, Tennyson is at his best; they are realistic, restrained, and lacking the sentimentality that characterizes the majority of the poem.

It was precisely this sentimentality, however, that Tennyson’s Victorian audience clamored for. Living in an age of emotional repression in which sentiment and feelings were to be masked by dedication and earnestness, the middle class looked in their literature for unabashed emotionalism. Sharing their need, Tennyson, along with Dickens, for example, supplied it unashamedly. ENOCH ARDEN possesses all the ingredients to supply the feelings his readers were seeking: the vivid contrast of rich and poor; the pain of unrequited love; the stoical man, Philip, unable to express his love; and, of course, the sufferings of children. But with all their demand for vicarious pain, the Victorians also needed to be reassured, and Tennyson, therefore, offered his bittersweet conclusion: the happiness of the new family is blessed by the dying husband.