CHARLOTTE BOYCE n the penultimate book of Tennyson's Idylls of the King, a novice at the convent to which Guinevere has flown following the discovery of her adultery recalls the festivities that accompanied the founding of Arthur's court: And in the hall itself was such a feast As never man had dreamed; for every knight Had whatsoever meat he longed for served By hands unseen; and . . . Down in the cellars merry bloated things Shouldered the spigot, straddling on the butts While the wine ran: so glad were spirits and men.1 This evocation of fantastic plenitude is countered, four hundred lines later, by Guinevere's pledge to confine herself within Almesbury convent's "narrowing nunnery-walls" and "fast with [the] fasts" of its inhabitants in penance for her sins (ll. 665, 672). Whereas Arthur's knights celebrated the founding of the Round Table with copious food and drink and unbridled displays of appetite, Guinevere, following the dissolution of this brotherhood, severely restricts her diet in order to signal Christian submission and the renunciation of her secular, bodily desires. Such contrasting patterns of consumption emerge repeatedly in Idylls and indicate one of the contemporary ideological concerns running through Tennyson's Arthurian epic:
Victorian Poetry – West Virginia University Press
Published: Jul 20, 2014
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