David M.'s Reviews > Idylls of the King

Idylls of the King by Alfred Tennyson
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's review
Apr 22, 2011

it was amazing
Read from April 22 to 27, 2011

There are certain books, or authors, that don't hold up to modern political correctness. Mark Twain is one of them; Huckleberry Finn is constantly under threat to be banned from American schools. Robert E. Howard's protagonists routinely face villains who embody the worst of early twentieth century stereotypes. But Tennyson, in Idylls of the King comes under fire for his female characters in his series of epic poems concerning King Arthur and his valorous knights. What is not generally kept in mind, is that his source is a 15th century nobleman who was serving time in prison for many crimes, one of which was rape. Tennyson might not have had to rub it in, but that's the time where Arthur comes from, where women had two roles: Mary or Eve. If a woman wasn't a nun, then she was sinful.

Another facet of this story that seems to be overlooked is that Arthur is not a likable character. When Arthur establishes the court of Camelot, he brings to himself men he believes shares his vision of women adoration, idyllic sporting, and the occasional quest. Some knights do hold to this life, but others, like Tristram and Guinevere, are human beings; it's unreasonable for a saint to hold all to his own morals. Arthur's reproach of Guinevere shows that he married her to win a crown, not to love her like the flesh and blood woman that she was. It's only when he's dying does he wonder that it might not be possible for all to live like him.

Despite personal views on whether or not Tennyson hated women like no other person, this is an exceptional take on the Arthurian legend, and the Penguin addition contains interesting notes compiled from not just Tennyson, but the author's son as well. Highly reccomended!

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