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Defending the Indefensible: Morris, Tennyson and Arthur’s Adulterous Queen

Susan Mooney

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Published Date:

January 2023


William Morris, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King, 'The Defence of Guenevere', Victorian Poetry, Gender Relations


This article looks at William Morris’s early poem ‘The Defence of Guenevere’, highlighting Morris’s sympathetic approach to Guenevere’s illicit love, and comparing it with Tennyson’s more conventional treatment of the queen’s adultery, written in the same year, 1857. At a time when British society was sharply focused on female immorality, Tennyson upheld social norms and expectations, while Morris radically undermined the tropes on which the idea of the immoral woman depended. Rather than arguing for her innocence or guilt, Morris asks us to make a paradigm shift in thinking about morality. He disregards the relevance of fidelity or duty to Arthur, focusing instead on Guenevere’s ‘faithfulness’ to her true self and to love.

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55 - 72

Date of Publication:

January 2023

About the author

Susan Mooney

Susan Mooney is an independent scholar with a particular interest in nineteenth-century British literature, art and culture. Her doctoral thesis, ‘William Morris: Illuminating a Life’ (University of Melbourne), focused on autobiography in the poetry and writings of William Morris, and she has published several articles on Morris’s life and work. She lives in Central Victoria, Australia.

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