What are the narrative techniques used by Tennyson in Mariana

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Mariana, follows the story of a jilted woman from Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.” The epigraph of the poem “Mariana in the moted grange” is taken from a reference of this play, and the narrative techniqueswithin the poem combined with the context of the isolation of the character give us an insight into the melancholy that not only the character of Mariana feels, but perhaps also Tennyson himself. Arguably the most prominent narrative technique used by Tennyson is the imagery within the powm which is an outward manifestation of Mariana’s inward melancholy.

The monotonous “glooming flats” outside of her house reflect her life; she is going nowhere now that she has been jilted and apparently has no wish to! In addition to this, images of isolation prevail throughout the poem, “The lonely moated grange”. This further adds to the belief that Mariana is cut off from the vibrancy of human life. Tennyson is particularly clever with this narrative technique; giving the description of an inanimate object, such as the “moated grange” using an human emotion, it allows the reader to reflect this feeling onto the character of Mariana, which further gives insight to the solitude that her character is feeling.

The imagery throughout is of vital importance, due to the fact that we learn nothing of the physical appearance of her, yet the bleak desolation of the landscape which she lives in allows the reader to project this image onto her character and gives an insight towards the inner turmoil and isolation that the character is feeling. In addition, the image of decay is one of the most obvious forms of imagery throughout, and further reflects the fact that Mariana’s life is wasting away waiting for a man. . The quotation:

“With blackest moss the flower plots,
Were thickly crusted one and all.”

suggests the idea that the melancholy Mariana has been feeling has not been a short term thing. The fact that the usually green moss has turned black raises the question that Mariana may be wallowing, and perhaps even enjoying her melancholy, due to the fact that it highlights the amount of time she has been in such a state. This quotation further shows the contrast between what her life could have been, and how she is living now. The mention of “flower-plots” indicates that her life could have been flourishing and filled with colour, if she allowed it to be so, yet it is simply dark and bleak. This imagery of colour is entwined throughout the verses, with consistent references to “blacken’d waters” and “the rounding gray”.

A startling piece of imagery which contrasts this darkness is the “poplar tree” with “silver green…gnarled bark” This is a dominant image throughout the poem, and has been interpreted to be a phallic image of the man who abandoned Mariana, and is continuing to haunt her life even after he has left. This interestingly reflects the attitudes of the time. Throughout Tennyson’s poetry there are examples of feminism, and critique of the attitudes towards woman at the time. This reflects the Victorian idea that a woman can only be complete with a man in her life, and the life of a woman without a husband is “dreary”.

The sheer melancholy within the poem could perhaps be a further jibe from Tennyson about society at this time, indicating that he believes that the idea that women should live like Mariana if they don’t have a husband is utter nonsense. A further technique used by Tennyson to tell the story within “Mariana” is the use of the structure. The verse structure “abab cddc efef” is almost encircling, with the central quatrain having a rhyming couplet in the middle, such as

“And wild winds bound within their cell,
The shadow of the poplar fell”

This emphasises the psychological constraints of Mariana’s depression and depicts further the stasis of her life. The couplet in the middle is trapped, unable to escape due to the constraining verses, which clearly reflects the attitude that Mariana has to life. In addition to this, the verse form is unique to Tenyson and does not follow the traditional verse forms of other poetry, further adding to the idea that Mariana feels alone in life, and that there is nobody that is able to sympathise with her situation. Tennyson uses other language techniques such as onomatopoeia develop the story of “Mariana”, and is further used to reflect her character. The most brilliant example of this is;

“The doors upon their hinges creak’d;
The blue fly sung in the pane; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shriek’d”

The density of the onomatopoeia within this section suggests nightmarish and crazy sounds, and screams of despair, and create, as Ebbatson phrased “a landscape of inertia and loss”, which correlates with the emotions of the character. Furthermore, this quotation offers a stark contrast to the rest of the poem. Tennyson uses powerful words such as “shriek’d” and “creak’d” which are a harsh difference to the rest of the poem, which is mainly compiled of inactive verbs such as “fell”. The abundance of inactive verbs throughout the poem further reflects Mariana’s idleness, and really emphasises the onomatopoeia within this verse to reflect the dramatic sounds made from outside. Pathetic fallacy is a further narrative technique;

“And wild winds bound within their cell,”

This is another example of the way Tennyson uses the surroundings to reflect character; Mariana’s consciousness is really a wild wind, but she chooses to keep it imprisoned and “trapped within their cell”, adding to the perception that she is actually enjoying her melancholy. The alliteration of “wild winds” consequently accentuates the mayhem of her consciousness, and gives the reader further insight into the character. A final technique used by Tennyson is repetition, which is present throughout the poe,. Perhaps the most obvious form of repetition is the refrain, which is repeated at the end of each verse;

“She only said, ‘My life is dreary
He cometh not’ she said:
She said, ‘I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

The fact that this is at the end of it gives an insight into the monotony of Mariana’s life, yet it also has an effect of creating annoyance towards the character of Mariana. Evidently as this is the only thing that she can say, it may appear that she is wallowing in her sadness, and further adds to the impression that Tennyson gives off throughout the poem about the feminist aspect. The use of direct speech within this refrain is the only part in the poem where we get a direct view of Mariana. It is therefore more immediate than the rest of the devices used to describe her character in the poem, and could perhaps evoke sympathy. However, it is not only the refrain which is repeated.

The repetition of feminine rhymes such as “dreary/aweary” reflect the feminine nature of the character, and the drawn out nature of these words and the unstressed syllable at the end reflect the languorous nature of the poem and create an effect of infinite weariness. Furthermore, the dramatic change of the final two lines of the refrain in the last stanza offers perhaps the only change to the stasis of the poem, which is a further narrative technique, and the final line “Oh God that I were dead!” shows that Mariana has come to the decision that she is fed up of living a lfe of shadows and nothingness.

In summary, Tennyson uses an abundance of narrative techniques to tell the story of Mariana. Whilst it is essentially a poem of stasis, the methods such as imagery and repetition cleverly give the reader a deeper insight into the character featured in the poem, and have an interesting message about Victorian society concealed within them.

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