Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

public and private losses

I'm thinking a little about how we memorialize public figures--and private losses--these days, having spent last week teaching Tennyson's In Memoriam A.H.H.. Ericka Lutz navigated that public/private divide beautifully in her column about her grandmother, Tillie Olsen (also memorialized as a more public figure on the LiteraryMama blog, by Marjorie Osterhout). Would Tennyson have used pictures, if he'd been writing for Hallam today? I think he might have blogged, publishing fragments of his mourning at a time, though perhaps not. [edited to add: or maybe a hypertext?] It took him 17 years to write In Memoriam; a young man when he died, Hallam would have been 40 by the time Tennyson published his elegy. Would it have had more impact in fragments, in pieces as they came out, or less? Did Tennyson share them along the way, getting comments from family and friends? The poem reads as if he did, as if he were responding to his critics when he incorporates their voices, like comments: "He loves to make parade of pain,/That with his piping he may gain/The praise that comes with constancy.'"

Tennyson lets the comments stand, but finally moves beyond private grief to public accountability and hope: "Ring out a slowly dying cause,/And ancient forms of party strife...Ring out false pride in place and blood,The civic slander and the spite;/Ring in the love of truth and right,/Ring in the common love of good."

We're not there yet, over 150 years later. But those words are just as good a memorial to Molly Ivins as any, I think.

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