Prologue

1. What Victorian assumptions on women and female education reappear throughout the poem?

2. What is the effect of placing a medieval frame around the poem?

3. What are some significant features of the opening scene, with its gathering of different social classes and demonstration of technological innovations?

(The gathering of classes reflects a model of social harmony for the outer world; inset tale will present model of social harmony within the family.)

4. What are some implications of the choice of Sir Walter's family and the narrator as the poem's personae?

5. What are the first images of women which the poem presents?

6. What are some resemblances / differences between the styles of Shelley, Keats and Tennyson? What effect is created by Tennyson's long descriptions throughout?

7. What various forms of education are discussed or implied in the poem? What class distinctions in subject matter are maintained?

8. What are some implications of the imagery of the scene in which Ralph places Lilia's shawls and scarves on a statue of a warrior? (ll.100 ff.)

9. To what extent does the poem treat the theme of androgyny? (The image of the androgyne is important throughout the poem; Ida also may be seen as a warrior in women's clothing.)

10. Can the poem be seen as a meditation on fantastic mixtures, both ludicrous and attractive?

11. What are Lilia's ambitions? (ll. 127-38) How is she represented and described? What imagery is associated with her? (e. g. ll. 152-58, 165, etc.; tiny silken-sandalled foot, l. 149; daintily she shrieked, l.173; little trifling Lilias, l. 186)

What effect do such descriptions and her character have upon the poem?

12. How do others behave toward her?

13. What is Lilia's relationship to the events and characters of the main tale? (her behavior a trivialized version of Ida's; she asserts and then withdraws)

14. Does she favor co-education? Why do all the characters assume that men must be rigidly excluded from any women's college?

15. What approach does the first male speaker take, and is he typical? (ll. 139-48) Do the bystanders predict the invasion of the women's college? (ll. 139 ff. )

16. How do the young men's anecdotes anticipate elements of the later plot? (ll. 111ff.)

17. Is it significant that this tale is told in summer? (suggestions of marriage and fruition, l. 205)

18. What sexual roles are assumed in the choices of narrator and singers? (e. g., ll. 232-38) How does the fact that men tell the tale and women respond in songs affect our interpretation of the tale?

19. What will be the relation between the narrator and hero of the tale? Does the frame merge into the tale, and if so, how is this significant?

--frame collapses with the hint that the narrator may also be the hero, l.216; the Victorian reader is more readily able to identify with the protagonist.

20. What gender assumptions lie behind one of the young men's jokes about a homicidal female hero? (l. 219; male heroes don't kill women)

21. What are thematic and formal implications of the fact that the tale is described as a "medley"? (ll. 226 ff.; suggests unexpected plot elements and strange combinations of motifs and images--when successful these are quite original)

 

I

1. What are the characteristics and temperament of the hero? Does he seem a typical poetic hero?

2. What functions do the father and friend figures serve in the poem?

3. Is there any significance to the names, Psyche and Blanche? Who was Pallas Athena? (l. 219) How do the men choose their professors?

II

1. How does Tennyson describe the women's college? Which features and scenes does he especially emphasize?

2. Do you think this would have been an accurate description of a Victorian educational establishment for women?

3. What are some features of Ida's character and opinions?

4. How would Victorian readers have been expected to respond to the plot motif in which men enter the women's college in disguise? Do you think this plot element would be accepted in a present-day narrative?

5. What are some implications of the fact that the men are forced to don female garb?

6. How do the men choose their professors? What motif is imprinted on their scroll?

7. Are there moments in which this "medley" approaches burlesque?

8. What suggestions are made at this point by the interspersed songs?

9. Why do you think Tennyson emphasizes children and past memories in his songs rather than, for example, further celebrating sensual love? To what extent does he differ from or resemble the romantic poets in his emphasis on the marriage bond, married life, and children?

10. How does the poem use stars and astronomy?

11. How many of Psyche's opinions are/were currently used or argued by mid-Victorian and latter-day feminists? (ll. 109-64)

12. What significance does the threat of death to male intruders have in the plot?

13. What roles had Psyche served to Florian in the past? How do the men argue with her? What does Tennyson imply are the chief things male and female siblings may have in common?

14. What are Cyril's motivations for desiring Psyche? His opinions on the college? In your view, will he make a suitable husband for her?

15. How do the women decorate their college? What may their preoccupation with decoration imply?

III

1. How does the prince think Ida errs? After the men are discovered, how does Cyril buy off Lady Blanche, and what are we to think of this?

2. What is the significance of the prince's seizure in ll. 169-73? With what does Ida identify girlhood (ll. 201-206)?

3. Why does the prince think Ida should renounce her labors? Do his prophecies come true? (ll. 220-25) What does he assume concerning the nature of happiness? (ll. 228-29)

4. What are Ida's arguments against child-rearing? Are they weak? Can you think of several (for the Victorian period) which she ignores?

5. Why does Ida forbid dissection of corpses in her school? During this period what profession was barred to women on these grounds? What special skill has Ida learned?

6. Are Ida's geological pursuits related to any of her ideas?

7. What motifs and suggestions recur in several songs?

IV

1. Why does Ida dislike the song, "Tears, Idle Tears"? Does her attitude concerning the past differ from that of the author?

2. Is there any significance to the poem's constant seasonal and garden imagery?

3. Are Ida's objections to the swallow song valid? (ll. 114, 125-30) What kinds of songs does she prefer?

4. What silly event breaks everything up? Why does the prince attack Cyril? What is the women's first response? (ll. 159-71)

5. (on river rescue) Would better Victorian physical education programs for women have altered the plot at this momentous point? What skills and qualities eventually win Ida for the prince?

6. What is symbolized by the prince's seeing the Actaeon/Diana and Judith/Holofernes representations at this point?

Why do the men worry that Cyril and Psyche have eloped? How does Tennyson contrive to make the prince progressively more sympathetic?

7. How does the theme of military prowess (Lilia' song) harmonize with the plot? How has Lilia's attitude changed?

V

read ll. 98-103, 146-97, 255-58, 331-41, 361-402, 428-441, 452-56, Song.

1. What do Psyche and Ida have in common (of course)?

2. Would Tennyson agree with some of the old man's beliefs? What might have happened had the Prince won the battle and claimed Ida by force?

VI, ll. 81-111 (symbolism of prostrate lover carried to its ultimate), ll. 286-291, song.

1. After what Victorian war were women nurses idolized?

VII

1. What is the effect of hospital service on women? (ll. 8-13) On Ida? What emotion precedes her contented tending of the sick?

2. Do you feel Ida's final character change is plausible?

Conclusion

1. Do the poem's implausibilities of plot weaken its success, or is it a satisfactory or persuasive fantasy?

2. Tennyson's contemporary critics were disturbed by The Princess's use of the form of the medley, and the poem has been frequently charged with inconsistency of tone. Do you agree? Does its arrangement as a "medley" with songs provide for changes in emphasis and tone?

3. How successful is the poem's blending of motifs of evolution, sexuality, role reversal, sentiment and humor?

4. How does Tennyson judge Ida's past ambitions? Her future?

5. What is the significance of the final scene and song? Her final evaluations of her past effort? The prince's projections concerning the future? Pronoucements on marriage? (Motherhood motif, ll. 298-312, Victorian motif of romantic love which clarifies self-doubts, ll. 325-331 etc., 343-45).

6. What do you think this couple will do to promote the new society of wider views?

7. Do you see any relationship between Tennyson's political opinions in other contexts and his beliefs on marriage?

8.Though published in 1847, the poem had remained in Tennyson's mind since 1839, and was written during the years of his engagement to Emily Sellwood. Are there ways in which the poem may be seen as autobiographical?

9. An early title for the poem was "The University of Women"; do you think Tennyson was wise to change the title, and why?

10. What reformists on the topic of women and marriage might the young Tennyson have been aware of before the date of the publication of this poem? (In the 1830s Saint-Simonians and Owenites advocated an improvement in the position of women; the Saint-Simonians idolized the female, and looked for a female messiah.

11. Would you describe this poem as reformist, in the context of debates on women's education and gender roles of the time? Why do you think it appealed to many nineteenth-century feminists?

12. This poem was one of several long poems of its day on the topic of marriage--among them Coventry Patmore's The Angel in the House, A. H. Clough's The Bothie of Toper-na-fuosich, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh. What contemporary circumstances would have made this topic seem so compelling?

13. The Princess went through seventeen editions in the thirty years after its publication, and remained a popular poem for at least sixty years. How do you account for its appeal? What may have made it fall from favor in the late twentieth century?