Looking at the restoration of Farringford from a modern eye, Eve writes about her first impressions of the house. Connecting the life and family of Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight with his poetry and plays, which she has studied during her time at Trinity College Cambridge, Eve explores some of the artefacts, paintings and points of interest which, for her, have brought the house to life.
When I first came to Farringford I did not know what to expect. Knowing that it had once been a hotel, I didn’t anticipate there being much of the original atmosphere left, and, as an English Student much of what interested me about Tennyson was restricted to his poetry, What I knew principally of Tennyson’s life was concerned with his student days as a member of Trinity College Cambridge, where I study.
I was soon to be proven wrong, my first visit to Farringford was like getting to know Tennyson personally. Tennyson’s desk, Tennyson’s clothes, Tennyson’s paintings and even his eating habits (and love of apple pie) were vividly displayed and described.
When you visit Farringford you recognise in the house and the gardens, the order, the pattern, the repetition, and the occasional feeing of domesticity, present in Tennyson’s verse, such as his poem The Flower.
‘Then it grew so tall
It wore a crown of light,
But thieves from o'er the wall Stole the seed by night.
Sow'd it far and wide
By every town and tower, Till all the people cried, "Splendid is the flower!"’
Yet as you look out the drawing room window of the house towards the sea, or walk through the gardens towards the Downs you can see in them a wildness also reflected in Tennyson’s poetic style and subjects. Take the poem Break, Break, Break:
‘Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter The thoughts that arise in me.’
When I read Tennyson’s poetry before visiting Farringford, I saw these two alternate systems of thought, the wild and the domestic, as being in opposition in Tennyson’s poetry (what Christopher Rick’s in his biography Tennyson describes as his ‘divided impulses’). It was only after visiting the Estate that I understood that for Tennyson these two ways of life stood, not in opposition, but in a careful balance only possible in this place.
Visit the Trinity College Cambridge Library Blog for more information on Tennyson