Madame Tussaud Novel and In Memoriam Poem
In Memoriam is a series of poems composed by Alfred Lord Tennyson over a period of seventeen years (1833-1849). The poems describe emotional experiences of the narrator after the death of his close friend, Arthur Hallam. They describe Tennyson’s grief over the death of Hallam and the impact that the grief has on his life (Hass, Jasper & Jay, 2007). Tennyson expresses his emotional experiences in various stages of grief, his perceptions and responses to various issues and his strategies to overcome the grief. The key elements that are explicit in the series of poems are Tennyson’s grief over Hallam’s death, his battle with religious doubts and his philosophical view of nature (Williams, 2012). The series of poems has 133 cantos (stanzas). In Memoriam has influenced numerous writers for over one and half decade. Among the recent writings influenced by the poem is Madame Tussaud: A novel of the french revolution by Michelle Moran that was released in 2011. This examines features that are common in both the poem and the novel.
Although Madame Tussaud and In Memoriam focus on different issues, the writer of Madame Tussaud could have borrowed some ideas from In Memoriam. Clearly, both In Memoriam and Madame Tussaud are based on autobiography stories that are less fictional. In In Memoriam, Tennyson records an autobiography process about his own experiences after the death of his Hallam. Tennyson was influenced by a real issue that had occurred before. Hallam, one of Tennyson’s best friends died suddenly in 1833 while travelling through Europe. The experience of Tennyson after the death of Hallam formed the basis for the work. In the beginning, Tennyson shows how he is suffering from grief after learning about the death of Hallam. He finds it hard to accept that Hallam is dead (Tennyson, 2006). After realizing that the grief has a great negative effect on his life, he decides to downplay the experience by relating it to the negative experiences that other people go through every day. He also dismisses the negative experience as normal. However, he finds that he is still experiencing stress. He decides to seek resolution in Christianity. He tries to find answer to his problem from the bible, in the New Testament (Tennyson, 2006).
However, he does not get a definite answer. As a result, he starts doubting Christianity. He wonders how God can let mankind suffer, yet He is said to be good and powerful. He wonders about the purpose of life and finds nature to have a wasteful appearance (Tennyson, 2006). As a result, he becomes quite distressed and sad. He starts to view things from a philosophical point of view. Eventually, he decides to stick to the Christian faith and believes in the idea of eternal life after death. He believes that he will meet with Hallam after his own death. He accepts the situation and decides not to isolate himself from other people. He eventually marries and starts focusing on developing his own life. Generally, In Memoriam reflects Tennyson’s real traumatic experience after the death of Hallam (Tennyson, 2006).
Similarly, Madame Tussaud presents an autobiography that is based on a real story of Marie Tussaud. The year is 1788 and a French revolution is about to start. Marie Tussaud, a young and ambitious young, has been working with her uncle in a wax medium called Salon de Cire and has just learnt how to use wax to make sculptors. She uses her skills to create sculptures that communicate current issues to Parisians (Moran, 2011). She communicates latest issues on politics, gossip and fashion. Her work attracts different segments of the Parisian population but she aims to attract the attention of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. She believes that the approval of the two can help to catapult the museum and her work to fame and riches. As she waits to achieve her dreams, she learns that the loyal family is planning to visit the museum. After they arrive, they are highly impressed by her work. The king’s sister invites her to Versailles to teach Princess Élisabeth about wax sculpting. In response to the request, she changes her plans to visit her friend, Henri Charles, and her beloved salon (Moran, 2011). As she gets to know Princesse Élisabeth, she is also introduced to the king and queen. She finds the life there to be quite different from her life back home. She finds that the royal family and their friends are living a lavish life whereas people back home at Boulevard du Temple are suffering from poverty to the extent that they are selling their teeth to get money for food.
Meanwhile, a lot of people resent the huge gap existing between the poor and the rich. In cafes and salons, people like Maximilien Robespierre, Jean-Paul Marat and Camille Desmoulins are influencing people to lash out against the monarchy (Moran, 2011). As the talk against the monarchy increases, people start planning a revolution. People start being executed by guillotine on ridiculous charges. Marie is put on the list of traitors due to her relationship with the loyal family. She is among those who are going to be sentenced to death but the revolutionaries allow her to live on the condition that she uses her skills to make death masks of leaders who have been beheaded (Moran, 2011)
Secondly, Madame Tussaud and In Memoriam describe emotional experiences. In Memoriam describes Tennyson’s emotional experiences during the grieving period whereas Madame Tussaud describes emotional experience of Marie Tussaud during a turbulent period. Tennyson experiences great shock after the death of Hallam which later translates into deep stress. He is extremely obsessed to the death of Hallam to the extent that he feels that life has lost meaning to him. It makes him sad to realize that he will not see Haram again. At some point, he even visits the house where Haram was living. In Canto 7, he says “Behold me, for I cannot sleep, and like a guilty thing I creep at earliest morning to the door” (Tennyson, 2006). He is so obsessed to the extent that he feels like he has become insane. In Canto 16, he says “Or has the shock, so harshly given, confused me like the unhappy bark that strikes by night a craggy shelf, and staggers blindly ere she sinks? And stunned me from my power to think and all my knowledge of myself” (Block et al., 2007). Generally, In Memoriam portrays the emotional experiences that people go through after losing their loved ones through death. The grieving process takes several phases. Initially, people try to overcome the shock and stress through self-preservation strategies. When self-preservation strategies fail to give positive results, people try alternative ways of reducing the stress. If the alternative solutions do not work, an individual may become very distressed. Eventually, the distress ends when an individual accepts the reality and establishes strategies to move on with life.
Madame Tussaud, on the other hand, tries to portray how people may go through distressful emotional experiences during periods of political crises. Marie Tussaud finds herself in a situation where she has to balance between friendship with the royal family and love for her life. Being put in the list of traitors can cause an individual to have deep emotional stress. The experience can be much worse when one knows that he/she is going to be sentenced to death. Although Marie is not sentenced to death, she obviously experiences further emotional torture when she is held in prison and forced to make death masks from severed heads of beheaded leaders.
In conclusion, Madame Tussaud and In Memoriam have two common features, despite the fact that they present entirely different and unrelated stories. As explained in the essay, both present autobiographies of the characters based on real events that had occurred. While In Memoriam is based on real experience of Tennyson after the death of Hallam, Madame Tussaud presents a real story of experiences of Marie Tussaud in Paris, France. Secondly, both of them portray emotional experiences of the key characters. Madame Tussaud portrays the emotional distress experienced by Marie Tussaud during the political crisis in France while In Memoriam portrays the emotional distress that Tennyson goes through as he mourns the death of Hallam. Generally, both the novel and the poem are quite interesting.
Block, S. D. et al. (2007). An Empirical Examination of the Stage Theory of Grief. JAMA.
Hass, A., Jasper, D. & Jay, E (2007). The Oxford Handbook of English Literature and Theology.
Oxford University Press
Moran, M. (2011). Madame Tussaud. London: Quercus
Tennyson, A (2006). “In Memoriam A.H.H.” Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol.
II (eighth ed.). Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton
Williams, T. O. A (2012). Therapeutic Approach to Teaching Poetry. London: Palgrave