Tag Archives: Literary Criticism

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Allusion/Echo and Plagiarism: Walking the Fine Line

by R. H. Winnick, author of Tennyson’s Poems: New Textual Parallels (OBP, 2019)


https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0161

In the three-volume second edition (1987) of Tennyson’s complete poems, editor Christopher Ricks cites more than twelve hundred instances where phrases and short passages are similar or identical to those occurring in prior works by other hands. These similarities are sometimes as minimal as two or three words, but in some cases extend to several words in the poems.  My own work on Tennyson’s textual parallels, benefiting from the proliferation of digitized texts and the related development of powerful search tools over the three decades since that edition was produced, has identified hundreds more.  Like those previously identified, each of these new instances may be deemed an allusion (meant to be recognized as such and pointing, for definable purposes, to a particular antecedent text), an echo (conscious or not, deliberate or not, meant to be noticed or not, meaningful or not), or merely accidental.  Unless accidental, these new textual parallels tell us more about Tennyson’s reading and shed further light on his thematic intentions and artistic technique.  But do they also tell us that Tennyson, for all his talent as a poet, was also a plagiarist on a grand scale?

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