chapter  10
nyson’s Hierarchy of Women in Idylls of the King
Pages 28

In Idylls o f the King, Tennyson’s Arthur earns the epithet of "the blameless king." He is a Carlylean leader with a vision of a perfect society. To some extent, Arthur fails to achieve this vision because his knights refuse to follow Carlyle’s dictate to "treat him with an obedience that knows no bounds."1 In his presentation of Arthur as the ideal ruler, Tennyson reflects the Vic­ torian compulsion for order under the auspices of inspired leadership, and the value of subordinating pri­ vate desire to the public good. However, intimately con­ nected with the failure of Arthur’s mission is the moral character of the women in the Idylls. As guardians of the public good, Tennyson’s Arthurian women should inspire their partners to perform noble deeds in accord­ ance with the king’s dictates. In order to do so, the female figures must comply with the Victorian prototype of the perfect woman, who is sexually pure and is both a submissive wife and selfless mother. As J. Phillip Eggers remarks:

In the Idylls, Tennyson establishes a hierarchy of women to illustrate precisely this principle: he presents in detail seven women who may be assessed by the degree to which their moral conduct either aids or hinders Arthur’s cause.