Tennyson, Pre-Raphaelites, and Storyspace: a rewarding combination

Arthurian legend became very popular among artists of all media during the nineteenth century. Like all legends and myths, there are multiple sources and interpretations, and it is easy to get narratives confused. I hope that you enjoyed my recent comparison between the stories of the Lady of Shalott and Elaine of Astolat: these quite different legends (which may, of course, have a common origin) have confused at least one painter, and Wikimedia Commons, which lumps them both together.

While I was writing that article, it occurred to me that this was an ideal hypertext for Storyspace, in which I could combine the three poems by Tennyson with the dozen or so significant paintings which were inspired by them. This article is the first of two or three in which I will describe how I am developing a Storyspace hypertext (which should also be eminently usable in Tinderbox) in response.

The content which I need to incorporate is:

  • two versions (1833, 1842) of Tennyson’s short poem The Lady of Shalott,
  • Tennyson’s much longer poem Lancelot and Elaine,
  • about a dozen paintings which are based on those poems.

The three poems are thankfully available from Wikisource, and I already had almost all the paintings from my research for my earlier article, although I did locate an additional work showing Elaine of Astolat.

My design is to assemble the three poems in containers, to enable the reader to work through each in manageable sections. This is easy for The Lady of Shalott, which is divided into four parts; I intend providing a parallel text version of that poem, but will implement that later this week.

So each section of poem was then copied in from the Wikisource copy, and its sections joined up in sequence using normal links. Lancelot and Elaine is much longer, and required quite a lot of work to divide it up sensibly, then link all the sections in order.

My plan for the paintings was to place thumbnail images (no larger than 256 pixels in either dimension) in the relevant section of text, which would then link to a writing space (note) containing a larger version (maximum 1024 pixels) of the image and its caption. Those paintings would be placed in a gallery container, which can also be browsed separately from the poems.

At this stage I am not concerned with building a timeline: as with parallel text, I will cover that in the next article, once the main hypertext is complete.


To make life easier, I first created a series of prototypes, tucked away in a container named Prototypes. That container has the usual Action script to set the $IsPrototype attribute to true for all the writing spaces inside it, just in case I forget to do so myself.


At the moment, the prototypes merely set uniform colours for the tiles of each of the different types of content. When I come to assemble the timeline, they will be used a little more seriously.


With all the text sections and paintings placed in their respective writing spaces, I then pasted in thumbnails of each painting at the appropriate points in each poem. This is very quick and simple: in the Finder, I select the thumbnail image and use the contextual menu to copy it; I then locate the correct place in the writing space, and paste it there.


Painters tend to paint scenes in common with one another, so in several places in the text, I had two or more thumbnails in succession. In order to use these as ‘text’ links to the paintings, these need to be separated by a blank line. You can then place the cursor in the blank line before a painting, hold the Shift key, and click just to the right of the lower part of that thumbnail, to select the whole of the painting as the link anchor. This means that when the reader clicks anywhere on the thumbnail, they will be taken along that link.


Once all the paintings were in place in the Gallery, I switched from Map to Outline view and ordered them alphabetically. This may also reorder them in the Map view, so is worth doing before you place them in their final positions.

In previous projects, I had been stuck with images which were too large to look good on the tiles in the Map view. Here I have placed a thumbnail image first for each painting (not shown here), then the larger image. The images shown in the Map view are thus of the uppermost thumbnail, and are a much better size.

This does leave a thumbnail above every larger image, but that actually looks quite useful as a prefatory overview of the painting. The caption text is then placed and styled below the large image, following which are text links to take the reader back to their place in the poem.

Every painting shown here thus has one or two text links back to the poems. This is in itself a useful feature, as it allows a reader to browse the gallery and use its images to refer back to the poems.


The top-level Map view features a modified start writing space, made transparent, superimposed on one of the paintings as an adornment. There are the three containers for the poems, each listing the sections within, and the gallery container, likewise listing its paintings in alphabetical order. The Prototypes container and me writing space are tucked away out of view.


The introductory writing space is not finished yet, but starts with an introduction, details navigational controls and provides text links to get the reader started, and concludes with acknowledgements.

I intend adding links and references, and more editorial content explaining and summarising Tennyson’s narratives, and how the paintings fit in with them.

This initial version of the hypertext document – which works with Storyspace version 3.2 and later, Storyspace Reader, and Tinderbox 7 – is available here: Elaine&TheLadyOfShalott

I hope that you enjoy a little Tennyson with your paintings, and the other way around.