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The culmination of the Battle of Balaklava, the Charge of the Light Brigade occurred over fifteen minutes of tragic and action-packed drama during October 1854. In the Crimean moment and beyond, the occasion has epitomized the war’s tragedy and blunder. Its persistence in national memory derives especially from the poem that immortalized it: Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Celebrating the Chargers as the paragons of duty, Tennyson’s verses gave them a corporate identity across their lifetimes, as they sought glory and fended off poverty. Long after the Victorian era, patriotic Britons clung to the Charge, using it as a tool for military recruiting, taking pride in its relics, and finding consolation in its lessons. Its persistence notwithstanding, the Charge had a changing meaning: the duty that it epitomized became an antiquated value in the twentieth century, as antiwar crusades, comic parodies, and even epic films suggest. Moreover, Tennyson’s verses were no static monument: their complexity has allowed, time and again, for the event’s reworking so that it does not anymore suggest glorious duty as much as it symbolizes heroic failure.
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