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Robert Browning

Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, England. His mother was
an accomplished pianist and a devout evangelical Christian. His father, who worked
as a bank clerk, was also an artist, scholar, antiquarian, and collector of books and
pictures. His rare book collection of more than 6,000 volumes included works in
Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish. Much of Browning's education
came from his well-read father. It is believed that he was already proficient at
reading and writing by the age of five. A bright and anxious student, Browning
learned Latin, Greek, and French by the time he was fourteen. From fourteen to
sixteen he was educated at home, attended to by various tutors in music, drawing,
dancing, and horsemanship. At the age of twelve he wrote a volume of Byronic verse
entitled Incondita, which his parents attempted, unsuccessfully, to have published. In
1825, a cousin gave Browning a collection of Shelley's poetry; Browning was so
taken with the book that he asked for the rest of Shelley's works for his thirteenth
birthday, and declared himself a vegetarian and an atheist in emulation of the poet.
Despite this early passion, he apparently wrote no poems between the ages of
thirteen and twenty. In 1828, Browning enrolled at the University of London, but he
soon left, anxious to read and learn at his own pace. The random nature of his
education later surfaced in his writing, leading to criticism of his poems' obscurities.

In 1833, Browning anonymously published his first major published work, Pauline,
and in 1840 he published Sordello, which was widely regarded as a failure. He also
tried his hand at drama, but his plays, including Strafford, which ran for five nights in
1837, and the Bells and Pomegranates series, were for the most part unsuccessful.
Nevertheless, the techniques he developed through his dramatic monologues
especially his use of diction, rhythm, and symbolare regarded as his most
important contribution to poetry, influencing such major poets of the twentieth
century as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Frost.

After reading Elizabeth Barrett's Poems (1844) and corresponding with her for a few
months, Browning met her in 1845. They were married in 1846, against the wishes
of Barrett's father. The couple moved to Pisa and then Florence, where they
continued to write. They had a son, Robert "Pen" Browning, in 1849, the same year
his Collected Poems was published. Elizabeth inspired Robert's collection of
poems Men and Women (1855), which he dedicated to her. Now regarded as one of
Browning's best works, the book was received with little notice at the time; its author
was then primarily known as Elizabeth Barrett's husband.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in 1861, and Robert and Pen Browning soon moved
to London. Browning went on to publishDramatis Personae (1863), and The Ring and
the Book (1868). The latter, based on a seventeenth-century Italian murder trial,
received wide critical acclaim, finally earning a twilight of reknown and respect in
Browning's career. The Browning Society was founded while he still lived, in 1881,
and he was awarded honorary degrees by Oxford University in 1882 and the
University of Edinburgh in 1884. Robert Browning died on the same day that his final
volume of verse, Asolando, was published, in 1889.
man had found the institution ofslavery so abhorrentthat he gave up his prospects and
able to marry, raise a family, and to acquire a library of 6000 volumes. He was an

learned Latin, Greek, French and Italian by the time he was fourteen. He attended

his long poemSordello(1840) turned the critics against him, and for many years they


Robert Browning (1812-1889), English playwright and master of dramatic dialogue poetry wrote A
Death in the Desert, My Last Dutchess, and A Grammarians Funeral;

That low man seeks a little thing to do,

Sees it and does it;
This high man, with a great thing to pursue,
Dies ere he knows it.
That low man goes on adding one to one,
His hundreds soon hit;
This high man, aiming at a million,
Misses an unit.
That has the world hereshould he need the next,
Let the world mind him!
This throws himself on God, and unperplexed
Seeking shall find him.

For many years Browning struggled to find his voice in the Victorian literary world.Charles Darwin had
published his controversial theory of natural selection in The Origin of Species (1859) which was
challenging orthodox beliefs; the world of religion, science, and art was in a state of change. Sometimes
overshadowed by his wifeElizabeth Barrett Browning's success, Robert Browning produced collections of
poetry and dramatic works for the stage, but it was not until his The Ring and The Book(published in four
separate volumes between 1868 and 1869) that he finally gained financial and literary success. His
profound contributions to the development of poetry through his psychological portraits and use of diction
and rhythm however have long inspired poets into the twentieth century including Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot,
and Robert Frost.

Robert Browning was born on 7 May, 1812 in Camberwell, south-east London, England. He was the eldest
child of Sarah Wiedemann, of German-Scottish descent, and Robert Browning, a wealthy clerk with the
Bank of England who was also a scholar and collector of books; his massive library would be a great
source of study for young Robert. Both his parents encouraged him to study and write; as early as the age
of twelve Browning was writing poetry. In his literary pursuits, they would support him financially for many
years. They also had a daughter, Sarianna, who would be devoted to her brother for the rest of her life.

Up to the age of sixteen Browning was tutored at home, learning French, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and
Italian, as well as studying music (his mother was an accomplished pianist), horsemanship and drawing.
At the age of sixteen, he attended the University College in London but a year later left to pursue learning
at his own pace. (He would later earn honorary degrees from Oxford and Edinburgh Universities, in 1882
and 1884 respectively). Browning was also studying natural history and the romantic poets like Lord
George Gordon Byron, John Keats, and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

In 1833 Browning's Shelley-inspired confessional poem Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession was published
anonymously by his family, though many years later he was embarrassed by its navet and notedtwenty
years endurance of an eyesore seems long enough when he revised it in 1888. In 1834 he traveled to
Russia and made his first of many forays to Italy.
Paracelsus (1835);

I see my way as birds their trackless way.

I shall arrive,what time, what circuit first,
I ask not; but unless God send his hail
Or blinding fire-balls, sleet or stifling snow,
In some time, his good time, I shall arrive:
He guides me and the bird. In his good time.Part i.

was Brownings next major effort, published under his own name this time. A series of poetical
monologues between Swiss alchemist, physician, and occultist Paracelsus (1493-1541) and his friends, it
was a promising critical success for Browning, praised by such men of letters as Thomas
Carlyle and William Wordsworth.

It was a brief taste of acclaim however, for Brownings next publications in his Bells and
Pomegranates series, including the verse drama for the stage Strafford (1837), and his narrative
poem Pippa Passes (1841), were largely ignored. Aldous Huxley would later sardonically use the lines
from Pippa, God's in his heaven, All's right in the world!in Brave New World (1932). Browning's historical
poem Sordello (1840) brought an onslaught of criticism that lasted for many years. Around this time
Browning also met fellow playwright and author Charles Dickens.

Dramatic Lyrics (1842) includes Porphyrias Lover;

The rain set early in to-night,

The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listen'd with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneel'd and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;

Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845) was another collection of his poems that would only years later be
considered among his finest. Other works published around this time were the plays A Blot in the
`Scutcheon: A Tragedy (1843), The Return of the Druses (1843), and A Souls Tragedy (1846).

In 1846 Browning married fellow English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861). They had started a
now-famous correspondence a year earlier after Browning had read and admired her Poems (1844). I
love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I
shall write, January 10, 1845. I thank you, dear Mr. Browning, from the bottom of my heart.
January 11, 1845. The marriage was against her fathers wishes partly because he was so protective of
Elizabeth and, since her teens she had suffered a lung ailment and treated as an invalid. Despite her frail
health, the happy couple settled in Florence, Italy. They were devoted to each other, for after their
marriage they were never separated writes their son in his introduction to The Letters of Robert Browning
and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846. Elizabeths health improved and she went on to
write many highly acclaimed works. The few works Browning produced in the next fifteen years or so
include Christmas Eve and Easter Day (1850). Dedicated to his wife, Brownings Men and Women (1855)
includes a poem inspired by Edgar fromWilliam Shakespeares King Lear (and which later inspired Stephen
King's Dark Towerseries), Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came;

If at his counsel I should turn aside

Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed, neither pride
Now hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.III
After the death of his beloved wife Elizabeth `Ba , he moved back to London to live with his son Robert
Pen Barrett Browning (1849-1912). Embraced by Londons literary circle again, Brownings Dramatis
Personae (1864) was followed by The Ring and The Book. It is a blank verse poem consisting of twelve
volumes and 21,000 lines. In various voices it narrates the 1698 trial of Count Guido Franceschini of Rome
who murdered his wife Pompilia Comparini and her parents. It was a best selling work during Brownings

When his father died in 1866 Browning lived with his sister Sarianna. In the 1870s he continued to focus
on longer works including the poems Balaustion's Adventure (1871),Fifine At The Fair (1872), and Red
Cotton Night-Cap Country (1873). He also produced shorter collections including The Inn Album (1875)
and Pacchiarotto and How He Worked in Distemper (1876) which includes thinly veiled attacks on his
critics. His anthologyThe Agamemnon of Aeschylus was published in 1877.

In 1881 the Robert Browning Society was founded by enthusiasts in England and America. Parleyings with
Certain People of Importance in Their Day (1887) is Browning writing in his own voice, consisting of a
series of dialogues with literary, artistic and historical figures. Asolando: Fancies and Facts (1889) was
published the same day that Robert Browning died at his sons home `Ca Rezzonico in Venice, Italy, on
12 December, 1889. His wishes were to be buried beside Elizabeth in the English Cemetery in Florence,
but by that time it was closed to new burials, so he rests in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey, London,
England, nearby Poet Laureate Lord Alfred Tennyson.

In 1889, inventor Thomas Edison had recorded Browning reading How They Brought the Good News from
Ghent to Aix. In 1903 Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote his biography, Robert Browning.

Other Browning works include;

Dramatic Idyls (1879),
Dramatic Idyls: Second Series (1880), and
Jocoseria (1883).

Though Browning was eventually considered a premier Victorian poet, his critical
reputation was hard won. Throughout his career, he honed the dramatic monologue,
elevating the form to a new level. His experimentation with versification and with
language, combined with the diversity and scope of his subject matter, forced Browning's
critics to realize that this poet could not be evaluated by conventional literary standards.
Particularly devoted to dramatic characterization, Browning explored the human
psychology through his characters and the dramatic situations he presented. Modern
critics are concerned with Browning's poetic development, with the themes that unite the
various poems in a particular volume, and with the unique elements of Browning's
innovative style.

Biographical Information

Born in Camberwell, a borough in southeast London, Browning was raised in a relatively

affluent environment. His father was a well-read clerk for the Bank of England, and his
mother was a strict Congregationalist. While Browning read widely as a boy, his formal
education was somewhat irregular. Beginning in the early 1820s he attended the nearby
Peckam School, where he studied for four years. Because Browning had not been raised
as an Anglican, he was unable to attend the major English universities, Oxford and
Cambridge. Instead, in 1828 he entered the recently-founded London University but
terminated his studies after less than one year. Browning decided to pursue a career as a
poet and lived in his parents' home, supported by them, until 1846. He published his first
poem, Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession, anonymously in 1833. Browning continued
writing and publishing and experimenting with the dramatic monologue until 1845, when
he fell in love with Elizabeth Barrett. The pair secretly married in 1846, then departed for
Italy where they settled in Florence and wrote until Elizabeth's death in 1861. Browning
then returned to England, and after a period of literary inactivity, he began writing again.
He remained highly prolific throughout the rest of his life. Browning died in 1889 while
visiting his son in Venice. Browning's body was returned to England and buried in the
Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Major Works

After the anonymous publication of Pauline, which Browning later insisted was a
dramatic piece, many readers speculated that the sentiments expressed were the poet's
own. In his next work, Paracelsus (1835), Browning established the objective framework
offered by a more dramatic form and was thus able to distance himself from the
characters in the poem. The dramatic monologue is based on the life of the Renaissance
chemist Paracelsus, and the work received largely positive critical reviews. Browning
then published Sordello in 1840, also based on a Renaissance subject, but the poem was
less than favorably received by the critics, many of whom found it obscure and affected.
In 1841, Browning began publishing a series of poems and dramas under the title Bells
and Pomegranates. The final volume appeared in 1846 and failed to restore Browning's
reputation among critics. In 1855, with the publication of Men and Women, containing
Browning's well-known love poems and dramatic monologues, Browning began to
receive the respect of some of his critics, although popular success still eluded him. It
was not until the 1860s, and in particular the publication of Dramatis Personae in 1864,
that Browning achieved major critical and popular success. The volume was followed
shortly thereafter by his masterpiece, The Ring and the Book (1868-69). A series of
dramatic monologues spoken by different characters, the work was based on an Italian
murder case. The Ring and the Book cemented Browning's reputation as one of the
foremost poets of Victorian England.

Critical Reception

Contemporary critical acclaim evaded Browning for many years. Gertrude Reese Hudson
observes that the poet's critics required regular and frequent exposure to his unique
dramatic method in order to recognize the excellence of Browning's art. Hudson also
notes that other factors contributed to Browning's winning over of his critics, including
their changing opinion regarding the nature of poetry, as well as a growing appreciation
for both the timeliness of Browning's writing, his intellect and originality, and the
"totality of his achievement."

Browning's highly individualized style and his usage of dramatic monologue fascinate
modern scholars as much as these elements troubled his early critics. John Woolford and
Daniel Karlin demonstrate that in using the dramatic monologue format, Browning was
primarily interested in the creation and development of dramatic speakers and dramatic
situations. The two critics also analyze Browning's style, finding that his poetry, in its
focus on the speaker, insists on being read aloud. Woolford and Karlin further argue that
Browning develops two distinct voices in his poetry, voices Browning himself described
as "saying" and "singing" voices and which the critics contend result from the influence
of the Romantics on Browning's work. In a separate essay, Daniel Karlin examines
Browning's use of binary oppositions, finding that "every Browning poem is oppositional
in nature." Karlin studies in particular the opposition between love and hate, maintaining
that Browning explores hate not simply as the opposite of love, but as a force with its
own purpose, a force which can lead to love as well as self-realization.

Other critics review certain volumes of Browning's poetry as a whole, arguing that the
individual poems support a larger theme or purpose. Clyde de L. Ryals studies
Browning's Dramatic Romances and Lyrics (1845) with this in mind. Ryals stresses that
the theme of loyalty unites the poems in this volume, and that this theme is often
expressed in an ironic manner. Furthermore, Ryals argues that while the majority of the
poems may concern national loyalties, the poems also explore other kinds of loyalties,
including loyalty to one's self, to one's religion, and to one's beloved. Similarly, Adam
Roberts argues for the unity of the poems in Browning's Men and Women (1855),
asserting that the volume demonstrates Browning's first successful attempt at balancing
the subjective and objective impulses in his poetry. This synthesis is achieved, Roberts
argues, through Browning's characterization. Roberts explains that compared to the
idiosyncratic, often insane characters in the earlier Dramatic Romances and Lyrics, the
personalities in Men and Women, though complex, "communicate on something
approaching our own level," and thus engender empathy and understanding among
readers. Roberts goes on to discuss how Browning's continued usage of "grotesque" style
and imagery (including colloquial language, rough syntax, and precise but blunt forms of
expression) helps to link the form of these poems to their content.

Considerable critical discussion of Browning's work pertains to his murder mystery, The
Ring and the Book. The twelve dramatic monologues, delivered by different characters,
have led critics to question which, if any, of these characters serves as the moral
authority, or center, of the poem. Adam Potkay argues against assigning this position of
moral authority to any one of the characters and instead considers the poem as a
"decentered struggle of interpretations" in which the character of Guido leads the way in
"decentering" the poem by questioning the very conception of identity. W. David Shaw
likewise contends that there is no central viewpoint in The Ring and the Book and
maintains that while Browning ranks the authority of the characters in the poem, the poet
creates no central authority figure. Additionally, Shaw explores the way in which
deconstructionism and hermeneutics pervade Browning's masterwork, finding the Pope
aligned with hermeneutical criticism and Guido and Tertium Quid aligned with the

Brownings most important poetic message regards the new conditions of urban living.
By the middle of the nineteenth century, the once-rural British population had become
centered in large cities, thanks to the changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution. With
so many people living in such close quarters, poverty, violence, and sex became part of
everyday life. People felt fewer restrictions on their behavior, no longer facing the fear of
non-acceptance that they had faced in smaller communities; people could act in total
anonymity, without any monitoring by acquaintances or small-town busybodies.
However, while the absence of family and community ties meant new-found personal
independence, it also meant the loss of a social safety net. Thus for many city-dwellers, a
sense of freedom mixed with a sense of insecurity. The mid-nineteenth century also saw
the rapid growth of newspapers, which functioned not as the current-events journals of
today but as scandal sheets, filled with stories of violence and carnality. Hurrying
pedestrians, bustling shops, and brand-new goods filled the streets, and individuals had to
take in millions of separate perceptions a minute. The resulting overstimulation led,
according to many theorists, to a sort of numbness. Many writers now felt that in order to
provoke an emotional reaction they had to compete with the turmoils and excitements of
everyday life, had to shock their audience in ever more novel and sensational ways. Thus
violence became a sort of aesthetic choice for many writers, among them Robert
Browning. In many of his poems, violence, along with sex, becomes the symbol of the
modern urban-dwelling condition. Many of Brownings more disturbing poems,
including Porphyrias Lover and My Last Duchess, reflect this notion.

This apparent moral decay of Victorian society, coupled with an ebbing of interest in
religion, led to a morally conservative backlash. So-called Victorian prudery arose as an
attempt to rein in something that was seen as out- of-control, an attempt to bring things
back to the way they once were. Thus everything came under moral scrutiny, even art and
literature. Many of Brownings poems, which often feature painters and other artists, try
to work out the proper relationship between art and morality: Should art have a moral
message? Can art be immoral? Are aesthetics and ethics inherently contradictory aims?
These are all questions with which Brownings poetry struggles. The new findings of
science, most notably evolution, posed further challenges to traditional religious ideas,
suggesting that empiricismthe careful recording of observable detailscould serve as a
more relevant basis for human endeavor, whether intellectual or artistic.

In exploring these issues of art and modernity, Browning uses the dramatic monologue. A
dramatic monologue, to paraphrase M.H. Abrams, is a poem with a speaker who is
clearly separate from the poet, who speaks to an implied audience that, while silent,
remains clearly present in the scene. (This implied audience distinguishes the dramatic
monologue from the soliloquya form also used by Browningin which the speaker
does not address any specific listener, rather musing aloud to him or herself). The purpose
of the monologue (and the soliloquy) is not so much to make a statement about its
declared subject matter, but to develop the character of the speaker. For Browning, the
genre provides a sort of play-space and an alternative persona with which he can explore
sometimes controversial ideas. He often further distances himself by employing historical
characters, particularly from the Italian Renaissance. During the Renaissance in Italy art
assumed a new humanism and began to separate from religion; concentrations of social
power reached an extreme. Thus this temporal setting gives Browning a good analogue
for exploring issues of art and morality and for looking at the ways in which social power
could be used (and misused: the Victorian period saw many moral pundits assume
positions of social importance). Additionally, the monologue form allows Browning to
explore forms of consciousness and self-representation. This aspect of the monologue
underwent further development in the hands of some of Brownings successors, among
them Alfred Tennyson and T.S. Eliot.

Browning devotes much attention not only to creating a strong sense of character, but
also to developing a high level of historic specificity and general detail. These concerns
reflected Victorian societys new emphasis on empiricism, and pointed the way towards
the kind of intellectual verse that was to be written by the poets of high Modernism, like
Eliot and Ezra Pound. In its scholarly detail and its connection to the past Brownings
work also implicitly considers the relationship of modern poets to a greater literary
tradition. At least two of Brownings finest dramatic monologues take their inspiration
from moments in Shakespeares plays, and other poems consider the matter of ones
posterity and potential immortality as an artist. Because society had been changing so
rapidly, Browning and his contemporaries could not be certain that the works of
canonical artists like Shakespeare and Michelangelo would continue to have relevance in
the emerging new world. Thus these writers worried over their own legacy as well.
However, Brownings poetry has lastedperhaps precisely because of its very topical
nature: its active engagement with the debates of its times, and the intelligent strategies
with which it handles such era-specific material.


Multiple Perspectives on Single Events

The dramatic monologue verse form allowed Browning to explore and probe the minds
of specific characters in specific places struggling with specific sets of circumstances. In
The Ring and the Book, Browning tells a suspenseful story of murder using multiple
voices, which give multiple perspectives and multiple versions of the same story.
Dramatic monologues allow readers to enter into the minds of various characters and to
see an event from that characters perspective. Understanding the thoughts, feelings, and
motivations of a character not only gives readers a sense of sympathy for the characters
but also helps readers understand the multiplicity of perspectives that make up the truth.
In effect, Brownings work reminds readers that the nature of truth or reality fluctuates,
depending on ones perspective or view of the situation. Multiple perspectives illustrate
the idea that no one sensibility or perspective sees the whole story and no two people see
the same events in the same way. Browning further illustrated this idea by writing poems
that work together as companion pieces, such as Fra Lippo Lippi and Andrea del
Sarto. Poems such as these show how people with different characters respond
differently to similar situations, as well as depict how a time, place, and scenario can
cause people with similar personalities to develop or change quite dramatically.

The Purposes of Art

Browning wrote many poems about artists and poets, including such dramatic
monologues as Pictor Ignotus (1855) and Fra Lippo Lippi. Frequently, Browning
would begin by thinking about an artist, an artwork, or a type of art that he admired or
disliked. Then he would speculate on the character or artistic philosophy that would lead
to such a success or failure. His dramatic monologues about artists attempt to capture
some of this philosophizing because his characters speculate on the purposes of art. For
instance, the speaker of Fra Lippo Lippi proposes that art heightens our powers of
observation and helps us notice things about our own lives. According to some of these
characters and poems, painting idealizes the beauty found in the real world, such as the
radiance of a beloveds smile. Sculpture and architecture can memorialize famous or
important people, as in The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxeds Church (1845)
and The Statue and the Bust (1855). But art also helps its creators to make a living, and
it thus has a purpose as pecuniary as creative, an idea explored in Andrea del Sarto.

The Relationship Between Art and Morality

Throughout his work, Browning tried to answer questions about an artists

responsibilities and to describe the relationship between art and morality. He questioned
whether artists had an obligation to be moral and whether artists should pass judgment on
their characters and creations. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Browning populated
his poems with evil people, who commit crimes and sins ranging from hatred to murder.
The dramatic monologue format allowed Browning to maintain a great distance between
himself and his creations: by channeling the voice of a character, Browning could explore
evil without actually being evil himself. His characters served as personae that let him
adopt different traits and tell stories about horrible situations. In My Last Duchess, the
speaker gets away with his wifes murder since neither his audience (in the poem) nor his
creator judges or criticizes him. Instead, the responsibility of judging the characters
morality is left to readers, who find the duke of Ferrara a vicious, repugnant person even
as he takes us on a tour of his art gallery.


Medieval and Renaissance European Settings

Browning set many of his poems in medieval and Renaissance Europe, most often in
Italy. He drew on his extensive knowledge of art, architecture, and history to fictionalize
actual events, including a seventeenth-century murder in The Ring and the Book, and to
channel the voices of actual historical figures, including a biblical scholar in medieval
Spain in Rabbi Ben Ezra (1864) and the Renaissance painter in the eponymous
Andrea del Sarto. The remoteness of the time period and location allowed Browning to
critique and explore contemporary issues without fear of alienating his readers. Directly
invoking contemporary issues might seem didactic and moralizing in a way that poems
set in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth centuries would not. For instance, the
speaker of The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxeds Church is an Italian bishop
during the late Renaissance. Through the speakers pompous, vain musings about
monuments, Browning indirectly criticizes organized religion, including the Church of
England, which was in a state of disarray at the time of the poems composition in the
mid-nineteenth century.
Psychological Portraits

Dramatic monologues feature a solitary speaker addressing at least one silent, usually
unnamed person, and they provide interesting snapshots of the speakers and their
personalities. Unlike soliloquies, in dramatic monologues the characters are always
speaking directly to listeners. Brownings characters are usually crafty, intelligent,
argumentative, and capable of lying. Indeed, they often leave out more of a story than
they actually tell. In order to fully understand the speakers and their psychologies, readers
must carefully pay attention to word choice, to logical progression, and to the use of
figures of speech, including any metaphors or analogies. For instance, the speaker of
My Last Duchess essentially confesses to murdering his wife, even though he never
expresses his guilt outright. Similarly, the speaker of Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister
inadvertently betrays his madness by confusing Latin prayers and by expressing his hate
for a fellow friar with such vituperation and passion. Rather than state the speakers
madness, Browning conveys it through both what the speaker says and how the speaker

Grotesque Images

Unlike other Victorian poets, Browning filled his poetry with images of ugliness,
violence, and the bizarre. His contemporaries, such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Gerard
Manley Hopkins, in contrast, mined the natural world for lovely images of beauty.
Brownings use of the grotesque links him to novelist Charles Dickens, who filled his
fiction with people from all strata of society, including the aristocracy and the very poor.
Like Dickens, Browning created characters who were capable of great evil. The early
poem Porphyrias Lover (1836) begins with the lover describing the arrival of
Porphyria, then it quickly descends into a depiction of her murder at his hands. To make
the image even more grotesque, the speaker strangles Porphyria with her own blond hair.
Although Fra Lippo Lippi takes place during the Renaissance in Florence, at the height
of its wealth and power, Browning sets the poem in a back alley beside a brothel, not in a
palace or a garden. Browning was instrumental in helping readers and writers understand
that poetry as an art form could handle subjects both lofty, such as religious splendor and
idealized passion, and base, such as murder, hatred, and madness, subjects that had
previously only been explored in novels.



Brownings interest in culture, including art and architecture, appears throughout his
work in depictions of his characters aesthetic tastes. His characters preferences in art,
music, and literature reveal important clues about their natures and moral worth. For
instance, the duke of Ferrara, the speaker of My Last Duchess, concludes the poem by
pointing out a statue he commissioned of Neptune taming a sea monster. The dukes
preference for this sculpture directly corresponds to the type of man he isthat is, the
type of man who would have his wife killed but still stare lovingly and longingly at her
portrait. Like Neptune, the duke wants to subdue and command all aspects of life,
including his wife. Characters also express their tastes by the manner in which they
describe art, people, or landscapes. Andrea del Sarto, the Renaissance artist who speaks
the poem Andrea del Sarto, repeatedly uses the adjectives gold and silver in his
descriptions of paintings. His choice of words reinforces one of the major themes of the
poem: the way he sold himself out. Listening to his monologue, we learn that he now
makes commercial paintings to earn a commission, but he no longer creates what he
considers to be real art. His desire for money has affected his aesthetic judgment, causing
him to use monetary vocabulary to describe art objects.

Evil and Violence

Synonyms for, images of, and symbols of evil and violence abound in Brownings poetry.
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister, for example, begins with the speaker trying to
articulate the sounds of his hearts abhorrence (1) for a fellow friar. Later in the poem,
the speaker invokes images of evil pirates and a man being banished to hell. The diction
and images used by the speakers expresses their evil thoughts, as well as indicate their
evil natures. Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came (1855) portrays a nightmarish
world of dead horses and war-torn landscapes. Yet another example of evil and violence
comes in Porphyrias Lover, in which the speaker sits contentedly alongside the corpse
of Porphyria, whom he murdered by strangling her with her hair. Symbols of evil and
violence allowed Browning to explore all aspects of human psychology, including the
base and evil aspects that dont normally appear in poetry.

Robert Browning, Tennyson's chief poetic contemporary, stands in striking artistic

contrast to Tennyson--a contrast which perhaps serves to enhance the reputation of
both. Browning's life, if not his poetry, must naturally be considered in connection
with that of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with whom he was united in what appears
the most ideal marriage of two important writers in the history of literature.

In considering the poetry of Robert Browning the inevitable first general point is the
nearly complete contrast with Tennyson. For the melody and exquisite beauty of
phrase and description which make so large a part of Tennyson's charm, Browning
cares very little; his chief merits as an artist lie mostly where Tennyson is least
strong; and he is a much more independent and original thinker than Tennyson. This
will become more evident in a survey of his main characteristics.

1. Browning is the most thoroughly vigorous and dramatic of all great poets who
employ other forms than the actual drama. Of his hundreds of poems the
great majority set before the reader a glimpse of actual life and human
personalities--an action, a situation, characters, or a character--in the clearest
and most vivid possible way. Sometimes the poem is a ringing narration of a
fine exploit, like 'How They Brought the Good News'; sometimes it is quieter
and more reflective. Whatever the style, however, in the great majority of
cases Browning employs the form which without having actually invented it he
developed into an instrument of thitherto unsuspected power, namely the
dramatic monolog in which a character discusses his situation or life or some
central part or incident, of it, under circumstances which reveal with
wonderful completeness its significance and his own essential character. To
portray and interpret life in this way, to give his readers a sudden vivid
understanding of its main forces and conditions in representative moments,
may be called the first obvious purpose, or perhaps rather instinct, of
Browning and his poetry. The dramatic economy of space which he generally
attains in his monologs is marvelous. In 'My Last Duchess' sixty lines suffice
to etch into our memories with incredible completeness and clearness two
striking characters, an interesting situation, and the whole of a life's tragedy.
2. Despite his power over external details it is in the human characters, as the
really significant and permanent elements of life, that Browning is chiefly
interested; indeed he once declared directly that the only thing that seemed
to him worth while was the study of souls. The number and range of
characters that he has portrayed are unprecedented, and so are the
keenness, intenseness, and subtilety of the analysis. Andrea del Sarto, Fra
Lippo Lippi, Cleon, Karshish, Balaustion, and many scores of others, make of
his poems a great gallery of portraits unsurpassed in interest by those of any
author whatever except Shakespeare. It is little qualification of his
achievement to add that all his persons are somewhat colored by his own
personality and point of view, or that in his later poetry he often splits hairs
very ingeniously in his effort to understand and present sympathetically the
motives of all characters, even the worst. These are merely some of the
secondary aspects of his peculiar genius. Browning's favorite heroes and
heroines, it should be added, are men and women much like himself, of
strong will and decisive power of action, able to take the lead vigorously and
unconventionally and to play controlling parts in the drama of life.
3. The frequent comparative difficulty of Browning's poetry arises in large part
first from the subtilety of his thought and second from the obscurity of his
subject-matter and his fondness for out-of-the-way characters. It is increased
by his disregard of the difference between his own extraordinary mental
power and agility on the one hand and on the other the capacity of the
average person, a disregard which leads him to take much for granted that
most readers are obliged to study out with no small amount of labor.
Moreover Browning was hasty in composition, corrected his work little, if at
all, and was downright careless in such details as sentence structure. But the
difficulty arising from these various eccentricities occurs chiefly in his longer
poems, and often serves mainly as a mental stimulus. Equally striking,
perhaps, is his frequent grotesqueness in choice of subject and in treatment,
which seems to result chiefly from his wish to portray the world as it actually
is, keeping in close touch with genuine everyday reality; partly also from his
instinct to break away from placid and fiberless conventionality.
4. Browning is decidedly one of those who hold the poet to be a teacher, and
much, indeed most, of his poetry is occupied rather directly with the
questions of religion and the deeper meanings of life. Taken all together, that
is, his poetry constitutes a very extended statement of his philosophy of life.
The foundation of his whole theory is a confident and aggressive optimism. He
believes, partly on the basis of intellectual reasoning, but mainly on what
seems to him the convincing testimony of instinct, that the universe is
controlled by a loving God, who has made life primarily a thing of happiness
for man. Man should accept life with gratitude and enjoy to the full all its
possibilities. Evil exists only to demonstrate the value of Good and to develop
character, which can be produced only by hard and sincere struggle. Unlike
Tennyson, therefore, Browning has full confidence in present reality--he
believes that life on earth is predominantly good. Nevertheless earthly life is
evidently incomplete in itself, and the central law of existence is Progress,
which gives assurance of a future life where man may develop the spiritual
nature which on earth seems to have its beginning and distinguishes man
from the brutes. This future life, however, is probably not one but many, a
long succession of lives, the earlier ones not so very different, perhaps, from
the present one on earth; and even the worst souls, commencing the next
life, perhaps, as a result of their failure here, at a spiritual stage lower than
the present one, must ultimately pass through all stages of the spiritual
process, and come to stand with all the others near the perfection of God
himself. This whole theory, which, because later thought has largely adopted
it from Browning, seems much less original to-day than when he first
propounded it, is stated and reiterated in his poems with a dynamic idealizing
power which, whether or not one assents to it in details, renders it
magnificently stimulating. It is rather fully expressed as a whole, in two of
Browning's best known and finest poems, 'Rabbi ben Ezra,' and 'Abt Vogler.'
Some critics, it should be added, however, feel that Browning is too often and
too insistently a teacher in his poetry and that his art would have gained if he
had introduced his philosophy much more incidentally.
5. In his social theory Browning differs not only from Tennyson but from the
prevailing thought of his age, differs in that his emphasis is individualistic.
Like all the other Victorians he dwells on the importance of individual devotion
to the service of others, but he believes that the chief results of such effort
must be in the development of the individual's character, not greatly in the
actual betterment of the world. The world, indeed, as it appears to him, is a
place of probation and we cannot expect ever to make it over very radically;
the important thing is that the individual soul shall use it to help him on his
'lone way' to heaven. Browning, accordingly, takes almost no interest in the
specific social and political questions of his day, a fact which certainly will not
operate against the permanence of his fame. More detrimental, no doubt,
aside from the actual faults which we have mentioned, will be his rather
extravagant Romanticism--the vehemence of his passion and his insistence on
the supreme value of emotion. With these characteristics classically minded
critics have always been highly impatient, and they will no doubt prevent him
from ultimately taking a place beside Shakespeare and the serene Milton; but
they will not seriously interfere, we may be certain, with his recognition as
one of the very great English poets.

The Romantic period was shaped by a multitude of political, social, and economic changes.
Many writers of the period were aware of a pervasive intellectual and imaginative climate,
which some called the spirit of the age. This spirit was linked to both the politics of the
French Revolution and religious apocalypticism The final defeat of the French emperor
Napoleon in 1815 ushered in a period of harsh, repressive measures in England
Wordsworth and Coleridges sense of the emancipatory opportunities brought in by the new
historical moment was expressed in their Lyrical Ballads (1798), which revolutionized the
theory and practice of poetry. Wordsworth influentially located the source of a poem not in
outer nature but in the psychology and emotions of the individual poet. In keeping with the
view that poetry emphasizes the poets feelings, the lyric became a major Romantic form.
(The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Romanticism) [4]
The Victorian era was a period of dramatic change that brought England to its highest
point of development as a world power... England experienced an enormous increase in
wealth, but rapid and unregulated industrialization brought a host of social and economic
problems The Church of England had evolved into three major divisions, with conflicting
beliefs about religious practice. There were also rationalist challenges to religion from
philosophy (especially Utilitarianism) and science (especially biology and geology)
Literacy increased significantly in the period Victorian novels seek to represent a large
and comprehensive social world, constructing a tension between social conditions and the
aspirations of the hero or heroine. Writing in the shadow of Romanticism, the Victorians
developed a poetry of mood and character. Victorian poetry tends to be pictorial, and often
uses sound to convey meaning. (The Norton Anthology Of English Literature. Victorian
Era) .

This analysis will try to find out those differences, but also to find the point of
connection between those literary periods. And with this purpose, we have taken as
examples the poem She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron and A Pretty Woman by
Robert Browning; both of them with a similar topic, the feminine beauty.

On the one hand we have Lord Byron. We know that Lord Byrons life and actions
were considered as scandalous by the society of his time because of Byrons sense of
freedom and individuality. He, like the rest of the romantic poets, didnt feel comfortable
with his society; however, he had a hate-love relationship with his readers. His poems
and his own life were considered as immoral because readers used to identify him with
the gloomy and attractive man of his texts; but for the same reason, he looked as a person
who needed to be saved. That personality of misunderstood and solitary man who, at the

same time showed in this poems the capacity for devotion, tenderness, and ruthless as
well as an elevated quality of friendship, turned him in some kind of hero. Indeed, his
poetical corpus is made of extreme poems. These extremes are stylistic, erotic,
satirical, or the puffery of the sublimecomedy and the frantic melancholy and despair
of the Romantic. [7]

She Walks in Beauty belongs to those tender poems written by Lord Byron in
his sublime moments, where the beauty of a lady can be gracefully compared to
heavens magnificence.
On the other hand, Robert Browning was a well-accepted and adapted man of his
era; someone who, like the most of the Victorian writers, achieved rapprochement with
their audience by compromising with the middle-class morality of the time. But in this

case, his involvement in the culture and moral costumes of his time gave a stronger
intentionality to his works. That happened because, to avoid being recognized in his
poems, he used to give an objective voice to his characters surrounding them by a
recognizable background of his time and reflecting a huge variety of behaviours. In that
way, readers didnt identify those words and actions with the poet. The poems were taken
as mere lyric and as well, judged it by its content. [9]

The advertisement to the original Dramatic Lyrics in 1842 declares: "Such poems as the
following come properly enough, I suppose, under the head of 'Dramatic Pieces;' being,
though for the most part Lyric in expression, always Dramatic in principle, and so many
utterances of so many imaginary persons, not mine."( The Victorian Web. Books. The Alien
Vision of Victorian Poetry By E. D. Johnson )[10]

Those dramatic monologues can be understood as a covered way to reflect the

poet's opposition to existing values.

A Pretty Woman is a good example of this, because it is impossible to affirm

that it is Browning himself who is talking or if it is just another character giving his
opinion about women.

Internet Pages Classic Literature. Collected Work by Robert Browning.
Bartleby. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250-1900.

BBC Web Page. Arts. The Romantics. Byron

English History Net. Byron. Contemporary and Critical Opinion of Lord Byron

English Romantics. Poems by Blake and other Romantics.

Ezine Articles. She Walks in Beauty. A Discussion of the Poem by Lord Byron.,-A-Discussion-of-the-Poem-by-Lord-

Knowledgerush. Books. Robert Browning: How to Know Him by William Lyon Phelps

Project Gutenberg. An Introduction to the Study of Robert Browning's Poetry by Robert

Browning Programmes. The Mark Steel Lectures. Byron

Sparknotes. Roberts Browning Poetry

The Norton Anthology of English Literature.

The Victorian Web.