ROBERT BROWNING: Robert Browning was a 19th-century English playwright and poet. He was one of the leading Victorian poets who have mastered the dramatic monologue. The striking characteristics of his poetry are irony, dark humor, characterization, social commentary, challenging vocabulary, historical setting, and syntax.
Though the early literary career of Browning started favorably but soon collapsed, he was admired for his long poems Paracelsus and Pauline. However, the poem Sordello published in 1840 was difficult, and critics consider it as willfully obscure. This poem made his literary career into disgrace. It took him more than a decade to restore his reputation. During that time, he abandoned the Shelleyan form of writing and started writing in his own personal style.
In 1889, Browning died; however, his poetry and other writings made him a philosopher-poet and sage through which he made contributions to the political and social discourses of the Victorian age. To study his works, different societies were formed even when he was alive. Until the 20th century, these societies were common in the United States and Britain.
A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF ROBERT BROWNING
Robert Browning was born on 7 May 1812. His father was a clerk in the London branch of the Bank of England. Browning received very little formal education. However, his father has taught him Latin and Greek. In 1828, he attended the University of London, and after half a session, he left. In 1834, he visited St. Petersburg with the Russian consul general George de Benkhausen.
In 1838 and 1844, he paid two short visits to Italy. Apart from these visits, Browning lived with his family in London till 1846. During this period, he wrote most of his plays and the early long poems Paracelsus, Pauline, and Sordello and published them in 1835, 1833, and 1840 respectively. His poem Pauline and Paracelsus, received much admiration. However, Sordello was universally rejected due to its incomprehensible language.
He was encouraged by his friend and actor Charles Macready to write a drama. He invested much of his time and energy in verse drama, and he had already written Strafford (published in 1837) in verse form. From 1841 to 1846, he published seven plays in verse form that include Pippa Passes, Luria, and A Blot in the Scutcheon. Except for Strafford, all the rest of his works were published at his family expense. Though Browning enjoyed writing for theatre, he was not admired for his plays to be staged. He himself observed that there was more action in character than a character in action.
In 1845, the first phase of browning life ended. He met Elizabeth Barrett in the same year. Due to the obsession of Elizabeth’s father, Elizabeth and Robert Browning married secretly in September 1846. After a week, they left for Pisa for Elizabeth’s treatment.
After the marriage, they lived in Florence, Italy; though, they spent their vacation in England and France. They had little income, and when their son Robert was born, in 1849, the cousin of Elizabeth browning, Keyon, issued them an annual allowance of £100. When Kenyon died in 1856, he left £11,000 for them
During his married life, he produced less poetry than before. In 1849, he published a collected edition, and in 1850, he published Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day. In these works, he examined different attitudes towards Christianity and has its origin in his mother’s death in 1849. In 1852, he published an introductory essay to some false letters of Shelley. This was the only prose work that Browning wrote.
In 1855, he wrote Men and Women, a collection of dramatic lyrical poems including “Love among the Ruins,” “Memorabilia,” and “A Toccata Galuppi’s.” It also includes the monologues, “How It Strikes a Contemporary,” “Fra Lippo Lippi,” and “Bishop Blougram’s Apology”; and few other poems such as “By the Fireside” and “One Word More.” In these poems, he broke his rules to speak about his own self and love for his wife. The collection, Men and Women, was sold greatly, and the reviews were not favorable. In the following years, he wrote very few works. On 29 June 1861, Elizabeth Barratt died, and Browning returned to London with his young son in the same year.
In London, he instantly prepared the Last Poems of his wife for publication. Initially, he avoided the company of people; however, he gradually started mingling in society. In 1863, another collection of his poetry was published; however, Pauline was not included in it. In 1864, he published Dramatis Persona which includes: “Caliban upon Setebos,” “Mr.Sludge, ‘The Medium’ ” “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” and “Abt Vogler.” This publication has two editions, which shows the public admiration and recognition of Robert Browning.
During the period of 1868 to 1869, Browning published his most celebrated work, The Ring and the Book. The book was based on account of a murder trial in 1698 in Rome. This book made him one of the significant literary figures of his time. In London society, he was in great demand for the rest of his life. He visited France, Switzerland, and Scotland with his friends and finally settled in Italy in 1878.
The most famous and significant works that he published during this time were his long narrative and dramatic poems such as Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau (1871), Red Cotton Night-Cap Country (1873), and two Dramatic Idylls series in 1879 and 1880. He also wrote poems on classical themes such as Balaustion’s Adventure and Aristophanes’ Apology. He also published an elegy for his friend Anne Egerton-Smith. Moreover, he published Parleyings with Certain People of Importance in Their Day in 1887. In this publication, he talked about the ideas and books that had been a great influence for him since his youth.
In 1889, Browning was staying in Venice and caught a severe cold. He died on 12 December 1889.
ROBERT BROWNING’S LITERARY STYLE
Browning rose from his failure to identify the most dramatic nature of his work. Before 1846, Browning wrote most of the work for theatre, therefore, his most of the poems have the characteristics of dramatic monologue. The dramatic monologue consists of a narrative uttered by a character to comment on the story and the circumstances in which he is speaking.
The reader, from his own historical knowledge or knowledge of the events, describes or from his own inference of the poem, is eventually able to evaluate the honesty and intelligence of the speaker and the worth of his views he expressed in the monologue. This type of monologue is used by the ironist as it depends upon the insentient delivery by the speaker of the proof, and the reader judges him through it. This form used by Browning in his poetry gives rise to two common mistaken beliefs about the nature of poetry: it is intentionally vague, and it gives a message of a superficial optimism. Though these misconceptions are not groundless, it is incomplete.
Browning poetry is usually considered to be difficult; however, it is not always difficult. In his short lyrics, he accomplishes the effect of obvious pleasure. However, the superficial difficulties he has employed are quite evident in poetry and prevent the readers from making sense of poetry.
Moreover, his struggle to deliver the irregular and broken rhythm of speech make the comprehensible and quick reading of the verse impossible. His employed elliptical syntax that sometimes confuses and disconcerts the reader; however, the reader can master it with little effort. His poems, such as “Old Pictures in Florence” and Sordello, require a significant association with the subjects to understand them. Browning is fond of putting his monologues into the mouths of scholars and frauds such as Napoleon III and Mr.Sludge. This makes readers chase a chain of paradoxical and subtle arguments. These characters are easy to read.
When Browning overcame his problem of technique and style, the interest of the poem appears to be exhausted. Browning often employs an unexpected point of view, particularly in his dramatic monologues, therefore forcing his reader to assent the unacquainted perspective.
Furthermore, he made amazing alterations of focus within the poem. For instance, he chooses subjects that are not significant at all. In poems Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha” and Fra Lippo Lippi,” he delivers the eternal theme of poetry. His transformation from specific observation to transcendental truth delivers the challenges that readers faced with the poetry of the 17th century metaphysical poets.
Moreover, Browning does not employ irony in the character of the speaker due to which the readers are made to appreciate the exact satire that is intended in the poem. For example, in the lyrical poem “A Toccata of Galuppi’s,” the readers are made to differentiate the valid position from the invalid at every turn of the argument. However, in the poem Bishop Blougram’s Apology, the casuistic monologues monologue is present in which the turns of sympathy are still elusive.
It is also noticed that Browning has used poetry to communicate his philosophy. Being restricted to easy optimism, the philosophy of Browning is not interesting or profound.
However, the dramatic monologues of Browning must be recognized as expressions of fictional individuals depicting their power from their suitability in describing the speaker, and not Browning’s expression of his own sentiment.
Therefore, his gallery of fictional characters is to be considered a thorough collection of motives of humans, not self-portraits. However, some assumptions are made by critics that these monologues are representatives of the personal beliefs of Browning: for instance, his Christian beliefs.
Browning shows his sympathies with those characters that have loving hearts, the warmth of feelings, and honest natures and never satirize these qualities. He sides those characters that associate themselves with ideas, no matter if they fail. This suggests that he has a naïve system of values; however, he also understands those characters that compromise by lowering their standards. Though Browning is remote from any pessimistic view of the nature of man or his destiny, his expectations from the world are not unreasoning and simple.
In the book The Ring and The Browning, he displays all his characteristic qualities. His every character has a dramatic monologue. He assigned monologue to the main that is on trial in charge of murder, to the young wife of the accused man, to the Roman citizen, to the protector, to the pope, and to the opposing lawyers. Every monologue is about the same incident, but everyone has a different perspective and viewpoints and interprets the event differently. He allows the reality and true fact to reveal from the interpretation of the conflicting story of every character.
The speaker of each monologue talks about his own morality, therefore putting the ethical basis of the action of humans into question. Browning explores the theme of human motives in about 20000 lines of the book written in unfaltering blank verse. He also raises the passages of his book to the moving poetry. He employed extraordinary details of the life and society of 17th century Rome and produced a chain of diverse and fully realized characters like a novel.
Browning recognition as a great poet was established rapidly after 1864. Though his books were not greatly sold as his wife Elizabeth Browning and Tennyson, he developed an extensive and passionate public. His reputation as a poet declined in the 20th century because of the modern poetry that employed extreme skepticism. Many poets such as Ezra Pound and Robert Frost were highly influenced by him by his mastery of dramatic monologue, his stream of consciousness technique, and focus on the psychology of the individual.
Browning was more successful in his description of modern life in a distinctive language that was far remote from the conventions. Browning will be listed among the great poets of the English Language as long as the fruitfulness of texture, practical endeavors, warmth, interest in humanity, and unremitting creative powers are counted values.
His Famous Works
“Pauline, a Fragment of a Confession” , which is a long poem composed in homage to P.B. Shelley, “My Last Duchess”, “Porphyria’s lover”, “Andrea del Sarto”,“ A grammarian’s funeral”, Men and Women are some of his popular works for which he is remembered even now.
What was special regarding Robert Browning writing style?
- Dramatic Monologue: His critical reputation rests mainly due to his dramatic monologues. It is a form of speech addressed to a silent listener. Its aim is ‘character study’ or ‘psycho-analysis. The poet may speak in self-justification or in a mood of detached self-explanation, contented, resigned or remorseful. The character sketch of the speaker and even the other person involved in the vent is clearly described.
- Behavioral Analysis: Robert Browning makes not only striking revelations of human passions and aspirations but also valuable passages of ethical teaching, which make turns him an inspiring force.
- Character Portrayal: He portrays characters well. The political traits are sometimes introduced too. One finds no conventionality in his poems. That is why the mind of the reader is always engrossed in something or the other. One has to dive into the depth of his writings to know the actual meaning.
Thus, due to these traits, he is considered a prominent writer of the Victorian Era.
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