Robert Browning


Easton Press Robert Browning books

The Poems of Robert Browning - 100 Greatest Books Ever Written - 1979
The Ring and The Book - Collector's Edition - 1998
Poetry of Robert Browning - Library of Great Poetry - 2000



 

Robert Browning biography

Robert Browning, a prominent Victorian poet and playwright, was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, a suburb of London, England. He emerged as one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century, renowned for his innovative use of dramatic monologue and profound exploration of human psychology. Browning came from a literary and artistic family; his father, a bank clerk, was an avid reader and collector of books. Young Robert was exposed to a rich literary environment from an early age, and his love for literature blossomed. He began writing poetry in his adolescence, and his early works showed signs of his later interest in dramatic and psychological themes.

In 1833, Browning anonymously published his first collection of poems, titled Pauline. The reception was modest, but it marked the beginning of his literary career. He continued to refine his craft and experimented with various poetic forms. In 1837, he published Paracelsus, a dramatic poem that gained him some recognition.

Browning's literary reputation, however, truly took off with the publication of Dramatic Lyrics in 1842, which included the well-received poem My Last Duchess. His use of dramatic monologue, a poetic form where a character speaks to an implied listener, allowed Browning to delve into the depths of human consciousness and explore complex psychological nuances.

My Last Duchess

My Last Duchess was published in 1842 as part of Browning's collection titled Dramatic Lyrics. The poem is a dramatic monologue, a form Browning often employed in his works, where a speaker reveals aspects of their character and thoughts to an implied listener. The poem is set in Renaissance Italy and is spoken by a duke who is showing a visitor through his art gallery. The duke takes the opportunity to display a portrait of his late wife, the "last duchess," and as he does so, he reveals much about his own character and the circumstances surrounding the duchess's death. The duke describes the portrait with a mix of pride and possessiveness. He notes the lifelike painting that captures the duchess's fleeting blush and her sweet, innocent expression. As the duke continues, it becomes clear that he is upset by the duchess's behavior, particularly her ability to appreciate simple things and her apparent lack of discrimination in accepting gifts from others. The dramatic tension in the poem arises as the duke hints at his role in the duchess's demise. He mentions that he "gave commands" that "all smiles stopped together," suggesting that he ordered her to be killed or somehow orchestrated her death. The reason behind this drastic action appears to be the duke's desire for complete control and his inability to tolerate the duchess's perceived flirtatiousness and friendliness.

The poem explores themes of power, jealousy, and the objectification of women. The duke's character is revealed as domineering and possessive, and his lack of empathy for the duchess is evident. Browning skillfully captures the psychological complexity of the duke through the use of the dramatic monologue, allowing readers to glimpse the darker aspects of his personality. My Last Duchess remains a powerful and thought-provoking poem, inviting readers to reflect on the nature of relationships, the abuse of power, and the consequences of unchecked jealousy and possessiveness. Browning's masterful use of language and form continues to make this poem a staple in the study of Victorian literature.


In 1846, Browning married the poet Elizabeth Barrett, and the couple moved to Italy. His wife's failing health and eventual death profoundly influenced Browning's work. One of his most famous works, "Sonnets from the Portuguese," dedicated to Elizabeth, was published in 1850. After Elizabeth's death in 1861, Browning returned to England with their son. His later works, including Dramatis Personae (1864) and The Ring and the Book (1868-1869), continued to showcase his mastery of the dramatic monologue and his keen insight into the complexities of human nature.

The Ring and The Book

The Ring and the Book is a long narrative poem written by Robert Browning, published in four volumes between 1868 and 1869. This work is considered one of Browning's masterpieces and showcases his skill in dramatic monologue. The poem is based on a true story that took place in 1698 in Rome, Italy, and it revolves around a murder trial. The central narrative of involves the trial and execution of Count Guido Franceschini, who was accused of murdering his wife Pompilia. The story is told through a series of dramatic monologues given by different characters involved in the events, each providing their perspective on the case.

The title of the poem refers to the actual book or pamphlet that documented the trial and became a source of controversy. The ring in the title symbolizes the circle of voices and perspectives presented in the poem, as well as the marriage ring at the heart of the murder case. The multiple perspectives and voices in the poem contribute to a complex narrative that explores themes such as justice, truth, morality, and the subjectivity of perception. Browning uses this polyphonic structure to give depth and nuance to the characters and their motivations, providing readers with a rich and multifaceted portrayal of the events. The Ring and the Book is known for its challenging but rewarding style and is considered a landmark work in Victorian poetry. Browning's use of dramatic monologue, intricate narrative structure, and exploration of moral and psychological themes contribute to the enduring legacy of this ambitious and innovative poem.

Robert Browning's poetry often tackled themes of love, art, and the moral and spiritual dimensions of human existence. He received numerous accolades during his lifetime, including honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. Browning passed away on December 12, 1889, in Venice, Italy, leaving behind a body of work that remains influential and admired in the world of English literature. His contributions to poetry and his innovative approach to the exploration of the human psyche have secured his enduring legacy as one of the Victorian era's most significant poets.

 


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