ROBERT BROWNING

All Categories Robert Browning Autograph Dated

Robert Browning

Autograph Dated - 1889

Autograph dated less than six months before the poet died, June 29, 1889, on watermarked laid paper.

ROBERT BROWNING (1812-1889) was an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.

Browning's poetry was known to the cognoscenti from fairly early on in his life, but he remained relatively obscure as a poet till his middle age. (In the middle of the century, Tennyson was much better known.) In Florence he worked on the poems that eventually comprised his two-volume Men and Women, for which he is now well known; in 1855, however, when these were published, they made little impact. It was only after his wife's death, in 1861, when he returned to England and became part of the London literary scene, that his reputation started to take off. In 1868, after five years work, he completed and published the long blank-verse poem The Ring and the Book, and finally achieved really significant recognition. Based on a convoluted murder-case from 1690s Rome, the poem is composed of twelve books, essentially comprising ten lengthy dramatic poems narrated by the various characters in the story showing their individual take on events as they transpire, bookended by an introduction and conclusion by Browning himself. Extraordinarily long even by Browning's own standards (over twenty thousand lines), The Ring and the Book was the poet's most ambitious project and has been hailed as a tour de force of dramatic poetry. Published separately in four volumes from November 1868 through to February 1869, the poem was a huge success both commercially and critically, and finally brought Browning the renown he had sought and deserved for nearly forty years of work.

Browning's fame today rests mainly on his dramatic monologues, in which the words not only convey setting and action but also reveal the speaker's character. Unlike a soliloquy, the meaning in a Browning dramatic monologue is not what the speaker directly reveals but what he inadvertently "gives away" about himself in the process of rationalizing past actions, or "special-pleading" his case to a silent auditor in the poem. Rather than thinking out loud, the character composes a self-defense which the reader, as "juror," is challenged to see through. Browning chooses some of the most debased, extreme and even criminally psychotic characters, no doubt for the challenge of building a sympathetic case for a character who doesn't deserve one and to cause the reader to squirm at the temptation to acquit a character who may be a homicidal psychopath. One of his more sensational dramatic monologues is Porphyria's Lover. The opening lines provide a sinister setting for the macabre events that follow. It is plain that the speaker is insane, as he strangles his lover with her own hair to try and preserve forever the moment of perfect love she has shown him.

 

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