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ROBERT BROWNING  (1812-l889)

Robert Browning was born into a rich family at Camberwell, near London. His father was a clerk interested in literature and arts. Browning was educated at home and he was a voracious reader. Browning lived almost continuously at home until his marriage at the age of 34. He liked music, sports, travelling (à he was interested in voyages and to met other cultures à he went in Russia, Italy, Venice). With his love of the exotic and the picturesque he was a typical upper-class Victorian, sharing the values of his age though intelligently critical of them. He was interested in history and Realism. His life was more original and romantic than Tennyson.

Browning met his future wife, Elizabeth Barrett, in 1845. She was a famous poetess. The circumstances were truly Romantic: she was a semi-invalid, six years older than him and dominated by a tyrannical father. The courtship was conducted partly by letter and in secret. Finally they eloped to Italy in 1846 and lived there for the next fifteen years. They lived very happy (à romantic marriage) in Italy. Elizabeth died in Florence in 1861.

So he came back to England (in London with his son Pen) and became an important social and public ure. He never remarried and he died in 1889 in Venice.

  • Browning's originality as a poet

His poetry was very original. In his poems "the story is told by some actor in it, not by the poet himself" (à first-person lyrics). This "actor" is a single character faced with ah ethical problem. The language is colloquial and the rhythm as abrupt as those of real live speech. Rhyme and alliteration are also used in an unconventional way.

  • The dramatic monologue

His particular poetical technique was the dramatic monologue (it's something belonged to theatre; it's taken from Shakespearian tradition). The aim of this is: to study character's psychology as related as sort of event of their life (à characters are usually historical, existed people and belonged to Renaissance period).

The characteristic of this dramatic monologue are:

it is recited by a first-person speaker

this speaker is obviously not the poet but a historical ure

it is set in a precise historical and geographical background (many are set in Renaissance and have Italian subjects)

there is a listener who usually does or says little (usually doesn't speak) but who is essential to the dramatic or theatrical quality of the piece

it centres on a crucial point (usually an important event) or problem in the speaker's life

(à so speaker's nature and personality)

the tone and the language are consistent with the speaker, with his/her psychology and cultural level

the language is made to appear colloquial and spontaneous (contracted forms, repetition, exclamation, rude expression . )

the use of irregular or unusual syntax, punctuation and rhythm

The idea of drama is central because it represents a particular event of life.

Browning's philosophy

He was a profound and original thinker; he was influenced by Carlyle and Goethe and developed an idealistic conception of life in which evil was not-being, inaction, while value was to be found in a continuous striving towards good; this in a materialistic age such as the Victorian, was revolutionary. Today, Browning's message appear more like a blend of traditional Christianity, Evangelical Protestantism, and a Romanticism tinged with common sense.

Browning's modernity

His originality was in his technical innovations. His unconventional use of language, syntax and metre as well as his conviction that personality is not a single aspect, but is rather a multiplicity of selves, often incoherently mixed, influenced the 20th century modernist poetry.

He was also a master of picturesque yet realistic description.

Text: MY LAST DUCHESS (. 201)


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