“Mythic Women” Closing Announcement

by Anna Clark, M.A. Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is hosting “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair,'” an exhibition exploring the topics of sexual desire, social class, and the male objectification of women in Robert Browning’s 1872 poem “Fifine at the Fair.” This exhibit was curated by Katrina Gallegos, a Master’s student of Museum Studies at Baylor University. Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in honor of the poem’s 150th anniversary from August 17, 2022 – February 15, 2023.

Come and see Katrina Gallegos’ Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in “Fifine at the Fair” before the exhibit closes on February 15, 2023!

Explore the Greco-Roman symbology of Browning’s poem “Fifine at the Fair” through Gallegos’ research and analysis of Browning’s various references to mythic women. Venus the goddess of love, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra of Egypt, and the singing sirens of myth are all symbols Browning’s character Don Juan employs in “Fifine at the Fair” to compare and objectify the two female characters, Donna Elvire and Fifine.

In her exhibit, Gallegos helps the viewer decode this language of symbology to uncover what Browning was intending to convey through his usage of mythic women, especially in comparison to their Victorian counterparts.

A 1872 first edition copy of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair”

If you are not familiar with the poem or would like to refresh your memory, we have attached a hyperlink to a first edition copy of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” for your convenience: #3 – Fifine at the fair : and other poems / By Robert Browning. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library. 

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair'”:

 

The Armstrong Browning Library’s 2022 Baylor Book Society Acquisitions

Link

by Rachel Jacob, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

As the Armstrong Browning Library continues to build the largest collection of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning works, it is also building its collection of academic works about the Brownings and the long nineteenth century. Below are the Armstrong Browning Library’s newly acquired works courtesy of the Baylor Book Society, some of which can be seen on display in the Easter Day Alcove which connects the Entrance Foyer to the Leddy-Jones Research Hall.

The Baylor Book Society, established in 1970 as the Moody Memorial Library Book Fund, provides a way for donors to strengthen the book purchases of Baylor Libraries and create a lasting tribute. The contribution of an individual or group creates a legacy as the Libraries place a special plate with the name of the donor and the honoree in the first volume which the funds help acquire.

 

In memory of Hannah McKay Crofts by Frances McKay Andrews and Ellen Andrews Gage.

Beverly Seaton’s The Language of Flowers: A History. [ABL Non-Rare 398.368 S441l 1995]

 

In memory of Jean Withers McIver by Martha A. and Roger L. Brooks.

Tessa Bridal’s Effective Exhibit Interpretation and Design. [ABL Non-Rare 069.4 B851e 2013]

In memory of Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith by Martha and Roger Brooks.

The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Volume V: 1866-1874. [ABL Non-Rare]

In honor of Joy and Herbert H. Reynolds by Martha and Roger Brooks.

The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Volume VI: 1875-1882. [ABL Non-Rare]

In memory of Etta and Robert Withers by Martha Withers Brooks.

Catherine Addison’s A Genealogy of the Verse Novel. [ABL Non-Rare 821.009 A225g 2017]

In loving memory of My Parents Mr. and Mrs. Ben Skrabanek by Rita S. Patteson.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]

 

In honor of Jeanne Wood Nowlin by Kay and Mike Brown.

Elizabeth Ludlow’s The Figure of Christ in the Long Nineteenth Century. [ABL Non-Rare 809.93351 L945f 2020]

By Charlotte and Robert Lloyd.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]

In honor of Dr. Rynell Stiff Novak by Joseph R. Novak.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]

In honor of Rebekah Novak Proctor by Her Parents Rynell and Joseph Novak.

Heather Bozant Witcher and Amy Kahrmann Huseby’s Defining Pre-Raphaelite Poetics. [ABL Non-Rare 820.9008 W819d 2020]

In memory of Celia Dilworth Morgan, Class of 1938, by Nancy and Phil Wedemeyer.

Isobel Armstrong’s Victorian Poetry: Poetry Poetics and Politics. [ABL Non-Rare 821.809 A735v 2019]

In honor of the Anna and Bob Wright Family by Mike and Kay Brown.

Clare Pettitt’s Serial Forms: The Unfinished Project of Modernity, 1815-1848. [ABL Non-Rare 070.5 P511s 2020]

In memory of Rev. Al Novak, 1929, by Rynell and Joseph Novak.

Krista Lysack’s Chronometres: Devotional Literature, Duration, and Victorian Reading. [ABL Non-Rare 028.9 L993c 2019]

In honor of Joseph R. Novak, BU 1951, by Dr. Rynell S. Novak.

Karen Swann’s Lives of the Dead Poets: Keats, Shelley, Coleridge. [ABL Non-Rare 821.709 S972l 2019]

In memory of Dr. Margaret Jones Chanin by Gretchen Peterson Thomas.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]

In memory of Celia Dilworth Morgan, Class of 1938, by Nancy and Phil Wedemeyer. 

John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking’s Learning from Museums. [ABL Non-Rare 069.1 F191l 2018]

In memory of Dorothy Cunningham Lamberth by many Tyler friends who love her.

Sarah Glendon Lyons’ Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater: Victorian Aestheticism, Doubt and Secularisation. [ABL Non-Rare 820.9008 L991a 2015]

In memory of Jesmarie Harvey Hurst by libraries board of advisors and library staff.

Joseph Crawford’s Inspiration and Insanity in British Poetry: 1825-1855. [ABL Non-Rare 821.709 C899i 2019]

In memory of Jesmarie Harvey Hurst by loving Tyler friends.

Philipp Erchinger’s Artful Experiments: Ways of Knowing in Victorian Literature and Science. [ABL Non-Rare 820.9356 E65a 2018]

In memory of Jesmarie Harvey Hurst by Martha and John Minton.

John Blades’ Robert Browning: The Poems. [ABL Non-Rare 821.83 D B632r 2018]

In loving memory of Ann Miller, an outstanding English professor, from her friends Nancy and Fred Logan.

Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery. [ABL Non-Rare 811.6 P275ex 2015]

In honor of Mary Barton Robinson, BA 1950, by Kathy Robinson Hillman.

Jessica L. Lacher-Feldman’s Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries. [ABL Non-Rare 021.7 L137e 2013]

In honor of my parents, Mr. and Mrs. William F. Schuetz, by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Michael Wheeler’s The Athenaeum: More Than Just a London Club. [ABL Non-Rare 367 W563a 2020]

In honor of my wife, Carol L. Schuetz, by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Fiona Sampson’s In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. [ABL Non-Rare B S544s 2018]

In honor of Connie Schuetz Wright by Melvin H. Schuetz

Silvio Bar and Emily Hauser’s Reading Poetry, Writing Genre: English Poetry and Literary Criticism in Dialogue with Classical Scholarship. [ABL Non-Rare 821.009 B223r 2019]

In honor of our granddaughter Natalie Grace Belew for her character, diligence, and dedication, from her grandparents Ruth and John Belew.

Melisa Klimaszewski’s Collaborative Dickens: Authorship and Victorian Christmas Periodicals. [ABL Non-Rare 823.8 K65c 2019]

In memory of Carroll Hague.

Ben Glaser and Jonathan Culler’s Critical Rhythm: The Poetics of a Literary Life Form. [ABL Non-Rare 808.1 G548c 2019]

In honor of Frankie Carson by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Ana Sampson’s Night Feeds and Morning Songs: Honest, Fierce and Beautiful Poems about Motherhood. [ABL Non-Rare 808.81 S192n 2021]

 

In honor of Sue and Wilburn “Dub” Wright by George W. Monroe.

Paul E. Kerry’s Thomas Carlyle and the Idea of Influence. [ABL Non-Rare 828.809 K41t 2018]

In honor of William F. Schuetz, Jr. by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Daniel Karlin’s Street Songs: Writers and Urban Songs and Cries, 1800-1925. [ABL Non-Rare 821.009 K18st 2018]

In memory of Louise H. Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Albert D. Pionke’s Teaching Later British Literature: A Thematic Approach. [ABL Non-Rare 820.7 P662t 2019]

In honor of Lumae Cunningham and Roger Spurgeon Brooks by Roger Leon Brooks.

Britta Martens’ The Poetry of Robert Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.83 D M377p 2016]

In honor of Lynn Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Shane McCorristine’s Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750-1920. [ABL Non-Rare 133.1 M191s 2010]

In memory of Dr. Susan Burrow Colón by Ivy, Greg, and Luke Hamerly.

Andrew Hodgson’s The Poetry of Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney: Lyric Individualism. [ABL Non-Rare 821.809 H691p 2019]

In memory of my father, William F. Schuetz, by Melvin H. Schuetz.

David Kerler and Timo Muller’s Poem Unlimited: New Perspectives on Poetry and Genre. [ABL Non-Rare 808.1 K39p 2019]

In honor of Shirley Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Brian Rejack and Michael Theune’s Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives. [ABL Non-Rare]

In honor of my wife, Carol L. Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Kevin Klipfel and Dani Cook’s Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practices. [ABL Non-Rare 025.56 K65l 2017]

 

 

 

More information about the Baylor Book Society and other Baylor Library programs can be found at:

https://www.baylor.edu/mediacommunications/news.php?action=story&story=1671

https://www.baylor.edu/library/index.php?id=975620

https://www.baylor.edu/library/index.php?id=975621

Interview with Katrina Gallegos, Curator of “Mythic Women”

Interview Questions by Anna Clark, M.A. Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is hosting “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair,'” an exhibition exploring the topics of sexual desire, social class, and the male objectification of women in Robert Browning’s 1872 poem “Fifine at the Fair.” This exhibit was curated by Katrina Gallegos, a Master’s student of Museum Studies at Baylor University. Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in honor of the poem’s 150th anniversary from August 17, 2022 – February 15, 2023.

I had the opportunity to ask Katrina Gallegos some questions regarding her exhibit, Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in “Fifine at the Fair.” 

Gallegos is a M.A. candidate in the Museum Studies department at Baylor University. This past spring semester, Gallegos partnered with the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum to curate an exhibit exploring the topics of the male gaze, the sexual objectification of women, and Greco-Roman symbols in Robert Browning’s poem “Fifine at the Fair” on its 150th anniversary of publication.

Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum Hankamer Treasure Room through February 15, 2023. We invite you to come see the exhibit before it closes this winter.

How did you become interested in creating an exhibit on Robert Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair”? 

“Fifine” was actually my second choice. Originally, I was going to curate an exhibit based on women poets of Texas. However, as I was researching secondary sources in ABL’s closed stacks I came across literature that swayed me to curate an exhibition based on the poem. This poem is one of Robert Browning’s more obscure works and it was published later in his life. 2022 celebrates the poem’s 150th anniversary.

A 1872 first edition of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” on display

How did your previous research experiences assist you with this exhibit? 

My background is in Spanish and the culinary arts, but my experience as a graduate student in the Department of Museum Studies aided my research. I have taken an exhibition curation course which taught us how to conduct preliminary research when developing a new exhibit. Additionally, my experience as a McNair Research Scholar at the undergraduate level assisted me in finding the secondary sources to support my thesis of the male gaze. There are published literary works in the Armstrong Browning Library’s periodicals which explore and analyze this theme. 

In your exhibit, you highlight how Browning wrote about the provocative subjects of sexuality, desire, and the male objectification of women in a conservative Victorian society. Why do you think Browning was willing to address such topics that were generally considered taboo in Victorian England?

Robert Browning

After reading the secondary literature and comparing that against contemporary sources one can find many examples of explicit sexuality in Victorian Literature. For example, Charlotte Brontë ‘s novel Wuthering Heights contains a few erotic scenes and sentiments. A specific example is when Heathcliff goes to Catherine’s bedchamber and replaces his rival’s hair with his own. The language of that and the succeeding scenes are erotic. And while not in the same generation, Lord Byron and the Romantics of the proceeding generation were a little scandalous. Also, if one looks to the Pre-Raphaelite movement of painting one can see both the male gaze, desire and sexuality. One famous painter Rossetti who was both a mentee and friend of Robert Browning painted many women who are beautiful and flirtatious. Also, if one considers the date of publication, 1872 one can posit why R. Browning wrote such a poem. By this point Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) had been deceased for 11 years and R. Browning never remarried nor taken a lover, a close friend, nothing. One can only imagine he must have had moments of loneliness and desire, he was after all, a living breathing human just like you and me. However, there are some contemporary and more recent secondary sources that argue that this poem was written as a critique on the Rosetti’s love life. As mentioned before R. Browning and Rosetti were friends, yet Rosetti was not as devoted to his wife as R. Browning was with EBB. After the poem was published, Rosetti was furious and ended his friendship with R. Browning. Browning was astonished, and nothing could persuade Rosetti to reconsider. Rosetti believed it was a personal and public attack on his behavior. From my research I could not find any document written by R. Browning which supports this theory. If I were to be very generous, I’d say both could be true. R. Browning was lonely, still had desires, and also disapproved of his friend’s behavior. The Victorians were and were not conservative. As with any society it is nuanced. The era is named after one individual, Queen Victoria, who was conservative. Queen Victoria’s successor, her son Prince Albert, known as “Bertie” was a scandalously licentious in his behavior. He took many lovers outside of his marriage and was a disappointment to his mother. I believe we, 21st century denizens, attribute much of our beliefs of this time around one person’s values and behavior. This is a disservice because there is much more to this era than one person.    

How do you think Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” contributed to late 19th century discussions regarding women’s suffrage, the cult of true womanhood, the aesthetic dress movement, and women’s role in both the private and public spheres? 

I do not think the poem contributed much to these discussions. If anything, the poem reinforces the idea of “true womanhood” through its fetishization of a minority woman in direct comparison to a white English woman. As far as women’s suffrage I am only guessing therefore the following is an opinion, Donna Elvire has less than 20 lines of speech in this poem, and it is only at the beginning. If I recall correctly, Fifine has none. Therefore, I’d argue that R. Browning was not appealing to the females in the room. Could a woman have read it and its content affirmed her belief that a woman should have a voice and a right, sure. But I cannot definitively say that it had that effect. I am not entirely familiar with the aesthetic dress movement so I cannot speak to it. However, I do think R. Browning’s wife, EBB, contributed much more to women’s rights. She delicately balanced her public and private roles in a way that was far more unexpected and influential than her husband’s. He did what was expected, she did not. EBB wrote poems about slavery and child labor; she was a poet activist.  

Satirical cartoon on what it means to be “a lady” versus “a woman”

What do you believe is the most enduring legacy of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” on its 150th anniversary of publication? 

That people change yet remain the same. Even today, different can be seen as exotic and desirable and a welcome relief from what expected and common. Also, famous people, poets, politicians, etc. are just people, they’re just trying to express themselves and figure it out like the rest of us.  

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair'”:

 

Heartiest Christmas Wishes

from your friends at the Armstrong Browning Library.

The image on the front of the Armstrong Browning Library's 2022 Christmas card.

Jean-Arnould Heyermans’ oil painting of Pen Browning painting while seated between a cobbler and his daughter. H0011, Brownings’ Works of Art & Effects.

The Armstrong Browning Library recently acquired three oil painting by Robert Wiedeman Barrett (Pen) Browning (1849-1912), son of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and an oil painting by Pen’s teacher, Belgian artist Jean-Arnould Heyermans (1837-1892). The front of the ABL’s Christmas card features the Heyermans painting, which depicts a cobbler and his daughter with an artist seated between – the artist is Pen Browning. Robert Browning often stated his gratitude to Heyermans for instructing his son: “I cannot let it go without expressing once again my deepest thanks to you for all you have done for my boy. I consider it one of the most extraordinary pieces of good fortune which have ever befallen me that he came under your notice, — convinced as I am that no master in the world would have done so much for him.” The Armstrong Browning Library is grateful to the generous donors who made the acquisition of these paintings possible.

The Armstrong Browning Library will be closed from December 23rd, 2022 through January 2nd, 2023. We hope to see you in the new year!

 

Analyzing “Fifine at the Fair” Through Symbology

by Anna Clark, M.A. Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is hosting “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair,'” an exhibition exploring the topics of sexual desire, social class, and the male objectification of women in Robert Browning’s 1872 poem “Fifine at the Fair.” This exhibit was curated by Katrina Gallegos, a Master’s student of Museum Studies at Baylor University. Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in honor of the poem’s 150th anniversary from August 17, 2022 – February 15, 2023.

Examining Browning’s Characters Through the Lens of Symbology

Gallegos is a graduate student at Baylor University pursuing her Master’s degree in Museum Studies. Employing her interest in symbology, Gallegos’ exhibit explores Greco-Roman symbols she uncovered through her analysis of Browning’s poem and how these symbols connect to the topics of sexuality, desire, and male objectification of women in the late 19th century.

Particularly, Gallegos explains the symbols Robert Browning employs to describe the three central characters of the poem: Don Juan, Don Juan’s staid wife Donna Elvire, and Fifine, the exotic gypsy woman who is the object of Don Juan’s sexual desire.

Don Juan

Gallegos explains Browning’s usage of Don Juan, a fictional folk figure throughout European literature whose reputation is synonymous with being a womanizer. From the first introduction of Don Juan in the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina’s play The Trickster and and the Stone Guest, the Casanova character of Don Juan lives in the public imagination as a man who enjoys the thrill of seduction and conquest of women regardless of socioeconomic class and marital status.

In “Fifine at the Fair,” Don Juan is portrayed by Browning as a Victorian gentleman of education and rank. He is married to Donna Elvire, his wife of many years, and the two are first depicted as having a loving relationship. However, Gallegos points out that this marriage is not as happy as it appears. Despite his respect for Donna Elvire’s virtues, Don Juan has the roving gaze of his namesake and unjustly compares his loyal wife to a gypsy woman he sees at the fair named Fifine.

Gallegos describes how Don Juan attempts to justify his sexual objectification of both his wife and the gypsy through reference to Greek and Roman myths.

A satirical cartoon depicting a man’s sexual fantasies

Donna Elvire

The symbols used to describe Don Juan’s wife Donna Elvire are, as Gallegos points out, nautical. In the poem, Don Juan compares his wife to a “calm sea” and a “sturdy ship.” Gallegos connects these nautical metaphors to Greco-Roman mythology in which women were often associated with the sea. The mythological characters of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty who rose from the sea at birth, and the sirens, female mermaids who led sailors to their death by their enticing songs, are important symbols in the poem.

A woman in Victorian dress

It is of note that Donna Elvire is compared to a calm sea and a sturdy ship, not to the beautiful Venus or the enchanting sirens of myth. Instead, Gallegos argues that Donna Elvire is a passive character, who is along for the ride like a ship at a calm sea and steady wind. She is silent throughout most of the poem, overtaken by the dominating personality of Don Juan and his monologues on idealized female beauty.

Fifine

Whereas Donna Elvire is plain and respectable, Fifine is depicted through Don Juan’s male gaze as alluring and seductive. Gallegos notes the comparisons to various femme fatales throughout Greco-Roman mythology: Helen of Troy, the goddess Venus, and Cleopatra. Fifine is described with a “Greek-nymph nose,” “Hebrew eyes,” “spangled hips,” and “wiry hair,” which all add to her exotic appeal.

In the poem, Don Juan peers upon Fifine as she is changing and refuses to avert his gaze. Instead of acknowledging his wrongdoing, Don Juan blames Fifine’s attractive appearance for his lustful eye and thoughts. Gallegos explains how Don Juan attempts to use his comparisons to Greco-Roman mythological symbols to justify his betrayal of his wife and objectification of a young gypsy girl; like the Helen and Cleopatra figures of old, Fifine’s irresistible beauty has left Don Juan at the whim of his passions.

Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty

Gallegos asks her audience to reflect on the issues of the phenomena of the male gaze and the objectification of women through her study of Browning’s characters. These topics of lust, sexuality, and objectification are especially interesting in the context of Robert Browning’s Victorian England of 1872.

Come and celebrate the 150th anniversary of Browning’s complex poem “Fifine at the Fair” through the research of Katrina Gallegos. The exhibit will be on display in the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum’s Hankamer Treasure Room through February 15, 2023.

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair'”:

Benefactors Day: “Harriet Martineau, Spirit of the Victorian Age”

By Carolina Criscione, Assistant to the Curators

On November 17th, The Armstrong Browning Library had the distinct privilege to learn about a fascinating historical figure in the lecture “Harriet Martineau, Spirit of the Victorian Age” from the distinguished Dr. Deborah A. Logan, this year’s speaker for Benefactors Day. Benefactors Day is a yearly celebration of our wonderful community of supporters that ensures the future of the Armstrong Browning Library’s scholarship and programming work. A professor emerita of Victorian Literature at Western Kentucky University, Dr. Logan captured this year’s audience by shedding light on the life and works of the Victorian author, economist, journalist, sociologist, and Browning correspondent, Harriet Martineau.

Dr. Logan’s lecture

It is safe to say that if Martineau had a LinkedIn profile back in the day, her accomplishments, publications, and skills sections would run about a mile long. As a self-supported woman, who was also deaf and battled long bouts of illness, Martineau refused to be contained by the typical societal constraints placed on Victorian women. She was a widely celebrated and respected writer in her day and offered progressive ideas to Victorian society about the world around her. Martineau wrote about topics ranging from the global anti-slavery movement, religion, health, farming, and the economy (to mention just a few). Her book Illustrations of Political Economy (1832) was an instant success, even though Martineau’s literary and intellectual fame came with its fair share of detractors and challenges. In this lecture, Dr. Logan emphasized Martineau’s commitment to exploring the relationship between one’s principles and practices. Dr. Logan offered insight into Martineau’s life based on her extensive research into the author’s personal correspondence and on her own exploration of the geographic world Martineau inhabited (Dr. Logan once stayed the night in Martineau’s room!). The afternoon’s lecture finished with a Q&A session, which was then followed by lively discussion during a reception in the Cox Reception Hall. For those interested in learning more about Harriet Martineau, we have included a recording of Dr. Logan’s lecture here: baylor.edu/library/martineau

 

 

Floral arrangement and Martineau biography

Also accompanying the special event was the official debut of several items related to Harriet Martineau, donated to the ABL by Dr. Logan herself! Dr. Logan’s gift includes over 100 volumes of literary works by Martineau, as well as scholarly critiques, all of which are now available at the library for research. The ABL invites you to visit the Hankamer Treasure Room to view the temporary display, curated by graduate assistant Anna Clark, highlighting the recent acquisition. You can also learn more about the collection here .The Martineau display will be available through 1 March 2023.

Reception Table – Photograph by Lexie Renee Photography

We look forward to the future scholarship and learning this collection will facilitate, especially in bringing female historians like Martineau back into the narratives of history. We are very grateful for Dr. Logan’s support for the Armstrong Browning Library’s mission and are thankful for all ABL benefactors who make our research, collection expansion, and programming possible. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s Benefactor Day!

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Texan Heat and Archive Fever: Browning’s Interest in Islamic Literature

By Alexander Abichou, PhD

‘[Browning] borrowed his jewels from the East and from the West; from art, from nature[…] from legend and history; from fancy and imagination [as well as] poets, painters, dervishes, saints [ and] took them all as the colours of his scenery, the figures in his drama, the sphere in which his imagination worked’ (Browning Society Papers, Sixth session, 1886-7. Forty-Fourth Meeting, Friday, October 29, 1886. pp.165-6)

Alexander Abichou, PhD

Alexander Abichou, PhD, in the Belew Scholars’ Room, Armstrong Browning Library

Having traversed acres of prairie connecting the highways of Dallas-Fort Worth to Waco, I arrived at Baylor University to visit the unique Rare Books and Manuscript Collection at the Armstrong Browning Library which serves as a testimony to the life and writings of the Browning family and exemplifies a level of academic dedication (from inception to present) which would prove to be as endearing as it was informative. Although the quietude of the ABL stood in stark contrast to the grandiose lone star state that encompassed it, there was a warmth which resonated across the pomegranate engravings of the library doors, the minimalist walls of the Mark Rothko chapel, and the endless fields surrounding Gatesville’s Last Drive-In Picture Show. I had undertaken the fellowship as a means of broadening the scope of my current monograph, Mythographic thought and Islamic theosophy: From early Romanticism to Late Victorianism, focusing on Percy Shelley and Robert Browning as the respective exemplars of their age for determining a mythopoetic form of Orientalism where Eastern theological concepts were creatively integrated into a poetic oeuvre encompassing multiple traditions re-presented for contemporary audiences. I aimed to uncover details regarding the circles engaged in mythographic and Orientalist scholarship among Browning’s immediate acquaintances to determine how discussions pertaining to the evolution and role of myth vis-à-vis Christianity informed his depictions of Islamic personages and concepts. For the subsequent month, therefore, I was eager to immerse myself both in the archives as well as Texan culture which had previously been an unknown quantity due to never visiting this part of the United States. Neither aspect would disappoint.

When discerning the nature of Browning’s exposure to Islamic intellectual history, it was pivotal to examine his interactions with the Arabist, Charles James Lyall, prompting me towards a series of correspondences between both parties as well as the drafts of critical editions for Arabic and Persian literature that Lyall translated and sent to his treasured companion. On December 13th 1884, Lyall offered linguistic corrections for Ferishtah’s Fancies which extended beyond simply noting alterations to be made for names such as, ‘Tahmasp,’ or, ‘Rakhsh,’ but also providing etymological insight into the lineage of these Persian and Arabic words from Hakim, signifying ‘Ruler, giver of commands [derived ] from hikmat, wisdom’, as well as Firdusi, connoting ‘paradise.’ The letter highlights Browning’s relation with Lyall as characterised by a growing exposure to classical Oriental literature with the British Arabist casually gesturing, ‘you may remember certain translations of old Arabian poetry of which I ventured to send you copies from India a few years ago.’ The interlinguistic quality that Lyall afforded Browning’s Oriental poetics offsets a general tendency to completely translate the Other and instead, humbles the reader into a position where meaning can be deduced but not necessarily authenticated. This polysemic approach affords those foreign terms a space to where the historical significance must be consulted before presuming mastery without wholeheartedly removing artistic intent for those both uninformed and seeking to be exposed to fresh terminology. Acknowledging this polyvocal quality of Browning’s work, Lyall writes in his English rendition of the Mu’allakah of Zuhair (Ode to Zuhair) that the metre adopted in the seventh stanza of Abt Vogler resembles, ‘the noble cadence called the Tawil, most loved by the ancient poets’, with the page number for this passage being noted on Browning’s personal copy (see below).

The Mo'allaqah of Zuheyr rendered into English

Robert Browning’s copy of The Mo’allaqah of Zuheyr rendered into English: with an introduction and notes by C.J. Lyall. ABL Brownings’ Library X BL 892.71 Z94m 1878

Lyall’s Mo’allaqah proved a useful source of classical Arab history and literary style offering a tapestry of poetic conceits and formal idiosyncrasies relayed through annotated footnotes which Browning would condense into his own passages such as, the ‘Slit-eared, unblemished, fat, true offsprings of Muzennem’, echoing Lyall’s comment that, ‘[c]amels of good breed had a slit in the ear [making them] the offspring of a certain Muzannam’. Aside from repurposing Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma’s pre-Islamic vocabulary, Lyall and Browning also discussed the merits of Omar Khayyam’s Sufism in a letter dated 21st January 1885 as the former argues that the Persian polymath was, ‘more of a Sûfi than he seems in a superficial view’, since his discomfort towards the Sufistic longing for absorption within a Divine Beloved did not necessarily derive from unbelief but rather a scientific proclivity which sought to maintain selfhood. Intriguingly this comment is prefaced with an acknowledgment of Browning’s already established familiarity of the topic, ‘Sûfism, as you doubtless know, looks upon all phenomena as manifestations of the One, who is God, and considers the end of all to be absorption in Him.’ Lyall also reminds Browning of a previous poetry collection containing unpublished works from Lebid ibn Rabi’ah, ‘[t]he piece of which I showed you a translation when I called on Thursday last is taken from this Dîwân [of Lebîd’s poetry]’, highlighting a continued interest from both parties to share their thoughts on Arabian literature and prompting Lyall’s high praise of Lebid as standing, ‘between the Old time and the New, between the Ignorance and el-Islâm’. Akin to Lebid occupying the horizon line of these distinct eras, Browning’s correspondences reveal a willingness to bridge disparate cultures within an informed Oriental poetics that incorporates linguistic, topographical and conceptual material from the rural expressions found in pre-Islamic odes to the sufistic divans of figures such as Khayyam and Firdowsi informing Browning’s dervishes, Moleykeh and Ferishtah.

Outside personal relationships, I also wanted to broaden the scope of my research to include the voices responding to Browning’s work either contemporaneously or in the immediate aftermath of his death as a means of bolstering the veracity of my approach to Browning’s Islamic mythopoetics by finding likeminded interpretations espoused in the writings of his Victorian colleagues and critics. I perused volumes of the Browning Society Papers to glean choice quotes that foreground unconventional attitudes to reading his Eastern poetry which might highlight how my own interest in Browning’s engagement with Islamic literature is reflected in readings conducted during his lifetime.

The Browning Society's Papers. ABL Periodicals Rare

The Browning Society’s Papers. ABL Periodicals Rare

In due course, I uncovered a transcript of the forty-seventh meeting conducted Friday April 25 (1890) in which the notion of a semitic affinity throughout Browning’s writing is examined by Joseph Jacobs’s paper on ‘Browning’s Theology’ where he highlights the characteristic elements of obscurity, moralism and symbolism imbuing Browning’s literature with traits found in sacred texts – overcoming canonical distinctions between poet and theologian. Jacobs lauds Browning’s dramatic rendition of theological concepts for its inclusive approach to non-Christian imagery whereby such Talmudic or mythohistorical allusions indicate, ‘[a] certain sympathy with Jewish ways of thought and fancy’, and yet, acknowledges that these references largely stemmed from the poets’ Broad Churchism and were not necessarily, ‘very profound.’ During the committee meeting, Reverend Johnson develops Jacobs’s examination of Semitic thought in Browning’s literature by contesting that the connection between Jewish, Islamic and Broad Church monotheism are not as divergent as the essay implies, ‘[the] Arabians were the great Unitarians, and the Jews, as he was endeavouring to convince Mr. Jacobs, stood in a secondary position to the Moslems.’ Dismissing the binary distinctions Jacobs’s upholds for Jewish and Broad Church Unitarianism, Johnson sought to reinforce how, the ‘great founders of the Unitarian faith in the world’, following the collapse of the Roman Empire,  ‘were the Arabians’, and as such, there was a need to recognise historic interconnectivity rather than dissimilarity when examining Browning’s Broad Church depiction of Oriental imagery. By recontextualising this discussion of Browning’s Unitarianism in light of, ‘Koran[ic references] to the sublimity of Allah’, Johnson widens the matrix of Eastern allusions available in his poetry beyond the Jewish mythohistoric figures noted by Jacobs (e.g. Abraham ibn Ezra and Jaehanan Hakkadosh) and insists, ‘the religious literature of the Arabians,’ was also relevant to a holistic discussion of Browning’s transhistorical poetics. Although Johnson acknowledges the importance of Jewish theology as a precursor to Christian thought, he also calls for a reappraisal of Muslim literature in spawning a genre of secular romances through the ‘unsurpassed’ Arabian Nights which delighted the Oriental imagination of key eighteenth and nineteenth century authors (e.g. Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’, Tennyson’s ‘Recollections of the Arabian Nights’) and in turn, placed the ‘Mohammedans [at] the fountain-head of religious imagination [amongst the Eastern empires]’.  By emphasising the dialogical rather than exclusionary nature of historical influence, Reverend Johnson acknowledges Islam was a central faith in shaping contemporary Western fancy with regards to the East and as a result, warrants inclusion within the dialogic web of Browning’s traditional influences, ‘[t]he Jews were intermediaries between the Moslems and the Catholic Church’. Echoing Johnson’s sentiment that Browning’s Unitarianism was amenable to a Qur’anic focus on God’s, ‘unweariedness, his sleeplessness, and his height above all created beings’, Frederick Furnivall (joint founder of the Browning Society) contrasts the standard Broad Church assignment of, ‘Christ in the place of God and […] the Holy Spirit on one side altogether’, against Browning’s monotheism which more distinctly echoed, ‘the one great God of the Jews and the Arabians.’ Although Dr. Furnival admits Browning’s work allows the godship of Christ, there remains an emphasis on, ‘God the Father [before] God the Son’, and an overarching  belief in, ‘one God irrespective of persons,’ that engendered an empathy with Jewish and Islamic Unitarianism. In particular, Dr. Furnival suggests that Jacobs overlooks Browning’s Eastern poetics as a medium for critiquing certain traditional theological tenets often associated with Trinitarianism from, ‘Church sacraments [and] regeneration in baptism [to] apostolic succession’, where figures such as Abd-el-Kadr in Through the Metidja and the titular Muleykeh provide didactic lessons on the nature of miracles or the atonement of sins in an unorthodox guise.

It was fascinating to uncover those members of the Browning Society who gestured towards descriptions of Allah, The Arabian Nights and Islamic imperial expansion within wider discussions concerning the poet’s reimagination of non-Christian traditions whether it be Reverend Johnson’s recognition of Islam’s world-historical impact on secular romance literature or Dr. Furnival’s supposition that Browning’s sympathies aligned with a more staunch Semitic monotheism. Although neither thinker presumes deep acquaintance nor desire for authenticity, these early efforts expanded the notion of Browning’s Jewish affinity beyond Joseph Jacobs’s or Moncure Conway readings by incorporating Islamic verbiage within literary analysis as a means of foregrounding Abrahamic Unitarianism as the broader connective tissue driving Browning’s creative interest in, each ‘great branch[… of this] one great system.’

Review of Ferishtah’s Fancies in Church of England Pulpit and Ecclesiastical Review. Vol. 19. London, 17 January 1885, pp. 35-36. ABL Periodical Articles Meynell (Browning Guide #A0653)

Review of Ferishtah’s Fancies in Church of England Pulpit and Ecclesiastical Review. Vol. 19. London, 17 January 1885, pp. 35-36. ABL Periodical Articles Meynell (Browning Guide #A0653)

In addition to the scholarly perception of Browning couched within committee manuscripts, I investigated newspaper reviews to deduce not only the reception of his Eastern-inspired output but also the content of articles surrounding these appraisals as his work can be noted appearing alongside other pieces espousing a pseudo-syncretic attitude towards the Orient. In particular, The Church of England Pulpit and Ecclesiastical Review provides an intriguing case study for discerning Browning’s position within this growing drive to solve contemporary problems with Eastern solutions. The nineteenth volume (January 17, 1885) contains a critique of Ferishtah’s Fancies as well as an adjoining discussion concerning ancient Jerusalem and its ties to modern Bedouin culture. The Review of Ferishtah’s Fancies exemplifies how susceptible the general audience was to Browning’s rendition of a Christian didactic narrative within an unfamiliar Dervish outfit for the critic offers a narrative breakdown of short stories comprising the work as well as a brief exegesis as to the core ethical lessons explored in each section. Although the piece is commended for blending poetic metre and philosophical concepts through the ‘supposed utterances of an Eastern sage,’ emphasis is placed on the moralistic insights that this Persian soothsayer can offer his Christian readership from the general theophanic outlook upon nature replete with divine signs for contemplation to extolling the potency of constant prayer. The reviewer exhibits a willingness to engage Browning’s Oriental anecdotes such as, ‘A Camel-Driver’ and ‘Shah Abbas’, where references to nomadic Bedouins or the Safavid King of Iran are not superficially questioned as irrelevant to struggles within Victorian society but rather embraced in a positive process of theological identity formation. Despite passages mimicking the Dervish rites of initiation or adopting the linguistic tone of Sufistic parables outlined in Lyall’s scholarly works, there is a an intense focus on the content and messaging of each ethical quandary that the arabesque design is appreciated as a vessel for relaying more universal truths.

Initially, I bypassed the paragraph prior to this review as simply a response to an article concerning the Eucharist where an anonymous reader offers an excerpt from William Thomson’s, The Land and the Book, (1860) but further investigation highlighted a curious thematic correlation as the East was similarly believed to possess a storehouse of forgotten traditions suitable for modern Christian interpretations. Urging his fellow believers to return towards the Holy Land for authenticity, the reader chastises the, ‘foolish asceticism of our civilisation,’ for placing a stigma on eating and drinking that, ‘did not exist in the Oriental mind’, arguing modern societies are unable to appreciate corporeal symbols whereas, ‘the Jews and other Eastern nations,’ (p.34) maintained a tradition of rejoicing in bodily senses and as such, were better equipped to understand the notion of Supper. It is intriguing that this reader would appeal to the ‘Oriental mind’ in order to conduct Biblical hermeneutics on the basis that the Middle East possessed a present geo-historical connection to the, ‘land where the World-made-flesh dwelt amongst men.’ In particular, a passage is cited where the Bedouin practice of welcoming guests through bread and dates (brotherhood; khuwy) is likened to the Eucharistic covenant. Although the book refers to Muslims as fanatic and ignorant, there remains a subtle acknowledgement of the transhistorical interconnectedness between the Abrahamic faiths via their current and past connection to Jerusalem as multiple denominations inhabit, worship or restore shared sites of cultural and religious significance, ‘many shrines of the Moslem, and other sects, owe their sanctity to events recorded in Biblical history.’(p.229) These cross-cultural intersections include: Joseph’s workshop being housed in the Muslim quarter and his tomb resembling ‘the common Moslem graves of the city’; contemporary Arab phraseology referring to casting the wife off as a slipper during divorce being associated with the narrative in Deuteronomy xxv. 7-10; and, the Bedouin law of hospitality practised through dabbihah (slaughtering a calf) thought to resemble an old custom practised by, ‘Abraham and Gideon, and Manoah.’ I believe it is not incidental that the Ecclesiastical Review situates this excerpt of William Thomson’s Middle Eastern travel narrative alongside their review of Ferishtah’s Fancies as this association highlights a willingness among Browning’s Christian readership to interpret his Jewish or Islamic allusions in a supplementary manner to inform their own theological identity. Likewise, Browning’s Eastern poetics can be contextualised within a greater movement towards refreshing contemporary Christian rhetoric by incorporating mythos previously dismissed on the basis of historical irrelevance.

By investigating archives unrelated to Browning’s personal correspondence, I realised how the humanistic tone of his religious poetics encouraged contemporary scholars and journalists to conduct a more hybrid literary analysis (incorporating disparate cultural codes) while also producing works that resonated with a Christian public seeking to reclaim traditional practices upheld in the East. I noted a mutually constitutive relationship form between Browning’s syncretistic approach to Eastern poetics shaping the way public figures approached Oriental tropes and the wider social shift towards integrating Arab or Persian lexis within cultural discourse which informed his own portrayal. The simultaneously innocuous and impactful nature of these references can be gleamed from an 1839 letter between Browning and Fanny Haworth where he wishes luck to two racing horses named, ‘Paracelsus’ and ‘Avicenna’, which are both references to Swiss and Persian physicians. Rooted within the mundanity of a horse race is the central character of Browning’s poem Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish the Arab Physician for the titular protagonist is an amalgamation of these two formative figures who sought to similarly bridge the gap between religion and science and, as Hédi Jouad speculates, may even have derived his name from Koushayr (Avicenna’s professor). Regardless as to whether this scenario was coincidental or informative, it bolsters the narrative thread throughout these records that Middle Eastern and Islamic history had begun rooting itself into Victorian collective consciousness to the extent that neither Browning nor his associates would have found it strange to insert Qur’anic descriptions, Arab etymology or Persian poetics during their discussions.

Beyond the academic story unearthed from these tomes, my personal narrative at Baylor shall serve as a cherished memory thanks to the outstanding staff members who supported this endeavour and helped me piece together this image of Browning’s literary engagement with Middle Eastern culture. Christi Klempnauer and Laura French proved to be stalwart figures not only offering council when navigating the library system but also providing genuine, insightful conversations at the beginning and end of each day.  Likewise, the experience would not have been possible without Jennifer Borderud’s acceptance of my application enabling this wonderful month spent as a researcher, guest and (now) ambassador for Waco. Although I acquired invaluable material towards my wider work on Browning, Shelley and Islam, it is these human moments that I will truly treasure, reminisce  … archive.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: The Irreverent Eye

By Laura McNeal

Laura McNeal

Laura McNeal in the Belew Scholars’ Room, Armstrong Browning Library

The hardest part about bringing Victorians to a modern reader is their reverence. They insist that whatever has been done wrong will be more easily endured or rectified if they never explicitly describe it. In our time, we have the opposite approach: talk talk talk about it, show show show it all, every terrible thing, every violation, every outrage, every shame. All our contemporary discourse–our movies, novels, poems, newspaper articles, and songs—aim to comprehend and heal by having no secrets and almost no taboos. Victorians, however, were very good at keeping secrets and very serious about taboos. They were bound by social and religious constraints that urged reverence for certain ideals, including monogamy, chastity, and dutifulness. We seem (collectively, in the aggregate) to want to tell the truth, whatever it is. They (collectively) wanted to protect a rigid, powerfully idealistic vision of human life.

I came to the Armstrong Browning Library determined, as I suppose most scholars are, to pierce silences, peer into cracks, make new comparisons, illuminate dark spaces, and tell a fresh and somehow edifying truth. I’m not a scholar, though. I write fiction. What I want to find when I read Victorian letters, diaries, reminiscences, articles, and footnotes—especially footnotes, which often lead me to obscure diaries–is an encounter that could be dramatized in a scene. To write that scene I must invent what we can never, ever know: what these actual, once-living people really said to each other at the time and what they thought but couldn’t say because they didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or be ostracized by others, or they simply, reflexively thought it best to suppress it. What I have been doing for six years now as I read and write about the Barretts and Brownings is at once a huge violation of their privacy and a rescue attempt. Look at them, I want to say to the world. Look at them, at these earnest, reverent, suffering, fallible, astonishing people who built the ladder and the scaffold and the foundation on which we all stand. What did they do, what did they wish, what did they accomplish, and how did they manage?

Thanks to the continuous efforts of readers and scholars all over the world, and especially, in this area of study, because of the lifelong dedication of Dr. A.J. Armstrong and Philip Kelley, the Armstrong Browning Library offers, in book form and in a vast, searchable database, not only what the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote and the millions (or billions) of pages that have been written about what they wrote, but also what their relatives and friends and important or unimportant acquaintances reported in their diaries and letters, the locks of hair they labeled and saved, the brooches they wore, the paintings they painted, and the inkwells they stared at while the ink dried on the tips of their upheld pens. The volume of material here is staggering and inspiring and accessible, and it’s housed in the most reverent building imaginable. I approached the library on foot every day like a person who knows she has only so long at the buffet. I had been given four generous weeks, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: all you can eat. After those four weeks, at 5 p.m. exactly, the door to the buffet would be closed to me, and home I would have to go. It was heaven, and I ate everything in sight. I was insatiable. I asked for things and they were brought. I looked up “darling” in the database. I looked up “Domett” and “Bracken” and “Henriette Corkran” and “Mary Gladstone” and “Joseph Milsand” and “Mr. G.D. Giles.” Up floated the letters, the vanished hours, the twilights and fogs. I looked through the magnifying glass, squinted into dark cases. Always at my back was the swiftly approaching end: I would have to go home, and I would have to lay out for myself the million tiny pieces of the Mystery. And I would have to dare to make the dead speak.

Historical fiction is a paradox. I need dates, I need addresses, I need descriptions of drawing rooms and suppers. I have itineraries, I have descriptions of sunsets and rains and walks and feelings and opinions. But I will be using those fragments to conjure the rest. When and where did it happen? certain Norse folk tales end. When and where did it not happen? Those words became a koan in my head while I typed my notes at the Library Buffet. I wrote down every date, every name, every city, every source, and I put it in a file, in a notebook, in a photograph, in a timeline, knowing that while I claim to revere the past I am strip-mining it, running rapaciously through its ruins in search of my materials.

Is this wrong? I comfort myself by remembering that this is what Robert Browning did nearly every day of his life: Sordello is historical fiction. So is Paracelsus. So is The Ring and the Book. Robert Browning burned piles and piles of letters we wish we had, he dreaded the rapacity of biographers, and yet he craved an audience, adored reading his poems to people and longed, as we all do, for immortality, which is what he will have only if people keep writing intrusive stories and essays and dissertations about him. The best I can do is sift my sources carefully. I read and look and read and look and read and look again, taking each reported comment and observation and weighing it for bias. How truthful did other people in the Brownings’ circle think this person was? What motives did the writer have in recording what he or she said? Was there competition of any kind, or a sense of duty and reverence, between the writer and the subject? Were there any past hurts or sleights? If a claim about someone has a whiff of scandal, is there any corroboration? By whom?

Picture of Pen Browning, age 13

Picture of Pen Browning, age 13, in Browning Society Notes, vol. 22, December 1994. ABL Periodicals

Which brings me to Pen. My month at the buffet was proposed and accepted as a deep and wide consideration of Robert and Elizabeth’s only son, Pen-Penini-Wiedeman, also known as Robert Barrett Browning, who “died without issue” and without (and this determined what people were willing to say about him while he was alive and after he was dead) the glorious, sanctifying esteem enjoyed by his parents. He was not revered as they were for many reasons. One is that he outlived the Victorian age: until 1912. Another is that he didn’t have a glorious love affair and marriage; he had a tepid, dispassionate, unhappy one. He was the target of all the malice and scorn that people tend to feel in our time about the children of celebrities, who having been given money and access to the houses of the rich and powerful are expected to deserve it. Are they as good-looking, original, smart, humble, hard-working, and brilliant as we expect? Does Genius + Genius = Genius? No? Why not? Two poets with bizarrely high levels of self-motivation and linguistic facility who were also loving and faithful and true had a boy they dressed like a girl, or rather, in his mother’s mind, like a “child of poetry,” and for twelve years they raised him in Italy and then, right at the exact moment when he was changing from a boy to a man, his mother died, and while he was adjusting to being a boy who had a living mother to a boy whose mother was dead, he also had to change from being Italian to being English, and from not being in school at all to being in school the way upper-class English boys were in school. What was that like for him? For his father? And is there a way to tell that story without unfairly filling in the blanks where gracious Victorian propriety intersected with vicious Victorian gossip?

During my month at the buffet, I circled around and around these questions, around Pen and his father, his father and Pen, through their departure from Florence to Pen’s failure at Oxford to Pen’s artistic education to Pen’s engagement to a girl Robert told him not to marry to Pen’s marriage to a woman who seemed to love only Pen’s borrowed fame to Robert’s death in Venice to Pen’s death in a messy Florentine villa to the long, long aftermath, which has no terminal point. And every day, four times a day, I took the stairs.

In the stairwell of the Armstrong Browning Library, there are several paintings by Pen, one large and one enormous, and their placement seemed both fitting and sad. “The Abbé with his Books” and “Delivery to the Secular Arm” hang in the stairwell of a shrine built to the memory of his parents, not in the Louvre, not in the National Gallery, not in the Smithsonian, but at least they hang somewhere. They were not destroyed, as some of his paintings were. They are not in a secondhand store in Palm Springs or rolled up in the basement of a small state museum. As I clomped up the linoleum steps, I couldn’t take my eyes away from “The Abbé with his Books” or “Delivery to the Secular Arm.” I wondered, mostly, what makes a good painting great and a great painting famous. I imagined Pen standing in his atelier with a paintbrush, dabbing a little more paint on the edge of a fold of cloth, highlighting the perfect white edge on the collar of the farthest monk to the left, which struck me as supremely beautiful. It takes so long to paint anything. The years of learning how to sketch, how to apply paint, the thousand decisions about what to put in and what to leave out, of who should model for the face of the girl, the face of the inquisitor, the soldiers, the monks, and what expressions they should have on their faces, what their shoes looked like, what pattern to make on the rug. Whose hands modeled for those hands? Did they ever see it, and what did they say? Was there anything Pen might have done to lift the painting beyond its present place in the world, which is a good and noble place, but not the best place, if you’re the artist.

Delivery to the Secular Arm

Robert Barrett Browning’s Delivery to the Secular Arm. Armstrong Browning Library. Photo by Laura McNeal.

For me, though, the placement was ideal. It was instructive to see the Abbé and the heretic four times a day, twenty times a week, eighty times in all, each morning or afternoon having expanded my knowledge of their creation by reading different, sometimes contradictory gossip about Pen’s friends, his father’s friends, the patroness who first bought “Delivery to the Secular Arm,” the reviews his paintings received, the troubles Pen had with his eyes and his hands, the remedies his father recommended, and the way it petered out, his artistic ambition.

By my last trip down the stairs, looking at the white light on the monk’s collar–at that perfect illumination of a man’s un-famous, un-hallowed life as an artist–I felt both invigorated and afraid. The library had done its part, answering every question I asked it. Now it was, terrifyingly, my turn. How could I possibly fit all of it in–the disappointment, hope, bitterness, desire, and rage–while maintaining the veil that keeps Victorians Victorian?

Close up of Delivery to the Secular Arm

Close up of the monk’s collar in Robert Barrett Browning’s Delivery to the Secular Arm. Armstrong Browning Library. Photo by Laura McNeal.

One of the last things I copied out word for word into my phone, so I could read it anywhere I go, was this bit of a letter from Henry James to a novelist named Violet Paget (her pen name was Vernon Lee) on May 16, 1885, with his thoughts on her novel, Miss Brown.

…It will probably already have been repeated to you to satiety that you take the aesthetic business too seriously, too tragically, and above all with too great an implication of sexual motives. There is a certain want of perspective and proportion. You are really too savage with your painters and poets and dilletanti; life is less criminal, less obnoxious, less objectionable, less crude, more bon infant, more mixed and casual, and even in its most offensive manifestations, more pardonable, than the unholy circle with which you have surrounded your heroine. And then you have impregnated all those people too much with the sexual, the basely erotic preoccupation: your hand had been violent, the touch of life is lighter. 

…You have proposed to yourself too little to make a firm, compact work—and you have been too much in a moral passion! That has put certain exaggerations, overstatements, grossissements, insistences wanting in tact, into your head. Cool first—write afterwards. Morality is hot—but art is icy!

I haven’t read Miss Brown, not yet, but James seems to be answering my own question about the preoccupations of our time. Life is less criminal, less obnoxious, less crude, more mixed and casual, than we often depict it as being, both then and now. As soon as I can sort all these painters and poets and dilletanti I will set to work, being not too savage, I hope, and trying for a firm, compact work. Meanwhile, if you are in need of inspiration, go to Waco, Texas, on a weekday between 9 and 5. Go to the meditation room in the Armstrong Browning Library to see what immortality looks like. For a glimpse of mortality, though, which can be just as moving, take the stairs.

Perspective: The Female and Male Gaze in Pre-Raphaelite Artistry

Image

By Katrina L. Gallegos, M.A. Candidate, Department of Museum Studies

Currently at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) I have an exhibition entitled Mythic Women which explores the theme of the male gaze in Robert Browning’s (RB) poem “Fifine at the Fair” (Fifine). However, this blog post will briefly explore a counterpoint to this theme which I call the female gaze. RB and his corpus of work are firmly situated in the Victorian era which was a time of constraint but also exploration and evolution in art. A subgenre emerged called Pre-Raphaelite which reinterpreted and explored through painting, photography, and poetry classical Roman mythology and other timeless themes such as death and beauty. Many Pre-Raphaelite artists were men who explored via canvas paintings the stories of classic literary characters such as Helen of Troy. These men often illuminated the femininity of their canvases’ subjects using models who in their perception epitomized female beauty. These painting exemplify the male perspective of female beauty and desirability which is contemporarily called the male gaze. However, during this time there was a countermovement of Victorian women artists who were also exploring the themes of death and beauty and reinterpreting classic myths. This post highlights two of these women, mainly Julia Margaret Cameron and Evelyn De Morgan.

Evelyn De Morgan (De Morgan) was born in Great Britain to an upper middle-class family and was privately tutored alongside her brothers, an unusual occurrence during this time. She proved to be an adept artist however her mother and father disapproved of her goal to be an artist. Interestingly, her father allowed her to travel to France and Italy with her uncle to study Old Master paintings. She eventually enrolled in art school in England and developed her skills and won several prizes for her skills in life drawing and composition (De Morgan Collection). During my preliminary research for this exhibition, I came across the works of Evelyn De Morgan and was inspired by her attention to detail in her subjects’ facial expressions and the vividity of colors in her paintings. I then envisioned my exhibition would compare the female and male gazes of Pre-Raphaelite artists and authors and use Fifine as a conduit to explore this era of creativity. However, in the end I decided against this because it took me farther away from Fifine and RB. Evelyn De Morgan was a later contemporary of RB, and it should be noted that while RB may not be considered a Pre-Raphaelite he did move within their broader cultural and professional circles and was a source of inspiration for many of them. As with many artistic movements there is always overlap, a genre or its subject does not belong to a single artist or a single professional group. Artists such as De Morgan were often painting the same subjects as their male counterparts, an example of this overlap can be seen in De Morgan’s rendition of Helen of Troy.

Helen of Troy by Evelyn De Morgan

Her interpretation is of a beautiful, blonde statuesque woman draped in a bright pink dress surrounded by doves and white roses. Helen appears to not have a care in the world aside from her own vanity. This rendition is an example of the female gaze, and it is subtle. The way Helen looks at herself in a handheld mirror as she plays with her long, silky hair in a relaxed stance speak to an inner understanding of femininity that only a woman could accurately portray. The paintings composition also evokes a female gaze, Helen does not look at the viewer nor does she look upon Troy, which is in the background; Helen is looking at herself in a beautifully adorned mirror and she is not concerned with history’s opinion of her. As a woman I see and understand De Morgan’s rendition of Helen, she is young and knows her beauty, yet she appears to not understand or recognize its power. Contrast this rendition with the famous male Pre-Raphaelite, Dante Rossetti’s interpretation of Helen of Troy.

Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

From composition to coloring, everything in Rossetti’s rendition is opposite of De Morgan’s. This Helen of Troy is facing the viewer, she is young and wears a heavily draped golden garment, her lips are red, her skin white, and she has voluminous blonde curly hair, her two hands play with a pendant attached to a necklace. The background is blurred with faint outlines of buildings behind her. She is painted from the waist up and appears seated. While she faces the viewer, she does not appear to look directly at us, and her expression gives the appearance of shyness or disinterest. Yet, she appears innocent. Unlike De Morgan’s Helen, this Helen does not seem to be self-aware, she is almost doll-like. This depiction is characteristic of a male gaze perspective on femininity and female beauty, it is something observed from afar and the woman is unaware, inactive participant. Rossetti’s painting is beautiful, and his skills are undeniable but there is no personality nor interest in Helen’s self-beauty. The viewer sees and interacts with his perspective. Although it should be noted that De Morgan also presents her own perspective but, because she is a woman she consciously or subconsciously painted personality and self-awareness into Helen. Both paintings are excellent examples of their era’s trends. As a 21st century woman when I think of Pre-Raphaelite Helen, it is De Morgan’s and not Rossetti’s that comes forth in my mind’s eye.

While De Morgan and Rossetti were sketching and painting other artists were experimenting with the then new technology of photography. Julia Margaret Cameron (Cameron) was an English photographer during the Victorian era and the ABL has ten of her original photographs along with some accompanying correspondence. Cameron subjects were diverse, she had her maid pose as the Virgin Mary/Madonna and she also photographed fellow Victorian artists such as Robert Browning, Tennyson, and Rossetti. This blog page has featured her life and works in several posts linked here and here.

Cameron, like De Morgan, was experimental with her subjects’ composition, while they are clearly modeling for the camera the viewer feels a sense of rawness and excitement when analyzing the photo’s subjects. Sitting for the camera and sitting for a painting are two different experiences for a model, the former allowing for experimentation and vulnerability the latter requiring control and stability. Cameron’s photographs are less adorned than both De Morgan’s and Rossetti’s paintings and she takes multiple shots of the same subject. An example of this is the photograph entitled “Sappho”. The MET Museum and the V&A Museum have original copies but Cameron’s model, Mary Hiller, is posed differently in each photo. The subject is posing to the side and the viewer can see her profile, she wears a necklace and an embroidered top, and her hair is loosely tied back. This style of photo is simple and is opposite of the heavily adorned photographs which were popular during the Victorian era.

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This simple style of composition can also be seen in Cameron’s photographs of Robert Browning. The ABL has five original photographs taken during the year 1865. They all appear to be taken during the same sitting, but RB is posed differently in each photo. There is also an intimacy and vulnerability seen in the subject that is evocative of De Morgan’s Helen, Cameron knows her subject and captures his personality and self-awareness without being intrusive. These photographs exemplify the female gaze in artistry, the artist attempts to create relationship with their subject as opposed to imposing their perception of the subject upon the subject.

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The male and female gaze are perceptions, as such they are subjective and contemporaneous to their unique culture and time. My own female gaze perceives society and culture through the lens of a 21st century woman who has her own biases, opinions, and experiences. Given this I still appreciate the artistry of Rossetti, De Morgan, and Cameron as people who, like myself, are attempting to understand culture and society from a unique perspective.

Works Cited

Cameron, Julia Margaret. Robert Browning. 1865. The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum, Waco. The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum, https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/photograph-of-robert-browning/768790. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

Cameron, Julia Margaret. Robert Browning. 1865. The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum, Waco. The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum, https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/photograph-of-robert-browning/768778. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

Cameron, Julia Margaret. Sappho. 1865. Victorian & Albert Museum, London. Victoria & Albert Museum,  https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O130461/sappho-photograph-cameron-julia-margaret/. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

Cameron, Julia Margaret. Sappho. 1865. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/282044. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

Daher, Nadine and Katzman, Lily. “The Women Behind the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.” Smithsonian Magazine, Smithsonian Institution, 22 Jan 2020, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/revisiting-women-behind-pre-raphaelite-band-brothers-180974035/. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

De Morgan, Evelyn. Helen of Troy. 1898. De Morgan Museum, Canon Hall, Barnsley. De Morgan Museum, https://www.demorgan.org.uk/collection/helen-of-troy/. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

“Evelyn De Morgan.” De Morgan Collection, https://www.demorgan.org.uk/discover/the-de-morgans/evelyn-de-morgan/ Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

Rossetti Archive. Exhibits and Objects, http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/s163.rap.html. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel. Helen of Troy. 1863. Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg. Hamburger Kunsthalle,  https://online-sammlung.hamburger-kunsthalle.de/en/objekt/HK-2469. Accessed 15 Oct 2022.

 

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: The Best Laid Schemes

By Joshua Brorby, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate, English, Washington University in St. Louis; now Visiting Assistant Professor of English, University of Missouri

Joshua Brorby, PhD

Joshua Brorby, PhD

When I began planning my research visit to the Armstrong Browning Library, the COVID pandemic was in its early days. I thought that by summer 2020 things might be opening back up, and if not in summer, then perhaps by Thanksgiving. As waves came and went, I deferred my plans several times. Finally in June 2021 I arrived in Waco, TX ready to delve into the archive, though with one minor problem: the dissertation I had begun when I initially applied for the fellowship was nearly finished. My research priorities had changed.

Between the drafting of the dissertation prospectus, the arduous writing of the first chapter, and the final stages of revision before the defense or viva, one’s arguments, investments, and critical apparatus are bound to change—sometimes drastically. As much as a dissertation is a verifiable contribution to a field of knowledge, it is also an exercise in self-knowledge, in coming to know one’s capacities as a critic and one’s fixations as a scholar. My dissertation-writing experience was no different. When I first considered visiting the ABL, my dissertation was focused on exploring and elucidating the myriad (often hidden) theories of translation that contributed to the omnivorous body of English literature in the nineteenth century. Think Edward FitzGerald, for example. Think Richard Burton. As I dug into this body of work—all the time keeping in the back of my mind Terry Hale’s claim that Victorian translations were often anonymous or “concealed” as adaptation—I discovered that a great deal of energy concerning translation as a process, with no guarantee of success, could be located in religious writing.

I began reading about F. Max Müller, the philologist and “scien[tist] of religion” who directed the Sacred Books of the East, a massive project to translate forty-nine Middle, South, and East Asian religious texts into English. And I scoured the writings and letters of George Eliot and Charlotte Brontë for clues to their thoughts on their own work as translators. Familiar mid-Victorian crises of hermeneutics and biblical interpretation, like the publication of Essays and Reviews and the controversy around Bishop Colenso’s The Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua Critically Examined, provided compelling contexts for my developing arguments. Thus, the ABL’s Theological Pamphlets Collection and its Tract Collection seemed the perfect archives in which to explore the religious milieux of the writers central to my dissertation, Faith in Translation: Rewriting Secularity in the British Empire.

By June 2021, as I made revisions to my fourth chapter and my introduction, my project had already started to change. I was looking ahead to the book manuscript, now in progress, which would begin to emerge from my dissertation. (I have changed the subtitle to Imagined Religious Pluralism in Victorian Literature.) In reading about the translation of non-Christian sacred texts into English, as well as the rediscovery of diverse Greek sources for the Christian Bible, I recognized a pattern in the work of both translators and novelists: they are often engaged in defining or imagining visions of pluralism that might come to actually exist in an unstable imperial context. They ask not only how Christian parties at odds might reconciliate—Protestants and Catholics, e.g., or Anglicans High, Low, and Broad—but whether the impetuses for religious belief and the yearning for something transcendent might be found across religious traditions and throughout religious history. How alike are Manu and Moses, as Eliot and others have asked? Does the literary, flexible reading of the Bible, suggested by Benjamin Jowett and Matthew Arnold, indeed disclose something universal about inspiration?

The Higher Criticism

Cyprian T. Rust’s The Higher Criticism. London: William Hunt and Company, 1878. ABL 19th Cent OVZ BS1225 .R875x 1878

My search through the Pamphlets and Tract Collections became a search into the ways believers in the nineteenth century wrote about pluralism (not as the holding of multiple benefices in the Church of England, but as the conditions in which multiple religions coexist). The ABL’s organization of each of these collections by denomination was incredibly helpful. Much of the extant work in my dissertation concerned mainline Anglicans. With the ABL’s flexible search functions, I was able to dig specifically into materials from Roman Catholics, as well as anti-Catholic tract writers, and Unitarians—the latter of which were especially keen on discussing the problems of interfaith apprehension and overlap. James Martineau’s assertions for the authority of Reason over that of Scripture proved compelling. And I was pleased to find a book by his atheist sister Harriet Martineau—herself a translator of Comte—addressing itself “to the disciples of Mohammed.” Martineau’s 1833 essay anticipates some of the almost pantheistic claims Müller would make half a century later; in a dialogue between a Christian and Muslim, she declares, “There is no God but God,” uniting these two Abrahamic faiths under a banner of similitude. But as the essay progresses, Martineau takes a turn toward familiar Victorian supersessionism, based in the view that Protestantism lies at the endpoint of a quasi-natural development of religious evolution. Other religions merely pave the way for the message of Christ. This isn’t far from Müller’s own position. They are each of them pulled by this tension: between assertions of similitude and superiority.

J.S. Banks's Christianity and the Science of Religion

J.S. Banks’s Christianity and the Science of Religion. London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1880. ABL 19th Cent OVZ BR 127 .B3

The ABL’s religious texts collections also proved useful for exploring the “science of religion” as it was developed or criticized by writers not party to Müller and his extensive research network. The Rev. Cyprian T. Rust and the Rev. J.S. Banks—two figures with whom I was unfamiliar until coming to the ABL—both produced responses to the nascent science of religion in 1878 and 1880, respectively, that I uncovered in the archives. These Anglican hermeneuts each provide a window onto a mode of religious inquiry growing out of the earlier German higher criticism. As I found myself lingering over texts by names I had never read, I also found that the ABL was providing different pathways: both to new research and to opportunities to enrich old research. For instance, the plenitude of anti-Catholic tracts held by the ABL greatly added to my existing chapter on Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. A translated 1869 tract by M. Sauvestre gave my chapter a nice historicist twist, by which I might consider how anti-Catholic writing pitched celibate priests, nuns, etc. as having no family ties and, thus, disrupted the domestic organization of the state as based in the family. Considering Lucy Snowe’s total non-narration of her own family history in Villette, this correspondence to Catholic stereotype has continued to spur my thinking.

My time at the ABL was in part a personal sojourn from life in St. Louis during a pandemic. In June 2021 things had really lulled. And finally my partner and I were able to get out of St. Louis with our infant—his first big trip!—and explore a new city. Jennifer, Laura, and Christi at the ABL were incredibly helpful not only in my research but in planning family outings (a recurrent theme in some of these blog posts). Traveling to Waco brought us a sigh of relief. I think that in spending so much time scheming out my diss in its early days, I had closed off potentially fruitful avenues for further research. The wide-ranging collections at the ABL, along with its helpful finding aids and its fantastic staff, rekindled my interest in expanding on my project, something that may not have happened had I been able to visit when I first planned. What was needed, in a sense, was time away before revisiting my existing work. Such sojourns are a boon, especially when what waits on the other side is a rich and exciting archive brimming with possibility.