LiveBlogging: Session One of the Robert Browning and Victorian Poetry at 200 Conference

Join us in about 30 minutes for a live blog of the first session of the Robert Browning and Victorian Poetry at 200 Conference! Our primary coverage will be over the Q&A sessions, but we will feature the main points of the arguments of each presenter.

Linda H. Petersen will begin the session in just a few minutes…

Her presentation is titled, “Browning’s Pauline: Making a Poetic Debut.

In 1833, Browning made poetic debut with Pauline: A Fragment of a Confession – no name on title page. Ambitious about debut. Told friend that this was part of a series of works: opera, etc. “A foolish plan,” he later called it. Inspired by 1830 success of Martineau who submitted works to three contests at once! She won all three, of course. Browning knew her through W.J. Fox. Browning was anxious about writing career, keeping authorship a secret, “A loophole for backing out of the thing.”

In 1830s, how create a debut? Couldn’t create a “book beautiful.” Wasn’t part of a writing society? What to do? Used paratext of Pauline. Puts a high value on the text and not on the author. So, browning puts Marot’s name on the title page. A French epigraph. Substitues Marot’s name for own. A model to express what he hoped to achieve. Through this and other methods, he checks his ambition and reveals his fear of initial response.

Pauline: “Sad confession first…ere I shall be as I can be no more.” Captures the core of Marot’s thought. But only quotes the first two lines of Marot. Devotion to poetry for Browning, and not devotion to a lover as in Marot. Confessional impulse of Pauline motivated by desire of the poet to claim a start to his new career. Approaching his debut this way made it easy for Browning to “start again” if needed if Pauline was not a success.

Marot (1496-1544) was exiled to Italy because he was accused of heresy. He officially recanted and then translated the Psalms. These Psalms channeled Reformation to France. Inaugurated a whole new era of poetry. Browning claims this same groundbreaking force by using his epigram.

Legitimacy of this bold claim is called into question in his Latin citation from Agrippa. Agrippa was a heretic and opponent of Marot. Through De Occult, from which Browning quotes, both states his intent, but also, again, hides behind the quote. Agrippa is the dark double of Merot. Agrippa (1486-1535) was also accused of heresy. Agrippa’s work was less respectable than Merot’s. Was Browning seeking shortcut to literary success by invoking the dark side? London, 1833, was 20 years old (published this) – Browning seeks dubious knowledge, indicating Agrippa’s influence upon him. By Agrippa paratext, acknowledges his possibly foolish envoy into what will be represented in Pauline. Repetition at the beginning through epigraph, allows Browning to, again, state his case, but also self-critique his own ambition. Agrippa represents worry about the legitimacy of Browning’s ambition.

In Pauline, writer needs Pauline’s protection. Invokes language that suggests writer’s block. After struggles of infancy, and before dark spirit takes hold, poet finds himself in between. Poet has consciousness, imagination, encounter with ancient books, and assurance in writing. If there is a moment of self-doubt, it is overcome in the course of writing the poem. Perhaps smooth course deserves to be interrupted. The Pauline poet is proud. Hubris here deserves a fall, but that’s not how Browning proceeds. Young poets choice causes a fall, chooses the wrong model in Shelley, and causes a stumble. Sends the poet’s career careening off-course.

“Oh God! Where does this end…” Answered by another paratext. Pauline invokes Shakespeare and Rafael, acknowledging they have their lack. In light of critique, poet confesses and turns from Shelley. Commits himself to Pauline. She is the narrative resolution to the poem – provides a method for moving forward when he knew not when to leave or what to choose. Pauline’s counsel marks a shift from youthful poetry to mature career.

Browning denied/suppressed his authorship of Pauline. When discovered, he admitted it. John Stuart Mill wrote in the margins of a copy of Pauline that he wishes the poet meet a real Pauline.

The role of the publisher in 19th century publishing debut. Browning had an issue with publishers, Saunders and Otley. Resembled other volumes of verse in 1833. The Bride of Siena, Anon. poem published in same year, the author went on to publish novels, which was more the trade of the publisher. They published some poetry, but likes light verse, not the ambitious poetry of Browning. EBB wrote to Mitford, a Saunders and Otley author, about the quality of their catalog once. Pleasure and distraction, not moral elevation. Browning did not consider publishers reputation when he sent Pauline to them. Soon recognized that it did matter.

Browning was left to do his own publicity for the book. Asked Fox for introduction to a good publisher, showing his disfavor. Asked for connection at Moxon, for they published substantive works. To win wreaths of fame, made the transition that is reflected in the poem Pauline from youthful to mature poet.

Next up: Joseph Phelan, “Made to Match”: Alliteration in The Ring and the Book.

Made to Match from first line of poem. Impetus for this paper came from a rereading of the poem. Sheer quantity of alliteration in the poem. Excerpt from Ring and the Book: “He waited and learned waiting…Where honor helps to spice the scanty bread.” (II, 304-17) Extreme case of alliteration, each line contains some alliteration. Prevalence of device and range of this is evident through the work. Alliterative proverbial phrases in the use of alliteration. “Lingering life.” Allteration even within words at times. Even reverse alliteration at times. Prevalence and density given, is this an alliterative poem?

Alliteration a structural principle in the work. Tentative conclusion: The prevalence of alliteration in the Ring and the Book represents the middle style of Browning’s work. Poems are of enormous length, blank verse, and alliteration as structural element. His use of alliteration is concurrent with the development of metrical thinking of the time. Browning shows influence of intellectual and cultural developments in this work.

To test this hypothesis: Performed a stylistic analysis of other poems from the time. Pauline, Bishop Blougram’s Apology, Mr. Sludge, The Medium, Prince Hohenstiel-Schwangau, and The Inn Album. Chose unrhymed poems. Striking prevalence of alliteration. Pauline: 10 alliterations in 50 lines. Alliteration does not indicate metrical accent. Not as much of a structural principle in this poem, given the 50 lines chosen. Bishop: 14 alliterations. More of a structural element. Alliteration frames a proverbial phrase. Mr. Sludge is a riot of alliteration: 28 lines use alliteration. Reflects new techniques of consonant clustering. Multiple use in line and those that cut across word boundaries. List of redundant qualifiers at the end of a line. Extended use of assonance. Blank verse that is more patterned than earlier poems. Ring and Book, alliteration so prevalent, hard NOT to see it. Creates striking effect by refraining from it, in fact. Absence gives sincerity in one case. After Ring and the Book, a lessening of alliteration, although there is great repetition. 18 examples in 50 lines of Schwangau. The Inn Album, poem reflects on the use of the verse device, not flatteringly. Incompetently uses the device, in fact. Principle target is the sentimentality of this sort of album verse. “Head and heart.” The Inn Album is the last instance of this. Browning concerned his alliterative prose may be folding into album style.

Why does he delve into this and then it wanes? The evolution of his writing toward logaoedic forms. Late 1850s and 60s, new forms of metric structure designed to emphasize the structure of English verse. Stronger alliteration during this time. Search for new forms of poetic expression. Looked to past and other verse traditions for new ways of organization. Early English poetic revival occurring. Moore and Marsh were doing this work, both friends of Browning. Technique of mixing double and triple forms, logoedic. Blurred distinction between logical axiom and rhetorical axiom. Prose and verse accent distinction breaking down in logoedic form. 1864, “The Worst of It,” demonstrates end rhyme, internal rhyme, alliteration, and assonance. Verbal device on stressed syllable showing metrical pattern. Freedom mixed with prescription here. Instinctive response to logoedic line. Also see in Tennyson’s, “Maud.” Meter is anapaestic ballad meter. In this, Tennyson allows iambic substitution to be more free. Balance of freedom and structure, much like what Browning is attempting after Ring and Book.

Alliteration is structural element intentionally then in Ring and the Book. Common pattern, three alliterative words. The alliteration helps to accentuate where the strong accent should fall. Another pattern, a 2 + 2 arrangement. Usually in 10 syllable lines. Similar logic in tags at end of lines that restore iamblic pattern to end of the line. Alliteration response to freedom of poetic meter in his era. Alliteration is structural principle of verse in this era. Suppressed native form that was being revived in Browning’s era. Not ornamental, but versatile metric device.

Hard for modern readers to understand how late this developed as structural principle. Erasmus Rask codified in third decade of 19th century. Some questions whether Anglo-Saxons capable of such intelligence in verbal forms! Conybeare (1826) comments on this. Christabelle meter. Coleridge bespeaks of a new structure in this poem. Tentative alignment of AS versification as part of new principle, actually a revival of ancient forms. Alliteration disguised and ancient practice.

Coventry Patmore (1857), friend of Brownings, alliterative verse form the template for the structural principle in verse. Makes alliteration paramount structural form of English poetry. Seen also in Perkins lectures (1858) by Marsh – also a friend of the Brownings. According to EBB, couples spent many evenings together. In the lectures, weariness of rhyme not corrected by laxity, but return to ancient form and substance. Alliteration is key to this return. Alliteration not only device used. Line rhyme. But also rhyme on endings. Alliteration used with other devices to structure the reading to bring out the key characteristics that marks the expression of the poetry of this era.

A hope for a renovation of the English language and the revival of English literature. EBB singled out for her use of Saxon words and willingness to use assonance. Marsh produces a table of Saxon words against which poets are graded.

Browning had to be aware of the work of his friends. Alliteration as alternative form part of critical debate at this time. Influenced clearly the Ring and the Book. Specific verses of Browning demonstrate the influence on this influence. Monologues of Half Rome, use of tags at ends of line is prevalent. Representation of minds tendency to proverbial wisdom captured in memorable phrases. Made to match the poem’s obsession with doubling and repetition. Use of alliteration also exposes the poem’s ambition. Public debate of people the correct structure of epic verse. Blank verse was no longer adequate to the poetic form. Ring and the Book invokes the alliterative device as a way to get back to something more native.


(1) Epigraph in Pauline. If Browning adopts Marot, a problem of secondariness? How reflected in the poem? A belated debut then. Use of the epigraph, then, is not ambitious but fearful.

Trying to displace the discussion of 70s and 80s of Browning’s anxiety over Shelley. Browning sees himself as starting a new poetics. Is Browning just anxious regardless of apposition to other greats? Confession of defection and heresy in Pauline. Marot is a Renaissance model for breaking new grand. Agrippa is the anxious pole. Maybe there, unsure? Deeply influenced by Isobel’s back and forth reading of Pauline.

Isobel Armstrong: There is a lot tied up in the angst of Marot and Agrippa in regard to Browning.

Aporia or gaps in texts. Great virtue of deniability. Marot: Not me?. Agrippa: Not recommend, just tell. Move in poem is to stand out of one’s own way. Odd, ecstacy of standing outside of oneself. Derrida here. Text opens a hole in itself so as to be…newly interesting. Do something never been done before. That’s the tension of anxiety and confidence.

Still, though, looking for an out, an escape.

(2) Status of alliteration in time period in Browning’s career. Most sophisticated one could use, it seems, is alliteration. But to us it seems so pedantic. Tennyson was blamed in early lyrics for too much alliteration. “Don’t know how many I crossed out!” Is there a sense in which Browning writing grotesquely simplified?

Paper tried to say is that what happens in 50s is alliteration moves into mainstream as poetic device. People begin to recognize as structural principle of English verse. Just as good as rhyme and in many respects better. Emboldens poets to use it as Hopkins does and, he suggests, Browning does.

Grotesque? Ring and the Book was intended to be popular. Possibly thought of device as more appealing. A native taste from a latent native tradition.

Isobel: Specifications of different forms of alliteration carefully documented. Poem by Elisa Carey, Christine and Mary a Correspondence. All done in alliterative half-frames, with a rhyme scheme. Retold Norse legends for children. Contemporary piece. She differentiates her alliteration in sophisticated ways. Feel of poem is of immense pressure, debate between women at religious odds – like half frames. Structure demonstrates the implicit tension.

Another poem: William Morris, Love is Enough. Peculiar pseudo-Medieval poem. Accessibility? Is that the move? Political affiliations are the Anglo-Saxon piece – can go either way. For Morris, Love is Enough only poem Patmore mentions as modern alliterative poem written in accord with his principles. Morris is intentional in use of the device.

In regard to gender, EBB use of blank verse. In Aurora Leigh, use of assonance and breaking of meter in interesting ways that Browning drew upon.

(3) Connection between revival of Anglo-Saxon verse…what do you make of the fact that technique is coming into being for Roman/Italian context? Subject matter not seem a natural association.

Alliteration less and less identified as Anglo-Saxon, but more of the way poetry itself in English was reinvigorating. Not like Morris where it was purely Anglo-Saxon drive. Block of poems in mid-Browning where this device is prevalent. Why? Not sure.

(4) Fragment of a Confession subtitle. How does that play in? Could go many different ways…

Confession and Fragment are both Romantic forms. Has he not completed the trajectory of the narrative? Partial confession? Whole poem seems like false modesty. In the first edition, it is a broken text as published. Full of misprints. Revised editions fill it up, if you will. Is the broken utterance delibrate or a misprint?

(5) Alliteration begins 1864. Asserting essential Britishness? EBB distancing? Italian topic, British manner?

Not sure if he would draw that great of a distinction. Many poems of this period do deal with continental subjects. Implications of this technique still yet to be explored.

Why does it disappear? Postpone, alliterative word. Putting off what is continually going on. Alliteration continues; rhyme closes. May stop whenever the Pope delivers the verdict. That is a closing of something. “How should I dare die, and this man yet live.” Postponement stopped, verdict reached, sentencing coming. Alliterative patterns live. Rhyme dies. Semantically something at stake here. Joe did not find any correlation.

(6) All silent readers of Ring and the Book, aren’t we? What are the records of the performance of Ring and the Book?

Patmore’s theory says metrically just as good as silence. How you mark quietly or out loud. Doesn’t matter. Reading out loud not essential. Meter about pattern. Tennyson did read aloud to his wife at night.

Elizabeth before Robert: A Brief Chronology

1806: EB was born on March 6, probably at Coxhoe Hall, Durham, England (the residence of her father and mother for some time after their marriage in 1805.)

Her father was Edward Moulton Barrett (who added the Barrett surname on the death of his maternal grandfather, whose estates in Jamaica he inherited).

EB’s mother was Mary Graham-Clarke, daughter of J. Graham-Clarke of Fenham Hall, Newcastle-on Tyne.

1808: EB was christened on February 10, 1808, leading to some later confusion as to her actual birth date and age.

At about this time, Edward Moulton Barrett, quite rich due to the estates in Jamaica, bought 500 acres at Hope End (a “hope” is an enclosed valley), near the Malvern Hills; EB was still an infant. He had a splendid new mansion built there, in the “Turkish style.” EB enjoyed an active, largely happy childhood at Hope End.

EB was the eldest of 11 surviving children (one died in infancy); she lived at Hope End until she was 26 years old.

She began writing at a very early age, creating short plays for herself, her brother Edward (“Bro”, born 1807), sister Henrietta (born 1809) and other siblings to perform.

ca. 1812: Determined to become a poet, the precocious EB read widely in English literature, and began at six or seven to study French, Latin and Greek. Delighting in learning, she ignored the tradition that the “learned languages” were reserved for boys. Her parents encouraged her efforts.

1818: EB, at twelve, was writing short novels and plays, translating, and experimenting with different forms of poetry.

1820: EB wrote “The Battle of Marathon,” a long poem on the ancient war between the Greeks and Persians. Her father had the poem privately printed for her fourteenth birthday.

1821: In April all three of the Barrett sisters, EB, Henrietta and Arabel (born 1813) became ill with headaches and convulsions. Henrietta and Arabel quickly recovered; EB did not. In July of that year EB also developed measles; she was sent to recover at the Spa Hotel, Gloucester. She stayed there for ten months while the doctors disagreed on diagnoses and treatment. She was forced to rest and was prescribed the alcoholic tincture of opium poppies, laudanum. At that time, it was not understood how addictive laudanum was.

Early 1820’s: Despite her health problems, EB continued to write poetry, much of which was published in periodicals.

1824: The Goodin-Barretts (cousins of Edward Moulton-Barrett) successfully sued for ownership of the estates and slaves in Jamaica. The Moulton-Barretts remained wealthy but not as extraordinarily wealthy as they had been.

1825, spring: EB completed the ambitious poem “An Essay on Mind.”  It and other of her poems were published in 1826 to critical acclaim.

1832: EB’s father had to sell Hope End.

1832, August: The Moulton-Barretts moved to Sidmouth on the Devon coast.

1835: The family moved to London, to 74 Gloucester Place.

1836, May:  EB met fellow writer Mary Russell Mitford and, despite Mitford’s being 18 years older, they became good friends.

1837, autumn: EB’s health began to decline once more. Her father sent her to Torquay to recover. Her beloved brother Edward (“Bro”) accompanied her.

1838: The Moulton-Barretts moved to 50 Wimpole Street in April.

1838: (EB continued to publish widely). Her collection The Seraphim and Other Poems was published in this year. Her reputation as a fine poet continued to develop.

1840, July: “Bro”, three friends and a boatman went sailing on Tor Bay in perfect conditions and were drowned. EB was seriously ill for several months. Mary Russell Mitford gave her Flush, a cocker spaniel and son of Mitford’s dog of the same name.

1841, autumn: EB finally convinced her father to let her return to Wimpole Street by easy stages. Despite her frailty, she continued to write poems and prose studies.

1842: EB produced two extensive, intelligent prose studies–Some Account of the Greek Christian Poets and The Book of the Poets (English poets since the middle ages).

1843: EB’s health began to improve steadily.

1844: EB’s two-volume Poems was published to critical acclaim and general popularity. Robert Browning read and was enthusiastic about EB’s collection of poems. This and the encouragement of John Kenyon led him to write his first letter to EB (January 1845).

1845, May 20: EB and RB finally met in her rooms at Wimpole Street– to discuss poetry. Over the next 20 months, RB visited more than 90 times, and the two poets exchanged 574 letters.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era. Her poetry was widely popular in both England and the United States during her lifetime.[1] A collection of her last poems was published by her husband, Robert Browning, shortly after her death. Her Sonnets from the Portuguese remain well-known. Scholarly interest in her life and poetry has undergone a great resurgence in the last 30 to 40 years.


LiveBlogging: Session Two of the Robert Browning and Victorian Poetry at 200 Conference

Session One blog has been edited to clean up a few of the technicalities in Joe’s talk. Now, almost ready for Session Two!

Linda K. Hughes will kick things off with her paper on “Browning’s Archival Imagination”

Browning’s imagination: entranced by books! The Ring and the Book supplied the key term: the “printed voice” of Victorian poetry. Victorian periodicals figure in Browning’s writings. EBB mentions these regularly, but Browning doesn’t as much. He seemed repugnant to reviews. Puzzled how to publish Ring and the Book. Magazine, no. Not sandwiched between politics and deer stalkings. Yet, he appeared regularly in periodicals. Fewer than Tennyson, but not negligible. This talk will explore Browning’s resort to this medium, what kind of audience and context he envisioned and encountered. Impact on this in his imaginative work.

Clear that Browning saw these as friendship networks in a gift economy. 1834, “Eyes Calm Beside Thee.” Browning signed Z, lasted as long as Fox was editor (-1836). Browning’s network legible in debut sonnet. Eliza Flower received poems of Browning and publishes them. Fox’s editorial hand here as well. Placed sonnet after “Life of Flowers.” Browning never reprinted this one, but others found a permanent place in his works. Once Fox editor, more radical politics, and piece became a literary review. Original poetry by those in Fox’s circle. Demonstrated by others in his circles published by Fox. Thus, Browning continued to send them.

Nov. 1835, The King, lyric celebrates King so wise that python won’t even attack. Fox placed between lead essay on Organic Reforms and Definitions of Classes satire. Created a political context for lyric of Browning. Pippa Passes returned to the King and made it song for assassinating Python on the throne. Jan 1836 poems also appeared in periodical of Fox. May 1836 a piece later inserted.

No more publications until Hoods Magazine in 1844. Poem to Ward. Transcribed the best of what on desk and send in the course of the day. Loves Mr. Hood and does this as a good turn. Ward gave lead position in June 1844 to “the Labratory.” Hood wanted to supply relief in his publication. Lively energy with social passion. Selection of the Laboratory because of grotesque humor. Fittedness to the publication taken into consideration here. Political sensitivity. “Claret and Tokay” appeared in same issue. Reflects same humorous values through characterizations. Lady of the Laboratory a cross-reference to Tokay, in fact. July issue publications as well, suited the magazines orientation. 1845, very anxious to hear how Hood is, Browning added context and audience for signature poem, “Bishop Orders…St. Praxis Church.” Connect to current news cycle. Pet of Browning’s and just a thing for the time. Cambridge Camden society called to disband over alter in church. Oxford movement also in the news. February. Permit convocation on Tract 90. Newman vote. Feb 15, 1845 Examiner report of action against Ward. Newman absent from that meeting. Then, wrote to Ward with a poem. Linked issue in the news with pet poem. In context of letter to Ward and poem, a journalist in the poem, “Bishop Blaugram’s Apology” seems to be a man of the times. One more poem sent to Ward, 1845 of Hood’s magazine, Browning wrote on day Hood died. Decades passed. Only a fragment to Hood. “Dramatic Romances” Serial poem in two parts? Or friendship circle broken and no gift context. Once he finds those again, it shows up again.

1850s, literary journal. March 1854, Barry Cornwall solicited poem on behalf of Margarite Power. EBB poem, My Kate, arrived on time for 1855. Browning, “Ben Karshook’s Wisdom” did not appear in 1854, but in 1856. Mundane life to religious mystery. June 1856, saw the Powers in Paris, both contributed to 1857 keepsake, “May and Death.” Responded to cousin’s death and conceding life to others, noting his own bleeding heart. Power listed him on contributors’ page as Mr. Barrett-Browning. Browning contributed again, August 1, Robert throws into poetry and did the verses yesterday. As Hood’s changed ownership, Keepsake died after 1857. 1864 Section 8 by Drawing Board of James’ Leaves Wife.

Later periodicals, a widower. Transnational adventure. Informed by friendships. American friend Norton soliticted Crayon submission. Cannot oblige, never write for periodicals of any sort. 1861, Atlantic Monthly soliciting unsucessuflly. 1864, changed his mind. Gold Hair appeared in May. Prospus and Under the Cliff in June issue. Browning delayed.

2 decades later. Maintained never submitted a line to the Monthly. Maybe too simple to say a profit motive for the American public. But as Elizabeth’s widower he acted as he did. He published 3 poems as EBB did before her death transatlantically. Poetic appositeness to Browning publishing. So was his selection of Prospice. Suggests late wife in closing lines. Like May and Death in Keepsake. Prospice deeply personal and autobiographical. Under the Cliff became Section 6 of James Lee’s Wife. Another section became Section 8. Gold Hair discordant being from Browning the widower. Contemprorary religious controvery here as well.

Another transatlantic venture in the next decade. Ring and the Book not in magazines intentionally. 1875 deliberately serialized in a newspaper. An Inn Album showed up in New York Times during a rift between Browning and his publishing friends in America. Show in payment and offering lower rate of payment, broke off relations, and then relished that NYT paid double and do without them. Pleasures of profit AND retaliation. But, not a complete explanation. Sunday NYT literary. Pages dedicated to literature and reviews. Inn Album began on the front page. Status as news unto itself. Occupied the entire second page, and then on page 3 led into Thomas Hardy’s contribution. Such a literary context, a more plausible host for his work.

Browning’s serialization of Inn Album, poems hybrid generic status as novel in verse. Sensation fiction is the newspaper novel. Again, Browning shows savvy as a positioner of his writing to the medium. Woman in the poem is tainted and imaginative. Guards secret past from country clergyman, but speaking forthrightly to former suitors. She blurs morality and social status. She made him the standard of all right and fairness. Makes him her hero. She did trust, and touch did follow. Living nature and source of coffins in the trees. Murmurs and silences. Browning’s representation of sexually compromised woman with intellectual prowess is a great contribution to the tradition. Athenaeum praised this poem. But Simmons condemned its vulgarity and repulsed by echoes of Ring and the Book. Even in the US, the Independent reported these attacks, if poem published in NYT nobody noticed. Genre play failed, but NYT as medium was a success.

4 years later in Cornhill Magazine as gift and philathropy: Herbe Riel. Changed mind if royalities went to feed the hungry of the Franco-Prussian War. Changed his mind to publish based on this.

1880s. Sent some, others published without permission. Pell Mell Gazette. Appropriate venue to have his work published on his behalf. Clubland publication. Karlin will speak more about this in the next presentation.

Last one, Edward Fitzgerald in the Atheneum. Resulted from publication of snide remark about the death of his wife. Conceiving of the poem as periodical inclusion was perfect. Allowed him to vent his anger and reach a wider audience. The “new book” has a material referent on the same page with new books.

Victorian press was archive of poetry that embedded economic relations in the culture. Browning wary of this culture, but used it as a trope to print archive thorughout career. Others disdain and use? Browning’s ambivalence is distinct and personal. EBB readily contributed. She like the idea of having the public read her work. But Browning saw it as invited guest. Don’t thrust self on unwilling readers. But did so. Says more of his self-concept as a poet. But revisiting, sheds light on how he imagined it and its sociological logic.

Up Next: Daniel Karlin, “Helen’s Tower”

Tennyson poem, “Helen’s Tower” (1861) {reading). October 1861 authored. In 1847, Blackwood came of age, father died in 1841 (age 15), under guardian of Lady Dufferin. She wrote poems and songs, “the Lament of Irish Immigrant.” Included in Oxford Book of Verse. On son’s 21st birthday, presented a Silver Lamp & poem, “Fiat Lux.” Young man had verses inscribed on golden plate and built a tower to enshrine them. Helen’s Tower is that tower. Tower itself is in trust of Irish Landmark Trust. Substantial architechural folly, if one at all. Began 1848-1861.

Tennyson’s poem is plated on wall of tower (not in gold) and commemorates its dedication. Tennyson’s poems is preoccupied with passage of time, as Dufferin’s poem. Union of mother-son, yes. But also marriage, but son is returned to mother. In death, there is no conjugal relation. Mother’s love in the poem is eternal. But love that must take account of human time. Mortal anxiety. Gift is symbolic for words that cannot be spoken, but requires description in poetic form. Tennyson departs from Dufferin. Eschatological scheme takes in the apocalypse – the end of time. Love endures “in earth’s recurring Paradise.” Tennyson glossed this phrase on manuscripts. Sent three manuscripts to Dufferin. One one, gloss, Earth’s Paradise is renovated earth. Dufferin and Lady on renovated earth? Fate of the Tower itself? “And be found of Angels’ eyes.” The Tower stands the fire of the doomsday fire. Old contrast of mortal stone and lime and that of poetry. From Horace, “Monument more durable than brass.” Shakespeare as well. In Helen’s Tower contrast, the Tower itself speaks, it is the text that survives its passing.

In 1870, 3 years after Dufferin’s death. Rededicate it. Dufferin knew Browning. April 16, 1870. If Browning could be prevailed upon to write, grateful. April 27, sorry cannot rival the verse. Best I could do. Very self-depricating. Boy was Alessandro, a playmate of Pen’s in Florence. London, 1862, kindness referred to, a visit at High Gate. Alessandro 15, but could be seen as boy. On slender foundation, insistence that poem is not flattery. Preemptive defense, I knew the Lady and have not flattered here – not empty court poem. Why?

Contrast between Dufferin and Helen of Troy seems absurd without context. Lost his sense of proportion? Overlaying Homer with the Bible. Direct tribute. You were surpassingly beautiful and all blessed you. Tribute concentrated on Lady Dufferin’s face. He remembers face that launch 1000 ships. Part of his sexual and psychological vocabulary as well. Response to Tennyson’s poem? Dufferin sent the poem to Browning. But, Browning confines himself to Dufferin’s poem. Must have read them, right? Only one of Browning’s poem is the same as that of Tennyson. Only time asked to compete with Tennyson on his own ground, the Laureate poem, occasional verse. Tennyson good at this. Cleverer than Browning. Browning fell into both traps. Dufferin put Browning in a tough position. Browning hated writing to order. He chose sonnet when he did. hated it. Never published these in his volumes of works. Helen’s Tower delivered to Dufferin and then never published. April 26, 1870 written. Given to Mrs. Bronson. Slept in desk for 14 years. Tennyson’s poem published in 1873. Gave to F.J. Furnivall as composition not to print item on Pen’s paintings, print Helen’s Tower. Furnivall was not going to let it language. Sent to Pell Mell Gazzette and it was published in 1883. Much more public paper. Difference in treatment noted.

Furnivall right that there is a confrontation here. Browning dematerializes the Tower and makes it a symbol of Love over Hate. Counters Tennyson’s notion that the Tower will degrade with nature. Earth’s foundations not Paradise. Job 38 over against Tennyson’s vision. Answer’s God’s question: Foundation upon Love. Rebukes Tennyson for an inauthentic pathos. Tennyson’s poem speaks of Tower itself, Browning gives the Tower back to the Lady. No shadow and no change. Browning’s poem, Christianity trimphs over Pagan Romanticism. So, Browning asserts, turn to Homer when think of the Lady. Privileging of Greek Mythic Tragedy is overcome by True Opposite. Yet, rivalry of Helen and the Lady is perverse. Tennyson makes clear relationship of mother and son. Browning doesn’t mention this at all. Good and bad versions of Eros. Sexual passion, Line 7. Implication that aligns ancient and modern Helen. Power then to good or evil ends? Dufferin came to prefer Browning’s version to Tennyson’s.

Lord Dufferin is Viceroy of India at this time. No one has done greater kindness or lasting benefit than the poem you wrote. 1887 Letter. Incredible letter. Trifling service, and exorbitant praise for Browning’s effort. is there a reason for this? Yes, his reading of poem became selective. Lines 5-8 were the core for him. Concentrated on the portait of the canonical son-mother love. Material tower no longer of significance, it is the poem that is of value, not the tower. Wants Browning’s poem last as long as the English language. Already in Sharp’s anthology (1886), Dufferin published his mother’s poetry and Browning’s is published as a frontispiece. No mention of Tennyson, except as a footnote. Browning has usurped Tennyson’s priority. Dufferin (1894) appropriation/reapprioation of poem from Pell Mell. Changes the terms of encounter. If read in 1894, context is given. In Pell Mell, no context. Poet praising a great lady.

Poetically speaking, “Helen’s Tower” is a marginal piece in Browning’s works. Tower still stands, but can now be rented out. Live our your Rapunzel’s fantasies. Brother’s Grimm with mother-son story. Meaning has been hollowed out. Commodified. What of Browning’s poem. Wonderfully interesting and complicated. Lots of associations within frienship network. But lacks dignity. Sluttish time has besmeared it more than Tennyson’s. Eventual status as Dufferin’s court usher not quite undeserved.


(1) Did Lord Dufferin marry?

Yes, “the two great injustices of my life”

(2) What did Tennyson say of Browning’s poem?

Dont’ know. In the dating of the poems, Browning’s appeared earlier than Tennyson’s.

(3) Helen, Tower, Public Inscription..Yatesian.

Quote from Yates about a tower read. Read back through the lens of Yates. Influence of poetic chapter on poetry?

Far more that can say here. Tower became associated with troops sailing to the continent in WWI. Replica built as Tietval. Another part of its history. Irish soldiers in fighting, last sight of Ireland was Tower. Think re-erected in their honor without connection to this story. Kipling has poem on the wall in Helen’s Tower, about Dufferin’s wife’s charity work in India.

(4) Take on Lord Dufferin’s Hermeneutics. Skeptical of Dufferin as a reader? Exege Monumentum idea. Shakespearean example: We know nothing about the people about whom he wrote his sonnets. Here we do. Is Dufferin’s embrace indicative he was a better reader than give credit?

He gives a selective reading. If you mentally reconstruct the sonnet from the letter, only 4 lines on the Lady. Trajectory 1870-1877 of reading, fixates on this passage. Seems to be the whole poem for him. The rest of sonnet setting for this jewel. Doesn’t despise the reading of it, though.

(5) Charting of way poems published in periodicals. Hood’s Magazine, for instance. Other cultural/historical elements come through (Oxford Movement, etc), Browning must have been attentive to his surroundings. Does reading of poems shift understanding of Browning’s mind/position?

None of this bilibographic information is new. One can go through the periodicals and it is there. Never been compiled. Insistent resistance to magazines as “popular” and so not worth literature. There, but not pay attention to it. Not wanted to see poetry in that context. Other motive, textual condition of 19th century literature – materiality of print culture impact meaning? Yes! The way poetry made and understood, in part by the poet…read far more broadly than we often think. Doesn’t change view of Browining. Many use and disavow. Why so diffident, though? If you read me, read my book. Or more open later? Why such a problem to appear in a periodical?

(6) Both talks return to the anxieties of authorship. Frequency he published under his own name. Begins “Z” but uses name after that. Amazed by Inn Album – so much print space! Declaration of “here I am.”

Interesting that signing his name came after printing a volume in his name. Indeed may play into Linda’s thesis on debut.

(7) In 30s, 40s and 50s, poems in periodicals come after major volumes. Doesn’t seem to use to promote his volumes, but does so in the American press!

Like Mittlemarch, Harper’s Weekly appeared in little bits. He has a skit on American publishers – 1880s, really against them. Editorically speaking, dramatis personae poems. Browning denied making the choice. Must have made the choice! Browning must have chosen the poems he gave to be published, but publically denied.

(8) On sonnet road between Shakespeare and Browning is Shelley. Periodically?

Yes, published in the Liberal. Maybe this comes into the sand. Stone reverting to sand. Also, broken roof and tower in Agamemnon.

Again, anytime Browning writes about a Tower, there are other associations.